Posted by: episystechpubs | September 9, 2015

Editor’s Corner: CMOS Q&A – So, can, and may

Huzzah, hurrah! It’s another set of questions and answers from the CMOS Q&A:


During the past few years, many people have developed the habit of beginning a sentence with the word so, typically when they are responding to a question. This includes politicians, talking heads on television, and others who one might think are “learned” individuals. My view is that the use of the initial so in a sentence is both unnecessary and annoying. Any thoughts? Thank you.


There have always been “throat-clearing” words. Even highly intelligent professional speakers need a little thinking room to organize thoughts before speaking. So is no worse than well or um. The trick is not to be annoyed.


I would like to know more about the use of the modals can and may. Here in Brazil it is being taught that both can be used, as in “Can/May I erase the board?” Could you please distinguish both for me?


Traditionally, “Can I?” means “Am I able to?” whereas “May I?” means “Do I have permission to”?

Can I lift six times my weight? Can I get to the parking lot through this alley?

May I take your plate? May I go ahead of you in line?

This use of may is dying, however. We tend to hear it from grandparents when a child asks “Can I have some candy?” and the grandparent replies “May I!” Although it’s not rude to use can when you are asking permission, it is incorrect to use may when asking whether something is possible.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Symitar Documentation Services

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