Forum Rocket German German Grammar Using may and can (durfen and können

Using may and can (durfen and können

Byron-K21

Byron-K21

Is it common in German, as it is in English, to use can and may almost interchangeably? For example, "Kann ich auch die Speisekarte haben?" Lesson 19.3. An English language purist would say it should be "May I also have the menu." However, the distinction between may (to be allowed, or permitted) versus can (to be able) is very often not made. Can is often used in place of may. Is the same true in German? Could or should the above sentence been "Darf ich auch die Speisekarte haben?" thanks, Byron
Paul-Weber

Paul-Weber

<p>Hi Byron,</p><p>Sorry for the delay. Yes it is true that you can use both verbs but 'darf' does sound a bit more polite to my ears. My guess is that there is a distinction in English because it is a more polite language compared to German. In German it doesn't matter if you use 'can' or 'may' and if you ad 'please' and say: "Kann ich bitte die Speisekarte haben." it will be as polite as using 'darf'.</p><p>Hope it helps!</p><p>Paul<br></p>
Byron-K21

Byron-K21

Thank you Paul. In English, at least according my teachers of many years ago, the distinction isn't just politeness but one of precise meaning, the difference between being physically able to do something versus needing permission to do something. The distinction is largely ignored these days. Good to know it doesn't matter in German. regards, Byron

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