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TOPIC: "May I help you?" or "Can I help you?"

"May I help you?" or "Can I help you?" #97

  • guest1
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Hi

Is it OK to use “can” in the expression “Can I help you?” or is “May I help you?” the only correct thing to say?

Regards
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"May I help you?" or "Can I help you?" #98

  • workplaceenglishexpert
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Hi

Thanks for posting your question to the helpline.

You asked which expression was correct: "May I help you?" or "Can I help you?"

Both are correct; it depends on what you mean. In formal styles, "may" asks permission; so the question is “Will you permit me to help you?” "Can" asks about ability and the question becomes “Am I able to help you?” A clerk in a department store may ask permission to be of service; a passer-by, seeing a car with the bonnet lifted, may enquire about the ability to be of assistance. So choose the phrase to fit the context.

Regards

Workplace English Training Expert
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