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2 Vote

I would like to know if these sentences are interchangeable and have the same meaning more or less.

Can I borrow your pencil?

Can I have your pencil?

Thank you beforehand.

  • Posted Feb 2, 2010
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9 Answers

2 Vote

May I borrow your pencil?

May I have your pencil?

May I use your pencil?

All mean the same, but note that you need to use "may" not "can".

"May" is asking permission. "Can" is asking if you are physically able to.

  • Yes, I know. The problem is in British grammar. They use "can" to ask for permission too. That is the reason why I am always using "can" all the time. Anyway, I like to know that I must use "may" in American English. - nila45 Feb 2, 2010 flag
  • good answer martinj !! - hlsbookworm Feb 2, 2010 flag
  • Large numbers of Americans (perhaps most) use "can" to mean "may". - samdie Feb 2, 2010 flag
  • I don't know about everyone else, but I generally use "could" to mean "may" ... although... sometimes I use "can"...I almost never use "may" ... at least not in conversation. - webdunce Feb 2, 2010 flag
4 Vote

Various people in our lives try to make us use only may for this situation, but the fact is we usually use can (or could)...and may sounds sort of old fashioned. Could is probably the way I'd say it as it sounds more polite than can...for some unknown reason.

Where I live, we frequently use the word borrow for little things (like pencils or gum) when we actually mean have, but not really the other way around. See, with little things, we are not likely to actually return the item, so it is never really borrowing, but we say borrow (it just sounds kinder).

Could I borrow your pencil? can mean Could I have your pencil?

Could I have your pencil? usually would not mean Could I borrow your pencil?

However, have can mean borrow if you add a time qualifier like for a few moments or for the rest of the day.

Could I have your pencil for a few moments?

Could I have your pencil for the rest of the day?

And, more frequently than we use "have" for this, we use the word use:

Could I use your pencil for a few moments?


Variosas personas durante nuestras vidas tratan forzarnos a usar solo "may" para esta situación, pero, en hecho, normalmente usamos "can" (o "could") y "may" suela una poca anticuada. Probablemente yo deciría "could" porque suela más cortés que "can"...no sé porque.

A dónde vivo, con frecuencia usamos la palabra "borrow" para cosas pequeñas (como lapizes o chicle) cuando en realidad queremos decir "have," pero no a la inversa. Es decir, no usamos la palabra "have" cuando en realidad queremos decir "borrow." Ve, con cosas pequeñas, no es muy probable que las devolvamos, por eso no es en verdad "borrowing", pero decimos "borrow" porque suela más cortés.

Could I borrow your pencil? puede significar Could I have your pencil?

Could I have your pencil? normalmente no significaría Could I borrow your pencil?

Pero, "have" sí significa "borrow" si añades un modificador de tiempo como for a few moments o for the rest of the day.

Could I have your pencil for a few moments?

Could I have your pencil for the rest of the day?

Y, más frecuentemente que usamos "have" para esto, usamos "use":

Could I use your pencil for a few moments?

2 Vote

No - can is also used to ask for permission, but may is more polite. Therefore you can ask:

Can/May/Could I borrow your pencil (please)?

Can/May/Could I have your pencil (please)?

Can/May/Could I use your pencil (please)?

  • This is the way how the teachers taught me the grammar with "can/may/could". - nila45 Feb 2, 2010 flag
  • It's because we're taught to teach this way ;)) - Issabela Feb 2, 2010 flag
  • We even use "might" in the same way sometimes. - ian-hill Jan 25, 2011 flag
1 Vote

For those of you that believe that Can/May I borrow and Can/may I have mean the same thing, then:

May I have have your lunch?

May I borrow implies that you are going to return it.

May I have carries no such obligation.

May I have the last slice of pizza? (You're not getting it back).

May I have a dollar to buy some ice cream? (You'll be lucky to get back any change, you certainly won't get back your $1)

Anyone who doesn't understand the difference between may I borrow and may I have does not have any children. They wouldn't even recognize the phrase may I borrow. [To them "may I borrow" and "may I have" is the same question]

Nila, since English is not your native tongue; yes, may I borrow and may I have can mean the same thing, but you must know the context to decide if may I have means that the person is going to return the item or take permanent possession of it.

May I have this dance.

I not going to return the dance to you. May I borrow means I'm going to return the item unless its value is so trivial that you don't expect its return.

If I buy something for $1 and don't have any change (coins) I may ask someone if I can borrow 7 cents to pay the tax. It would be the same as saying "may I have" as the value is so minor that no one would expect repayment.

Bottom line: whether they are synonymous or not depends on context. Since pencils aren't too valuable in this context they probably mean the same. (Unless your borrowing one of my mechanical drafting pencils. I expect that to be returned; so you can borrow it; you can't have it).

  • I had not read your comment before posting mine. Although, it is possible I started posting mine before yours was posted as I also typed in Spanish and that takes me a lot of time. :) - webdunce Feb 2, 2010 flag
  • The only important thing is that the question is answered (not by whom or how many times) - 0074b507 Feb 2, 2010 flag
1 Vote

I agree with Issabela who said that all of the following phrases are correct:

Can/May/Could I borrow your pencil (please)?

I also agree with Quentin who said:

"May I borrow" implies that you are going to return it. "May I have" carries no such obligation.

  • Very clear! Thanks! - Benz Feb 2, 2010 flag
0 Vote

For those of you that believe that Can/May I borrow and Can/may I have mean the same thing, then:

May I have have your lunch?

May I borrow implies that you are going to return it.

May I have carries no such obligation.

May I have the last slice of pizza? (You're not getting it back).

May I have a dollar to buy some ice cream? (You'll be lucky to get back any change, you certainly won't get back your $1)

You're right, but in case of crayons, there is the bottom line, as you said (we're probably going to return it). It all depends on the context. And no, you can't have my lunch raspberry

0 Vote

Originally posted by Isaabela: No - can is also used to ask for permission, but may is more polite. Therefore you can ask: Can/May/Could I borrow your pencil (please)? Can/May/Could I have your pencil (please)? Can/May/Could I use your pencil (please)?

.

I understand it the same way Isaabela: can is more informal than may for permission. How do native speakers use them that way? In the USA? In Britain? In Australia? jajaja All the people around the world?... (I'm kidding hahah)

0 Vote

¿me prestas tu lápiz?

0 Vote

I would say descriptively, yes they are interchangeble, prescriptively( i.e. by the book) Marianne is right. If you say can I have you pencil you implying that you are not going to return it.

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