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v. a choice to act or not, or a promise of a possibility, as distinguished from "shall," which makes it imperative. 2) in statutes, and sometimes in contracts, the word "may" must be read in context to determine if it means an act is optional or mandatory, for it may be an imperative. The same careful analysis must be made of the word "shall." Non-lawyers tend to see the word "may" and think they have a choice or are excused from complying with some statutory provision or regulation.

See also: shall 

From the Newswire

The People's Law Dictionary by Gerald and Kathleen Hill Publisher Fine Communications