The Times, September 12, 2017

Let’s leave aside the clueless intro (do you really think an application to knock down and rebuild a three-storey terrace house to incorporate a massive basement is ever going to be ‘mundane’ or ‘straightforward’?) and turn to the use of the word ‘can’. This means something is possible with or without permission, while ‘may’ implies permission. So ‘the boy can pick apples’, which means the boy is physically capable of picking apples, is not the same as ‘the boy may pick apples’, which means the boy is allowed to pick apples. In this case the owner can demolish the house (with help) if she wishes, but she has obtained permission, so the required word is ‘may’, not ‘can’. I would expect the Times staff to know this, but I am constantly disappointed.


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