Last week Jen described her peeve about the word 'over.' A peeve of mine is the correct usage of 'can' and 'may.'
When my father was transferred to Ethiopia, my older brothers and I stayed in the States. I attended an all-girls' college prep school. Miss Moulding was my 10th grade English and Latin class teacher. Some girls made fun of her but she was the best teacher for this aspiring writer, who'd always gotten A's in English, but to whom Miss Moulding gave a 1st quarter C-. I'd never had a C- grade before.
Miss Moulding was no fool. She loved Chaucer. She made us diagram complex sentences. She corrected homework with a red ink fountain pen.
She taught me that 'can' means the ability to do, or not do, something. Can I go to Betsy's house? means I am asking if I am able to get there. Do I have the capability to navigate? To walk? To ride a bike?
"May I go to Betsy's house?" is what I should say when I am asking for permission to go to Betsy's house.
If I wrote 'can' where 'may' needed to go, Miss Moulding would cross out 'can' and write 'Can you?'
"Can I" is common usage, but it is incorrect.
Miss Moulding says.