“If I May” – Meaning, Origin & Usage (+7 Examples)

Sometimes, old-fashioned idioms and sayings can crop up in English and confuse a couple of learners when they come across it. If you’ve seen the phrase “if I may” before, you may be thinking that this belongs in that category of old-fashioned idioms that confuse you. So, let’s look into it some more and find out exactly what it means and when to use it.

What Is The Meaning Of “If I May”?

The meaning of “if I may” is a formal way of saying “please” or “if that’s okay with you.” Generally, people use it when making a statement, whereas “may I” is used to start asking a question. The two phases are very similar, but they are worded differently, and the sentence that comes after them will always be different. It’s a formal way to say “please” when using “if I may” and is most common in business or professional meetings.

What Is The Origin Of “If I May”?

“If I may” is an old-fashioned saying that’s been around for centuries. Many people used it back in the day to say “please,” much the same way that we still use it today. However, over time, people started to phase it out for more popular sayings, like “please,” “if that’s okay with you,” or “if you don’t mind.” You may have come across one of those sayings slightly more often than you would come across “if I may.”

9 Examples Of How To Use “If I May”

The best way for you to see how the phrase is used is through practice. We’ll practice with some examples first so you can see how the phrase is put into a sentence. We’ll even include the most popular words to come after “if I may,” like “be so bold” or “be so inclined.” You’ll hear these phrases meshed together a lot, so the more we can get through with you here, the better off you’ll be when you want to use it yourself.

  1. If I may be so inclined as to find out more information about this.
  2. If I may be so bold, I love your hair.
  3. If I may chip in, I think you’ve got your findings wrong there.
  4. I’m a good-looking chap, if I may say so myself.
  5. If I may, I would like to get to know you a little better.
  6. If I may, I will show you where to find the correct documentation.
  7. If I may be of assistance, let me know.
  8. I’m certainly going to try the crab, if I may.
  9. If I may be so bold, your restaurant is the best one in town.

As you can see, we use “if I may” as a polite and formal way to say “please listen to me” or “if it’s okay with you.” Whenever we say it, we’re almost asking for permission before we say something. However, there is never enough time before the “if I may” phrase and the execution of the rest of the sentence to allow anyone to give us said permission. It’s more of a courtesy to say it than anything else.

What Is The Difference Between “If I May” And “May I”?

We touched on it briefly at the start of this article, but let’s look at it in more detail here. There’s a major difference between “if I may” and “may I,” though the general idea is the same. The biggest difference to note is that “if I may” almost always starts a statement (meaning we end with a period and not a question mark). “May I” always starts a question (meaning we end with a question mark and not a period).

We can pretty much use the same sentence structures for both, making them interchangeable. The only thing that changes will be the delivery of the statement or question and the vocal intonations as you say it. If you’re confused by what we mean, we’ll show you a similar example where the sentences are basically the same, just using different starting phrases.

  • If I may, I’d love to compliment you.
  • May I compliment you?

Sometimes, though, “if I may” can be used in a question, too. However, it’s more appropriate to use “may I” to start a question.

What Is The Difference Between “If I May” And “If I Can”?

What about “if I may” and “if I can” then? Well, “if I may” is seen as the most formal of the two. “If I can” comes with much the same meaning but is regarded as more informal and shouldn’t be used in formal establishments. If you’re going to use either, most people always opt for “if I may,” no matter what the circumstances are. It’s very rare to come across someone saying “if I can” in any meaningful way.

“If I May” Synonyms

We’ll finish by showing you a few alternatives to “if I may” that hold the same meaning. This way, you’ll get a better idea of exactly what is expected when you say the phrase and what most people associate it to mean. You can use any of these synonyms in place of “if I may” and usually get the same result. However, some are more informal than others, so be careful with your audience.

  • Please

The most common replacement for it. It’s polite to start a statement with “please,” just like “if I may.”

  • If you’d be so kind

This one is a pleasant way of saying “if I may,” though it is a bit more restrictive in the situations that it works.

  • If it’s okay with you

This is more informal than “if I may” and sounds a little less certain. If you use this one, make sure it’s in informal situations with friends.

  • If you don’t mind

This one works the same as “if it’s okay with you.” We’re almost asking them a question, but we immediately follow it up with a statement so they can’t answer it right away.