$15.00
$5.00
$20.00
Recommend
10 
 Thumb up
 Hide
58 Posts
1 , 2 , 3  Next »   | 

BoardGameGeek» Forums » Board Game Design » Board Game Design

Subject: Rules: Use of CAN vs MAY in writing rules rss

Your Tags: Add tags
Popular Tags: design [+] language [+] rulebook [+] [View All]
J C Lawrence
United States
Campbell
California
flag msg tools
designer
The dichotomy between must and may is, I hope, well understood in rules writing, but what about can vs may in rules language? What is the real difference between:

A player with sufficient funds can do XXX.

And:

A player with sufficient funda may do XXX?

Sure, one conotes permission and the other connotes ability, but is that significant for rules writing?
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
David Gregg
United States
Franklinville
NC
flag msg tools
designer
NightfallGame.com/FAQ
badge
boardgamegeek.com/thread/1234645
mbmbmbmbmb
Re: Rules: Use of MAY vs CAN in writing rules.
clearclaw wrote:
Sure, one conotes permission and the other connotes ability, but is that significant for rules writing?

imo, with rules can infers rather strongly that you have permission, so would vote that either is acceptable, regardless which is technically correct.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Paul DeStefano
United States
Long Island
New York
flag msg tools
designer
It's a Zendrum. www.zendrum.com
mbmbmbmbmb
Re: Rules: Use of MAY vs CAN in writing rules.
clearclaw wrote:
is that significant for rules writing?


It may be.
19 
 Thumb up
0.05
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Mitchell
United States
Buford
Georgia
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
Re: Rules: Use of MAY vs CAN in writing rules.
If you can do something, I assume you have the choice to not do it

If you may do something, I assume you have the chocie to not do it.

I do not think it's significant. However for clarity, I would stick to using one of the two throughout the rulebook. All may's or all can's.
8 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
United States
Dearborn Heights
Michigan
flag msg tools
Fizzgig need food badly!
badge
Click on Fizzgig to feed him a tasty snack. Nom, Nom, Nom!
mbmbmbmbmb
Re: Rules: Use of MAY vs CAN in writing rules.
I perceive "can" and "may" as effectively equivalent in a set of rules, with both implying a sense of it being optional. Whatever "it" may be. Of course without personally reading the rules or rule segment I'm always hesitant to say for sure.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Ben Friedberg
United States
Warsaw
IN
flag msg tools
designer
mbmbmbmbmb
Re: Rules: Use of MAY vs CAN in writing rules.
I would say that MAY is the more appropriate verbiage. For that matter, I would include 'choose to' more often than not, just because I like to be verbose :-).

I tend to avoid CAN just as I tend to avoid GET on account of the word holding too much ambiguity for something as intentionally precise as rules writing.
7 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Nate K
United States
Utah
flag msg tools
designer
mbmbmbmbmb
Re: Rules: Use of MAY vs CAN in writing rules.
"Can" means that you are capable of doing so.

"May" means that you are allowed to or have the opportunity to do so.

In rules, I don't think there's ever going to be a distinction, but I think you should be consistent, whichever word you choose.
9 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Daniel Son
United States
New York
New York
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmb
Re: Rules: Use of MAY vs CAN in writing rules.
My biggest beef is when rulebooks are not consistent with 'can' vs 'may'. Sometimes they'll mix and match. If I see 'can' in one place and 'may' in another, I have to take a second to make sure that can == may.

Just as long as you're consistent, I don't care 'may' vs 'can'.
6 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Kelly Bass
United States
Venice
California
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
Re: Rules: Use of MAY vs CAN in writing rules.
For game rules, they seem the same to me.
Show me an example of how they would be different and I will change my tune.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
David Boeren
United States
Marietta
Georgia
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
Re: Rules: Use of MAY vs CAN in writing rules.
daldi wrote:
My biggest beef is when rulebooks are not consistent with 'can' vs 'may'. Sometimes they'll mix and match. If I see 'can' in one place and 'may' in another, I have to take a second to make sure that can == may.

Just as long as you're consistent, I don't care 'may' vs 'can'.


I agree, the important thing is to be consistent.

If I had the choice, I would prefer to use "may".
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Dave
United States
Salt Lake City
Utah
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
Re: Rules: Use of MAY vs CAN in writing rules.
I think "can" is a positive statement about what is specifically allowed, making it suitable to define ambiguous corner cases. So it should be used mainly in something like a FAQ or sidebar in the rulebook.

For the actual rules, "may" is always more appropriate because it's more generic. But it's not really a big deal because I think most people understand it either way.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Subhan Michael Tindall
United States
Portland
Oregon
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
Re: Rules: Use of MAY vs CAN in writing rules.
clearclaw wrote:
The dichotomy between must and may is, I hope, well understood in rules writing, but what about can vs may in rules language? What is the real difference between:

A player with sufficient funds can do XXX.

And:

A player with sufficient funda may do XXX?

Sure, one conotes permission and the other connotes ability, but is that significant for rules writing?


Be consistent & clear, & maybe explain at the start exactly what is meant by either. The big discussion I see happen most often, with both, is whether 'can' or 'may' means an action MUST be taken if possible, or if it denotes optionality.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jim §
United States
Seattle
Washington
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
Re: Rules: Use of MAY vs CAN in writing rules.
I generally look for "may", but that's less from a gamer perspective and more from a lawyer perspective.

In law, an entire court case or Supreme Court decision might hang on a single word. "May" is usually the word of choice for permission to act, while "shall" is the word of choice for an action that must be performed. Other crucial writing rules refer to punctuation and paragraphs. For example, make sure all rules relating to one kind of subject are in the same section or paragraph. You don't want a rule in one place and the exception to that rule in another place, if possible. Another example is the use of commas. There is a big difference between:

"Let's eat, Grandpa!"

and

"Let's eat Grandpa!"

The best thing to do, after you have semi-finalized the rules, is to have gamers and non-gamer writers look at your rules. Let them ask any questions and then have them explain them back to you and/or play-test the game.

Jim
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jennifer Schlickbernd
United States
Santa Clarita
California
flag msg tools
designer
mbmbmbmbmb
Re: Rules: Use of MAY vs CAN in writing rules.
clearclaw wrote:
The dichotomy between must and may is, I hope, well understood in rules writing, but what about can vs may in rules language? What is the real difference between:

A player with sufficient funds can do XXX.

And:

A player with sufficient funda may do XXX?

Sure, one conotes permission and the other connotes ability, but is that significant for rules writing?


Try re-writing some existing rules that you like that use can instead of may. I'm fairly sure the 1830 rules use 'can' for example. And then see how they look to you. For example, the rule "the player can buy a stock on his turn" suggests more that the player should buy a stock on his turn than "the player may buy a stock on his turn", thus de-emphasizing the action. So there will be times when you want to use can and when you want to use may. For actions that are key to playing the game properly I'd use can. For actions that are truly discretionary, I'd use may.

Basically may is a weaker word than can, as it suggests something that you do if you want to or not do if you don't want to and there's not a lot of difference. Whereas can suggests that what is being described is in fact doable and desirable.
9 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Forrest & Ryan Driskel
United States
Longmont
Colorado
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
Re: Rules: Use of MAY vs CAN in writing rules.
While were on the topic, how about these two:

"The player may not ..."

vs

"The player must not ..."
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Patrick Korner
Canada
Coquitlam
British Columbia
flag msg tools
Stop poking me! Ow! I mean it! That hurts!
mbmbmbmbmb
Re: Rules: Use of MAY vs CAN in writing rules.
I would say that the difference between can vs. may is irrelevant in rules writing. The permissive aspect of 'may' is superceded by the fact that, almost by definition, anything contained within rules is associated with permission.

As others have stated, the key is to pick one and use it consistently. Otherwise you introduce needless uncertainty about why one word was used in one place but not in another.

pk
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
John "Omega" Williams
United States
Kentwood
Michigan
flag msg tools
designer
mbmbmbmbmb
Re: Rules: Use of MAY vs CAN in writing rules.
This has come up in game rules arguments a couple of times on the BGG.

Never leave an opening for a player to interpet a word to their advantage. Someone, sometimes several someones, can and will warp your intended meaning.

If the two, I usually use may as its the less authorative of the two words.

It helps to clarify if you place an "if" explanation right after the can/may statement.
IE:
"A player may roll in this phase if they are not immobilized."
"You may move one extra space if you spend a speed token."
"A player may attack another player. But only if one or both are possessed by the ghost."
"A player may attack another player. But only if the attacking player is possessed by the ghost."

And thats just my personal approach which certainly wont work for everyone.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Clive Lovett
Canada
Kamloops
British Columbia
flag msg tools
designer
mbmbmbmbmb
Re: Rules: Use of MAY vs CAN in writing rules.
Use either but please do not use can't USE CANNOT.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Richard Morris
Scotland
Harrogate
North Yorkshire
flag msg tools
designer
Join the BGG Folding @Home Team !!
badge
This user had more :gg: than sense
mbmbmbmbmb
Re: Rules: Use of MAY vs CAN in writing rules.
jschlickbernd wrote:
clearclaw wrote:
The dichotomy between must and may is, I hope, well understood in rules writing, but what about can vs may in rules language? What is the real difference between:

A player with sufficient funds can do XXX.

And:

A player with sufficient funda may do XXX?

Sure, one conotes permission and the other connotes ability, but is that significant for rules writing?


Try re-writing some existing rules that you like that use can instead of may. I'm fairly sure the 1830 rules use 'can' for example. And then see how they look to you. For example, the rule "the player can buy a stock on his turn" suggests more that the player should buy a stock on his turn than "the player may buy a stock on his turn", thus de-emphasizing the action. So there will be times when you want to use can and when you want to use may. For actions that are key to playing the game properly I'd use can. For actions that are truly discretionary, I'd use may.

Basically may is a weaker word than can, as it suggests something that you do if you want to or not do if you don't want to and there's not a lot of difference. Whereas can suggests that what is being described is in fact doable and desirable.


Given that the average Joe Soap will not be aware of any subtle distinction between 'can' and 'may', most people will not even spot the difference. Of those that do, some proportion will interpret as you expect here, and the rules lawyers will see it as an excuse to reinterpret the rule to their advantage.

Damned if you do, and damned if you don't.

Great language, English.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Philip Migas
United States
Akron
Ohio
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
Re: Rules: Use of MAY vs CAN in writing rules.
clearclaw wrote:
The dichotomy between must and may is, I hope, well understood in rules writing, but what about can vs may in rules language? What is the real difference between:

A player with sufficient funds can do XXX.

And:

A player with sufficient funda may do XXX?

Sure, one conotes permission and the other connotes ability, but is that significant for rules writing?

You made it easy. Here is another example.

Only if a player lands on red space can they draw a card.

And:

Only if a player lands on red space may they draw a card?

With the use of may, does this mean that the player must draw a card when he lands on a red space?
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Old Gamer
United Kingdom
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
Re: Rules: Use of MAY vs CAN in writing rules.
clearclaw wrote:
A player with sufficient funds can do XXX.

Gives the player the option (if they have funds) to do XXX
clearclaw wrote:
A player with sufficient funda may do XXX.

Gives the player the option (if they have funds) to do XXX

They are equivalent.

Vanish wrote:
While were on the topic, how about these two:

"The player may not ..."

vs

"The player must not ..."


I would avoid 'may not' because of its ambiguity - "The player may not ..." may mean:
*The player has the option not to do X
or
*The player is unable to do X

I would advise using "The player cannot ..." instead.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Old Gamer
United Kingdom
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
Re: Rules: Use of MAY vs CAN in writing rules.
pmigas wrote:
clearclaw wrote:
The dichotomy between must and may is, I hope, well understood in rules writing, but what about can vs may in rules language? What is the real difference between:

A player with sufficient funds can do XXX.

And:

A player with sufficient funda may do XXX?

Sure, one conotes permission and the other connotes ability, but is that significant for rules writing?

You made it easy. Here is another example.

Only if a player lands on red space can they draw a card.

And:

Only if a player lands on red space may they draw a card?

With the use of may, does this mean that the player must draw a card when he lands on a red space?

It seems like the same ambiguity is present in the 'can' version too...

In fact, the ambiguity appears to stem from the construction of the rule - not the use of can vs. may:
*If a player lands on a red space they [can/may] draw a card.*
works fine. If you want to be really picky about it, you can have:
*If (and only if) a player lands on a red space they [can/may] draw a card.*
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
J C Lawrence
United States
Campbell
California
flag msg tools
designer
Re: Rules: Use of MAY vs CAN in writing rules.
benfriedberg1981 wrote:
I tend to avoid CAN just as I tend to avoid GET on account of the word holding too much ambiguity for something as intentionally precise as rules writing.


This came up (for me) in editing the rules for 1843. Said rules are here. I have largely, albeit emergently and thus without forethought or intent, attempted to use CAN and MAY consistently, using MAY by default for questions of choice and CAN for those cases which define capacity or ability where the question of choice is subsumed in the larger system or implication being discussed.

subhan wrote:
Be consistent & clear, & maybe explain at the start exactly what is meant by either. The big discussion I see happen most often, with both, is whether 'can' or 'may' means an action MUST be taken if possible, or if it denotes optionality.


For those cases I use MUST or WILL. In practice I avoid both and instead put the requirement in a conditional phrase (eg A player that (condition) MAY do XXX, possibly followed by an implementation A player that (condition) MAY do XXX by: (itemised list of steps)).

jimwithatwist wrote:
..."shall"....


Yeah. No. Avoid.

Quote:
You don't want a rule in one place and the exception to that rule in another place, if possible.


I've attempted to keep to simple declarative forms. There are some gross exceptions, in more than a few case due to LaTeX's unhappiness with more than three levels of nesting for lists (which I could hack around but haven't).

Quote:
Another example is the use of commas.


Yeah.

Quote:
The best thing to do, after you have semi-finalized the rules, is to have gamers and non-gamer writers look at your rules.


As a 18xx, non-gamers are rather far from the target and likely audiences. The review process among 18xx players has already started.

Clive65 wrote:
Use either but please do not use can't USE CANNOT.


Using CANNOT would usually require that I'd previously written an overly permissive rule and and now need to retro-actively apply an additional constraint. Unghh. I try and avoid that and keep use of CANNOT to the conditional constraint for the initial permissive rule.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
J C Lawrence
United States
Campbell
California
flag msg tools
designer
Re: Rules: Use of MAY vs CAN in writing rules.
pmigas wrote:
Only if a player lands on red space can they draw a card.

And:

Only if a player lands on red space may they draw a card?

With the use of may, does this mean that the player must draw a card when he lands on a red space?


A player that moves to a red space may draw a card.

Seems fairly workable and emphasises the choice aspect of the option.

A player that moves to a red space can draw a card.

I find this troublesome. While it is clear from the rule that such a player is allowed to draw a card in that case, it is not as clear that this is the choice of such a player or whether another game system will dictate whether or not they DO draw a card.

A player that moves to a red space must draw a card.

Nice, simple, unambiguous.

A player that moves to a red space shall draw a card.

Bad.
5 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Pelle Nilsson
Sweden
Linköping
flag msg tools
designer
mbmbmbmbmb
jimwithatwist wrote:
I generally look for "may", but that's less from a gamer perspective and more from a lawyer perspective.

In law, an entire court case or Supreme Court decision might hang on a single word. "May" is usually the word of choice for permission to act, while "shall" is the word of choice for an action that must be performed.


As a computer geek I tend to follow the common definitions for MUST/SHALL, SHOULD, and MAY, used for RFCs, as defined in RFC2119, eg "MAY This word, or the adjective "OPTIONAL", mean that an item is truly optional.". There is no mention of CAN though. (And SHOULD is quite useless in general, and I would not use it in a rulebook (or a technical document, if it can be avoided)).
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
1 , 2 , 3  Next »   | 
Front Page | Welcome | Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Advertise | Support BGG | Feeds RSS
Geekdo, BoardGameGeek, the Geekdo logo, and the BoardGameGeek logo are trademarks of BoardGameGeek, LLC.