What is the Meaning of the Expression
MAY I BE EXCUSED or CAN I BE EXCUSED?
for English Language Learners (ELL) – those learning to speak English as a Second Language (ESL), or English as an Additional Language (EAL)
When someone asks to be excused they are asking permission to leave, or to be not included.
Most commonly, this is a polite question at the end of a meal asking the host/hostess for permission to leave the table.
This is especially appropriate for children if they are asking to leave the table before the adults are prepared to leave. e.g., If the adults have coffee after dinner, and the children want to leave to play, the children can ask to be excused.
Note: “May I be excused?” or “May I please be excused?” is the grammatically correct option.
“Can I be excused?” or “Can I please be excused?” although grammatically not correct, is common in informal conversation.
To be excused can also be used for asking, or giving, permission to not participate or be included in something. See example 3.
1. Her grandson asked, “Can I be excused?
2. The children may be excused, if they want, to go outside and play.
3. I am hoping to be excused from the negotiations as they don’t directly involve my department.
4. “Please excuse me,” she said as she stood. “I am sorry that I need to leave before the meeting is over, but I have another meeting. My colleagues will have to fill me in* later on what I miss.”
*fill me in is another Phrasal Verb which means: tell someone the information they are missing