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Words auctioneers should be careful to discern. Can? May? Should? Must? As well, there’s Can’t, May not, Should not, and Must not. Keeping these words correctly distinguished can be rewarding and confusing these concepts can be costly.

Let’s take a closer look:

  • Can implies ability to do something, and cannot implies the lack of ability.
  • May implies not only ability but permission, and may not implies ability but lacking permission.


  • Should implies ability and permission and is recommended, while should not implies ability and permission but not recommended.
  • Must implies ability, permission, and requirement, versus must not implies abilility but no permission and the requirement you not.

Listen very carefully as just because you can, doesn’t mean you may, should nor must. Just because you may doesn’t mean you should nor must. However, we would suggest if you should, shouldn’t you? If you must, don’t you have to?

For auctioneers to learn, they must certainly be aware of what they can do and may do, but far more importantly, they have to constantly be aware of what they should do or must do.

I know of several really good instructors at state auctioneer association events as well as the National Auctioneers Association who know to emphasize the “should” over the “can” and “may.” As an auctioneer, I recommend you should seek out these particular presentations.

Anyone telling you that you can do something or may do something is giving you advice with no framework. “Should do” (or not do) provides a contextualized story of sorts concerning the subject concept. In other words, what are the reasons (risks/benefits) for doing it, and what are the reasons (risks/benefits) for not doing it?

This method of information dissemination likely works for any subject matter. We’ve spent over a decade on this platform trying to help auctioneers (and the public) understand better what they should endeavor to provide and/or expect.

The auction industry is a bit nuanced, in that something might work well in one market, but not as well in other markets. Yet, there are many nearly universal auction-related concepts — types of auctions (with/without reserve,) warranty disclaiming principles, disclosure, agency duties, to name only a few.

So, no matter what you are selling (livestock, firearms, artwork, heavy equipment, collector cars, etc.) there are industry-specific issues (cars have odometers, livestock pedigrees, firearm regulations) and then there are auction-related issues that largely govern all particular disciplines.

In summary, you as an auctioneer should know enough to properly work in your particular asset class, but don’t forget that there are laws, rules, regulations, and related that probably apply to you no matter what you are selling. You should work to know both — and carefully recognize the differences as well as their coexistence.

Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, CAS, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, RES Auction Services, and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. He serves as Distinguished Faculty at Hondros College, Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School, and an Instructor at the National Auctioneers Association’s Designation Academy and Western College of Auctioneering. He is faculty at the Certified Auctioneers Institute held at Indiana University and is approved by The Supreme Court of Ohio for attorney education.