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Difference Between May and Might

english wordsMay vs Might

May and might is another pair of very confusing English words whose usages often overlap. Both can be used in place of each other in most circumstances, except at times when the sentence ‘sounds’ wrong, for example: ‘He may do it’, ‘they may do it’, ‘he might do it’, and ‘they might do it’. These sentences are all technically correct, except the second option sounds funny because ‘they’ rhymes with ‘may’. So it would be prudent to use ‘might’ here, although using ‘may’ wouldn’t really be wrong.

This similarity exists because both words are actually the same thing, but from different eras. In the Victorian and Shakespearean times, English was very pompous, with huge words written more for form than function. Now the English language has become streamlined, with many short forms and shorter, easier replacements. ‘May’ can be considered as this kind of ‘new-age’ replacement for the ‘old-age’ ‘might’.

Let us look at a few more examples of usage in common sentences: ‘May I go to the toilet?’ It might be worthwhile to note that many children learning English wrongly say: ‘Can I go to the toilet’, to which a good teacher will always reply: “Of course you can dear, but the question is ‘may you’?’. No child will say: ‘Might I go to the toilet?’, unless he hails from a pompous English family, as to children simple things attract first, and thus a child will always choose to use ‘may’ instead of ‘might’; even though “might I go to the toilet’ is also grammatically correct, but practically incorrect, so to say.

‘Might’ also has a different meaning (English, the punny-funny language) meaning ‘strength’. Example: ‘Might is right’. Here, the meaning is completely different, and ‘may’ simply may not be used here. So then, what are the places where ‘might’ should be used in place of ‘may’? None really, except, for example, if you are seated in a meeting with the top bosses and you say: ‘Might I add something?’, instead of “May I add something’, you might get looked upon with a frown. But if your boss uses the pompous substitute, you may not raise your eyebrow – of course you can, but you shouldn’t!

There are however many examples (more than can be illustrated in this short article) where ‘might’ is a better choice than ‘may’. For example, if you are asked: ‘Will your boss give you a raise?’, you can say: ‘He may’, but again, it sounds funny phonetically due to the unnecessary rhyming, thus the better choice would be: ‘He might.”

Summary:

1. ‘May’ and ‘might’ are very similar, and can almost always be used alternatively.
2. ‘Might’ is considered unpractical, old-age and pompous. ‘May’ is short, sweet and practical.
3. ‘May’ is also the name of a month, while ‘might’ also means strength. So, in sentences where any of these two are used, it would be prudent to use the other substitute for sake of clarity, and better verbal sound.
4. ‘Might’ is more suitable for prose and poetry than ‘may’.


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5 Comments

  1. I’m not sure I believe there are no other differences between may and might. A teacher once told me that one of them is in the indicative mood while the other is in the subjunctive mood. (I don’t remember which is which.)

  2. Interesting, but not quite.

    “May” expresses that something is possible, factual, or credible. (“He’s in decent shape, and he may be able to finish running the marathon.”)

    “Might” implies that something is unlikely, hypothetical, or dubious. (“He’s completely out of shape, but he might be able to finish running the marathon.”)

    This is why Wayne Campbell of WAYNE’S WORLD fame says monkeys “might fly out” (instead of “may fly out”) of his butt when dismissing something as impossible.

  3. Unfortunately, “may” in and of itself is a bit of a tricky one, as well.

    A parent to a babysitter:

    “Bobby may not eat his dessert. He talked back to a teacher today and that’s the punishment we agreed upon.”

    “Bobby may not eat his dessert. He’s a bit of a fussy eater. If he doesn’t want the ice cream in the fridge, give him a kiwi.”

  4. Very interesting, but I have found solution on http://lingohelp.com/english/may-might

  5. not true that might is old-fashioned and less down to earth than may. actually, in usage among working people in the past 50 or so years in the us, might is usually more ordinary.

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