May and Might

Learning a new language or improving your grammar can be challenging. Yet, understanding the proper use of modal verbs is key in expressing yourself accurately in English. Two such modal verbs are 'May' and 'Might'. These words are often used interchangeably, as they both generally express possibility or probability. However, they have slight differences in usage and connotation which may influence one’s choice of words in different situations. This guide will focus on the usage of the verbs 'May' and 'Might'.

Definition of May and Might

Both 'May' and 'Might' are auxiliary/modal verbs used to indicate various degrees of likelihood, permission, or necessity. Their past and present forms are used in slightly different contexts.

Uses of 'May'

Expressing Possibility

'May' is commonly used to express a possibility or probability. Let us consider the following examples:

  • I may go to the market later today.
  • She may not come to the meeting.
  • Asking for or Giving Permission

    'May' is also used in formal situations to request or grant permission. It is less commonly used in this context in everyday English, but still prevalent in written English. For instance:

  • May I use your pen?
  • You may take one brochure.
  • Expressing a Wish or Hope

    'May' can be used to express a wish or hope. This usage is often seen in speeches or more formal writing. Here are a couple of examples:

  • May you live long and prosper.
  • May your days be filled with peace and joy.
  • Uses of 'Might'

    Indicating a Lower Possibility

    'Might' is typically used to denote a lower degree of probability compared to 'may'.

  • I might join you for dinner.
  • They might not come to the party.
  • Hypothesis or Unreal Situations

    Might is often used to talk about hypothetical or unreal situations, usually referring to conditions that did not happen in the past or suppositions about the future. Examples include:

  • If I had studied harder, I might have passed the exam.
  • I might have donated the money if I had won the lottery.
  • May vs. Might: Differences

    'May' and 'Might' can indeed create some confusion, but understanding their differences can make their usage simpler.

    Degree of Probability

    The most noticeable difference lies in the degree of probability – 'may' usually implies a greater likelihood than 'might'. 'Might' is also more uncertain or hesitant. See these examples:

  • You may get there on time if you leave now. (High probability)
  • You might get there on time if you leave now. (Less certainty)
  • Time Reference

    Another point of difference lies in the time reference. 'May' commonly refers to present or future times, while 'Might' refers to hypothetical situations and often suggests something is unlikely to happen.


    While 'May' and 'Might' are commonly used interchangeably, understanding the nuanced differences between them can give your conversational and written English a boost. This understanding becomes fundamental when attempting to convey a specific degree of likelihood or to note a distinction between unreal or hypothetical situations. As with all language learning endeavors, regular practice indeed makes perfect. Make sure to practice using these modal verbs in various contexts until you feel comfortable with their usage.

    Exercise for Practice

    Now that we have discussed the different scenarios in which 'May' and 'Might' can be used, let’s do a small exercise to test your understanding. Fill in the blanks with 'may' or 'might':

  • She ……. be late today because of the traffic.
  • I ……. come to the party if I don’t have any other plans.
  • It ……. rain later today, so carry an umbrella.
  • They ……. not know about the changes in the schedule.
  • He ……. buy a new car if he gets the loan.
  • Remember, the context and the degree of certainty you want to imply will determine your choice between 'May' and 'Might'.

    Happy learning!

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