Thursday, March 16, 2017

May vs Might

I tend to second guess myself when it comes to using may or might in a sentence, and I know that other people do, too. So today we're going to clear up some confusion about when to use may and when to use might. (As an aside, if I just speak, without thinking, I usually get them correct. Which means that somewhere, sometime, someone taught me the rules of this game.)

First off, when referring to possibility or probability, we tend to use the two words interchangeably, but if you speak to a Grammar Guru, they will tell you that a difference exists. And what is that difference? It's easy, really:

We use may when we want to express anything that is factual (or could be) or possible. We use might when we want to express something that is only improbable or hypothetical. Knowing that, then, how would you fill in the following examples?
Zoe and Talia         go to Nebraska.
We         leave for the store in five minutes.
Melina         need to eat dinner soon.
Patty         want to go outside.
If I color my hair red, I         make myself Irish.
Aaron         buy an $11,500 soccer ball if he wins the lottery.
They         have made it to the game, if traffic hadn't been so backed up.
If you're good at this, you'd answer may for the first four examples and might for the last three examples. And really, if you can keep in mind the fact that something ridiculous (or improbable) requires might, you'll be okay.

The problem, I think, is that might is the also the past tense of may. Yes, that's right! The English language at its finest.

So, if you want to say something that is factual, but in the past tense, then you need to use might. For example:
She might have stopped by the house at 3 p.m., but I was not there.
He might have been caught cheating, but the teacher was not looking.
Switching those verbs to the present tense could look like this:
She may stop by my house at 3 p.m. but I will not be there.
He may be cheating, but the teacher is not looking.
So anything else to trip us up? Yes, of course. What about if we're asking permission? Because both may and might can be used when asking permission, although may is more common.
You may have dessert.
May I be excused?
Might I ask you for a favor?
Might I ask when class begins?
Might I ask you for a ride to campus?
So it's okay to use both words, but what if you have previously asked the question, "May I go out with my friends?" You can answer that question in the following manner:
I may go out with my friends.
But that response can lead to confusion. Why? Because we want to know if you are not allowed to go out tonight or if you might not go out. Which is it?

At this point, you could be wondering if I remembered all of these details on my own and whether or not I call myself a Grammar Guru. I do not. I am far from a specialist in the grammar arena, but I do love the topic of correct grammar. I used my own knowledge plus a little help from some paper sources I found here in my pile of papers that didn't cite their sources.


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