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May vs Might

Go to Grammar.com to read about May vs Might. Do you know their differences? Can you use them correctly? Relax and read.


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  Teri Lapping  —  Grammar Tips
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May vs Might

Most of us use “may” and “might” interchangeably. We often choose one or the other without giving it much thought and both sound right in most situations. 

But there are contexts and nuances to take into consideration. 

In this article, “May” vs “Might,” I will compare and contrast the two words, and I will show examples of when and how to use them correctly. 


Use “May” in the Present and “Might” in the Past

Generally speaking, we use “may” when we are speaking about something that is happening in the present, using the present tense of the verb. 

For example:

I may do my homework tonight. (Present tense)

She may take all of the staff to a celebration dinner after work. (Present tense)

We use “might have” when we are speaking about the past, using the past perfect tense of the verb. 

For example:

He might have gone home before the ceremony. (Past perfect tense)

Stephanie might have wanted to wash her car, but the carwash was closed. (Past perfect tense)



Using “May Have” in the Past Tense – Is it Interchangeable with “Might Have”?

“Might have” is the currently the acceptable form to use in the past. 

For example:

If I hadn’t gotten sick, I might have gone to the audition. (Acceptable)

“May have” is often used in conversation but is not considered professionally acceptable. 

For example:

If I hadn’t gotten sick, I may have gone to the audition. (Unacceptable)


Use “May” and “Might” to Express Probability

Although the difference is slight, determining the probability of an occurrence can determine whether you choose to use “may” or “might.”

Use “May” if there is a high probability that something is going to happen. 

For example:
 
Is there a high probability that you will go for drinks after work? If so, then you would say, “I may go for drinks after work.” You mean, “It is likely that I will go for drinks after work.”


Use “Might” if there is a low probability that something is going to happen.

For example:

Is there a low probability that you will go for drinks after work? If so, then you would say, “I might go for drinks after work.” You mean, “It is unlikely that I will go for drinks after work.”


Use “Might” to Speculate
 
For example:

If you leave the house now, you might catch your flight.

If I save a bit each week, I might be able to buy that computer. 

If I had answered that call, I might have stopped her from leaving.


Use “May” and “Might” to Ask for Permission

When asking for permission, both “may” and “might” are correct and interchangeable.

For example:

May I ask your name?

Might I ask your name?

May I use your camera to photograph the family?

Might I use your camera to photograph the family?

Although both words are correct, it is possible that the word “may” is used more often and sounds slightly more correct to our ear.


Final Thoughts: 

Even after we have clarified the differences, we might find ourselves hesitating when choosing between “may,” “might,” “may not,” and “might not,” particularly when differentiating between asking for permission and expressing probability.

Consider the following sentence:

“She may not invite her friends to the party.” 

Does this mean that she is not allowed to invite her friends to the party or that she will probably not invite her friends to the party?

It can be confusing!

Although it is acceptable to use both "may not” and “might not” in cases of permission and probability, let's make it simpler by following two hard and fast rules:

Always use “May” and “May not” when asking for permission.
 
For example:

"She may invite her friends to the party.” This means that she has received permission.

“She may not invite her friends to the party.” This means that she has not received permission.


Always use “Might” and “Might not” when dealing with probability.

For example:

“She might invite her friends to the party.” This means that there is a chance that she will invite her friends to the party.

“She might not invite her friends to the party.” This means that she will probably not invite her friends to the party. 


Summary and Guidelines


To ensure consistency, let’s make some guidelines:
 
Always use “may” in the present tense (but not “may have”) and “might have” in the past tense

Always use “may” and “may not” when asking for permission (although both can be correct).

Always use “might” and “might not” when dealing with probability (although both can be correct).
 

These guidelines “might” help you use the terms correctly. 

However, you are invited and encouraged to make mistakes - you “may” err and falter often and with pride; language is meant to be practiced and mistakes are the natural way that a living, breathing language adapts and grows. 

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