May and Might

May and Might are modal verbs. Some people think they are interchangeable, especially in speech, but is there really no differences between these two?

"May and Might" in English Grammar

'May' and 'might' are two modal verbs that talk about the possibility of something happening in a situation.


'Might' is used more frequently in spoken English than 'may.' 'May' is somewhat formal.


'May' is a modal verb that is used to talk about:

  1. Possibility
  2. Politely asking/giving permission
  3. Expressing wishes
  4. Suggesting something


'May' is used when we want to express a possibility. It shows that there is a possibility that something will happen or be true but this is not certain.

I may be late, so don't wait for me.

Well, I may have been wrong.

Politely Asking/Giving Permission

'May' is used when we want to politely ask permission for doing something. Using 'May I...?' is more polite than using 'Can I...?' or 'Could I...?'
The use of 'may' in this way is very formal and very polite.

May I come in?

May I answer this call?

If you want to politely give permission to somebody, you can also use 'may'.

You may come in. or You may not.

You may talk.

You can use 'may not' or 'mayn't' (spoken) not to allow somebody to do something.

You may not smoke cigarettes in the office.

You may not stay.

using 'may' to ask for permission

Expressing Wishes

You can use 'may' to express wishes. In this function, you can only use 'may'. 'May' and 'might' are not interchangeable in this case.

May she rest in peace.

May all your wishes come true.

Suggesting Something

We can use 'may' in spoken English and in formal situations to say, ask, or suggest something in a polite way:

May I suggest that you consider asking a professional?

May I suggest that you listen to your mother?


Might is a modal verb that is similar to may. It has similar functions as may. It is used for:

  1. Possibility
  2. Asking permission politely
  3. Suggesting something


'Might' is similar to the first function of 'may', which is expressing possibility. But the difference is that with 'might' the possibility is less likely. It is more remote, the chances are smaller.

He might get there in time, but I can't be sure.

I might be a few minutes late.

We use 'might' as the past tense of 'may' when we want to report that someone talked or thought about the possibility of something:

He said he might be able to help you.

She thought they might get married.

We can also use 'might' to express a possibility in the past that did not actually happen.

He might have been killed.

She might know the truth.

Asking permission politely

Especially in British English, 'might' is used for politely asking permission to do something. But, it is very rare and very formal.

Might I use your phone?

Might I sit here?

Giving Permission

You cannot use 'might' to give permission.

Suggesting Something

We can use 'might' to suggest politely what someone should do.

If you want to get annulment, you might consult your lawyer.

You might want to tell your parents about the problem.

'Maybe' and 'May be'

If you write 'maybe' without space between the two words, it is a one-word adverb meaning 'perhaps'.
But, if you write 'may be' as two words, it is not an adverb anymore and it is a modal verb plus the verb be.

Maybe he'll come, maybe he won't.

It may be snowing tomorrow.

Past Possibility

If you're not sure that something has happened in the past, it's better to use 'might'. You can use 'may', too, but since 'might' is the past tense of 'may', you can use 'might'.
After 'might' in this use, you should use a past perfect tense after your modals.

I might have left my umbrella at the train station.

In this example, you're not sure that something has happened in the past.

My response may have hurt some people.


'May' and 'might' are used widely in English to talk about possibilities and to politely ask or give permission. The only difference between 'may' and 'might' is that "may" can be used to express wishes, while "might" cannot. Remember 'might' cannot be used to give permission.

may might
possibility It may rain today. It might rain today.
ask permission May I stand here? Might I open your bag?
give permission You may use my car if yours is broken. ___
express wishes May this special day give you countless fond memories. ___


Loading recaptcha

You might also like


Modal verbs are also known as modals and are used to give additional information about the main verb. Let us learn more about them.

Can and Could

Talent shows are a big thing now in our pop culture. If you want to participate in them, you should know how to talk about your abilities. Learn about it here!

Will and Would

These two modals are often confusing for learners, because they are used in quite similar situations. But they're different.

Shall and Should

'Shall' and 'Should' are like relatives, because 'Should' is the past tense of 'Shall', but they have different functions despite their similarities.

Must and Have to

'Have to' and 'must' have the same meaning and are used to express obligations. However, they are used in different situations and are not interchangeable.


Semi-modals are the subcategory of modal verbs. So it is good to learn the difference between modal verbs and semi-modal verbs to use them properly.

Download LanGeek app for free