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 are used to express possibility or probability. They are also used when asking for or giving permission.

May

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

  1. Express possibility
  2. Ask for/give permission
  3. Express wishes
  4. Make a Suggestion

Expressing Possibility

'May' is used to express possibility or likelihood of something happening, but with a level of uncertainty or lack of certainty.

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

Well, I may have been wrong.

Asking for/Giving Permission

'May' is used to politely ask for permission to do something. Using 'May I...?' is more polite and more formal than using 'Can I...?' or 'Could I...?'

May I come in?

May I answer this call?

You can also use 'may' to politely give permission to somebody.

You may come in.

You may talk.

You can use 'may not' or 'mayn't' to indicate that something is not allowed or to express a negative condition. Keep in mind that 'mayn't' is a contraction of 'may not' and is generally considered informal or colloquial.

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.

Making a Suggestion

'May' can be used in both spoken and formal English to ask something or make a *suggestion in a polite manner.

May I suggest that you consider asking a professional?

May I suggest that you listen to your mother?

'May be' or 'Maybe'?

If 'maybe' is written without space between the two words, it is a one-word adverb meaning 'perhaps'.
However, if it is written as two words, i.e., 'may be', 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.

Might

Might is a modal verb that is similar to may and serves similar functions. It is used for:

  1. Expressing possibility
  2. Asking for permission
  3. Making a suggestion

Expressing Possibility

'Might' is similar to 'may' in that it is used to express possibility or likelihood of something happening. However, the difference is that 'might' suggests a lower degree of probability or a less likely possibility than 'may'. It implies that the chances of something happening are smaller or more remote.

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

I might be a few minutes late.

We can 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 have known the truth.

Asking permission

Especially in British English, 'might' is used to politely ask for 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.

Making a Suggestion

'Might' can be used to make polite suggestions or give advice to someone.

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

You might want to tell your parents about the problem.

Past Possibility

If you're uncertain about whether something happened in the past, it's better to use 'might'. You can also use 'may', but since 'might' is the past tense of 'may', using 'might' can be more appropriate.
When using 'might' in this context, you should follow it with the past participle form of the verb, which is the past perfect tense.

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.

Tip!

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

Review

'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. ......

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