May and Might for intermediate learners

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

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"May and Might" in English Grammar

What Are May and Might?

In English grammar, we have another pair of modal verbs that are called 'may' and 'might'. These two can be used interchangeably but with a slight difference. They are used in different contexts.

Structure

Just like other modal verbs in English grammar, these two modal verbs can be used in both negative statements and questions. Remember that these modal verbs come with the base form of the verb. Look at the following examples:

She may not come to school this morning.

I might not be able to teach you how to play the guitar.

Warning!

Be careful when you want to use these two modal verbs in negative statements.

She may not come to class today. (Not she mayn't ….)

I might not be able to help you with that. (Not mightn't ...)

Mightn't and mayn't can be used in informal conversation but never in formal English.

May I talk to you for a second?

Might I speak to the manager?

As you can see, the modal is at the beginning of the questions.

Uses

As it was mentioned above, this pair of modal verbs perform differently in specific contexts. Pay attention to the list below:

  • Talking About Possibility
  • Asking for or Giving Permission to Someone
  • Expressing Wishes

Talking About Possibility

Both of these modal verbs are used to talk about possibilities. However, note that with using 'might', chances are smaller and it is less likely to happen than when using 'may'. Look at the following examples below:

She may visit us in the afternoon.

They may go to the gym tomorrow.

He might start his class in 20 minutes.

It might snow on the weekend.

Asking for or Giving Permission to Someone

Both of these modal verbs can be used when asking for permission from someone or giving permission to someone in formal language politely.

May I close the door?

She may come in.

Might I use your phone for a moment?

Warning!

Remember not to use might when giving permission to someone.

You might come in. → you may come in.

Expressing Wishes

One of the uses of 'may' is to talk about wishes or dreams. Please note that 'might' cannot be used here. Study the following examples carefully:

May we all ascend to Heaven.

May all her dreams come true.

As you can see, the modal verb comes at the beginning of the sentence.

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