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?

"May and Might" in English Grammar

What Are May and Might?

'May' and 'might' are modal verbs in English that are used to express possibility or probability. These two can be used interchangeably but they have a subtle difference.

Structure

Like other modal verbs in English grammar, 'may' and 'might' can be used in both negative statements and questions. It's important to note that these modal verbs are always followed by the base form of the verb. Look at the following examples:

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.

She may not come to school this morning.

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

Warning!

'Mightn't' and 'mayn't' are contractions of 'might not' and 'may not', respectively. They are sometimes used in informal conversations. However, in formal English, it is generally recommended to use the full form of the modal verb followed by 'not' instead of the contractions.

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

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

Uses

As mentioned earlier, there is a subtle difference in the way 'may' and 'might' function in specific contexts. Pay attention to the list below:

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

Talking About Possibility

While both express possibility or probability, 'may' is generally used to express a higher degree of probability or a more likely possibility, while 'might' is used to express a lower degree of probability or a less likely possibility. Look at the following examples :

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

Both 'may' and 'might' can be used to ask for permission from someone or give permission to someone in a polite and formal manner.

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 express wishes or desires. Keep in mind that 'might' is not typically used to express wishes or desires. 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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