Talking about Possibilities

There are different ways to talk about possibilities in English. Each way has its own function. We can also express our thoughts through possibilities.

How to "Talk about Possibilities" in English?

What Are Possibilities?

'Possibility' refers to something which we are not certain about it. When it comes to events, how sure we are about something indicates its possibility of happening. It is important to know, how to talk about possibilities in English. Here are some words that are used to talk about possibilities.

Using 'Can': (Present and Future)

We use the modal verb 'can' to indicate something is possible to happen, but we are not sure if they will happen or not. As you know, 'can' is a modal verb and it is followed by a bare infinitive to have a complete meaning. Can, in this case, refers to either a present tense or past tense. Check out the examples.

Usually, the modal verb 'can' is used to indicate a logical possibility. In this case, using 'can' is a better choice than the others.

It can be him who stole the suitcases.

Maria can arrive any minute. Please turn off the lights!


The modal verb can is usually used in question and negative form to talk about possibilities. But it can also be used in a positive form as well.

Using 'Could' (Present, Future, Past)

We use the modal verb 'could' to refer to an event that you are uncertain about its occurrence. We can use 'could' in either present, past, or future tense with the same meaning.

They could be at home.

They could get there sooner than us.

May and Might (Present and Future)

As you know, the modal verb 'might' is the past tense of the modal verb 'may.' That is why people misunderstand these two on the concept of possibilities. Here is the thing, 'might' and 'may' both are used to talk about 'possibilities in the future or present.
The only difference between 'may' and 'might' is that 'may' is stronger than 'might' and things that might happen are a little less likely to happen.

They may still be at the hall.

She might like him, but I do not think so.


'May' and 'might' are not usually used in interrogative sentences to refer to possibilities. And the negative form of 'may' and 'might,' (may not and might not) are used with the same meanings.



We can use 'cannot' to refer to impossible future or percent events. When we use cannot, we are almost sure that the event is truly impossible to happen.

They cannot be this much unsatisfied.

She cannot spend all her money in only one day.

Could Not

You cannot use the negative form of could (could not) alone in the sentences to refer to possibilities or to be more precise, an impossibility.

May Not and Might Not

The term 'not' is added to might and may to indicate that something perhaps does not happen in the present or future. Check out the examples for more clarification.

Damon might not come to the party.

Hanna may not accept to marry you.

Are There Any Differences between 'May Not' and 'Cannot'?

When we use 'may not' we refer to an event that perhaps does not happen, but when we use 'cannot' it means that we are almost sure that it is impossible to happen.

Drake and Simon cannot cook the dinner. They are at work up till 11 pm.

Our sister may not babysit little Rosie.

Past Possibilities

using 'could have' to talk about possibilities

Could Have, May Have, Might Have

'Could,' 'may,' 'might' can all be followed by the auxiliary 'have' and a 'past participle' to refer to a possibility in the past. Remember, (could have + past participle) is usually used to refer to an unreal situation.

Sara could have been the best athlete, using those shoes.

Lara may have been killed if she was there that night.

Cannot Have and Could Not Have

We use (cannot have + past participle) and (could not have + past participle) to refer to events that were impossible to happen in the past. However, mostly they are used in the contracted form. Check out the examples.

Sam can't have talked to her again.

Tina couldn't have failed the exam, she studied months for it.


There are some expressions in English that are used to indicate uncertainty. Here are the most famous ones on the list. Take a look:

  • there is a chance
  • to be/will be possible
  • to be likely to happen

Check out some examples to get to know their functions.

They are likely to take a trip to Italy this summer.

It will be possible for us to buy that house next year.

In English, you can use some 'adverbs' to imply uncertainty. Here are some adverbs that are used a lot, on the list. Remember, they may be more than these, but these are the most common ones.

  • Maybe
  • Perhaps
  • Possibly

Now check out the examples:

Perhaps, I come over tonight.

She will possibly leave the town on the weekend.


There are four modal verbs that are mainly used to talk about possibilities. Here are the verbs and the tenses they are used in.

present past future


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