"May" vs. "Might" in the English grammar

May vs. Might

'May' and 'might' are modal verbs that talk about possibilities. In this lesson, we will learn their differences and similarities.

"May" vs. "Might" in the English grammar

What Is Their Main Difference?

The main difference between modal verbs 'may' and 'might' is that 'might' is the past tense of 'may' but it is used in the present and the future tense.

'May' is a modal verb used to give additional information to the main verb. We use 'may' to give and ask for permission, talk about possibilities, and make offers. Have a look:

I may leave tomorrow morning.

May I leave sooner?

'Might' is a modal verb mainly used to show possibilities and to give advice. 'Might' is considered as the past tense of 'may' but it is used in the present and future tense. Take a look at the following example:

I might leave tomorrow.

You might need some help.

Similarities

Giving and Asking for Permission

Giving Permission

'May' is used to give permission in formal contexts as it is considered a polite way. For example:

You may go out with your friends today.

You may borrow three books from the library.

Asking for Permission

'May' and 'might' are used to ask for permission. 'May' is more common and politer than 'might.' For example:

May I ask your reason for this research?

Might I ask your reason for this research?

Talking about Possibilities

'May' and 'might' are used to talk about possibilities and probabilities in the present and the future. 'Might' is considered to be the past tense of 'may' which is why learners confuse it when it comes to talking about possibilities. Take a look at the following examples:

I may take the train to work.

I might take the train to work.

Negation and Question

Modal verbs are always used to create a negative or an interrogative sentence. When creating negative sentences, we add 'not' to the modal verb as illustrated below:

  • MayMay not → Mayn't
  • MightMight not → Mightn't

Look at the examples below to see the negation process:

I may come to the wedding. → I may not come to the wedding.

I might report him to the police. → I might not report him to the police.

When we want to make an interrogative form, we simply invert the modal verb with the subject. Take a look:

I may come in. → May I come in?

He might pass out. → Might he pass out?

With Other Modals

We only have one modal verb in our sentences and we cannot use more than one modal verb at once. Take a look at these incorrect examples:

I may can keep them busy until you arrive.

He might would take the train to work.

Differences

Making Offers

Offers are statements that show our willingness to do something for someone. 'May' is used to make offers and is followed by first-person singular or plural pronoun (I and we). We use 'may' to make polite and formal offers. For example:

May I pet your dog?

May I bring you a cup of tea?

Giving Advice

'Might' is often used to give advice. In this form, it is often paired with 'want' as the main verb. For example:

You might want to lower the volume.

You might want to keep your voice down.

Expressing Wishes

We use 'may' at the beginning of the sentence to express wishes, condolences, prayers, and wishes. Have a look:

May he rest in peace.

May the lord bless you in the new year.

Suggestion

We use 'might' to make a suggestion about a future possibility. For instance:

You might try adding a little more sparkle.

I thought you might want to come to my party.

With Conditionals

'May' and 'might' are also used as conditional verbs. Conditionals are used to show that the occurrence of an event depends on another event or action to happen. Pay attention to the table below:

May Might
Conditional Type 1
Conditional Type 2
Conditional Type 3
Zero Conditional

Conditionals Type 1

'May' and 'might' are used in conditional type 1. In this type, we show a condition and the results that follow. These conditions are real situations with a high chance of occurrence. For example:

If you take all your vegetables, I may buy you a new ball.

If you take all your vegetables, I might buy you a new ball.

Conditional Type 2

Conditional type 2 is used to talk about hypothetical situations in the present or future that are imaginary and their chance of occurrence is low. Have a look:

If I studied all night, I might pass the exam.

If I got this scholarship, I might move out.

Conditional Type 3

The third type of conditionals talks about an imaginary past that could happened but never did. We often use it to talk about lost causes and what-ifs. Consider the following examples:

I might have been there on time if I had left sooner.

I might have been a doctor if I studied harder.

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