May and Might are modal verbs that are most commonly used to talk about the possibility of a situation. But is there any difference in terms of their meanings?
In this post, we will learn the complete use of may and might, and their similarities and differences. Now, let’s study the situations where they are used.
1. Possibility of a situation
This is the common usage of both may and might in English. Here, we talk about the possibility of a situation or an event. But there the meanings these verbs render are slightly different. The modal may refers to a higer possibility, and the modal might refers to a lower possibility of a situation.
May = likely to happen (not sure though)
Might = less likely to happen (highly low possibility)
- You may get this job.
( I am quite positive about it. The chances of the event are real and positive)
- You might get this job.
( I am not positive about it.
- I may go on a vacation this year.
- We may lose the match.
- Ron may lose his job because of his unprofessional behavior.
- I might not come to your party tomorrow. I probably will be out of the city.
- Don’t lose hope; she might reply to your text.
- We can’t find Max. He may be at his aunt’s.
Both may and might are used to take permission. May is more common and might is a little less common as it is considered highly formal.
- May I join your class, sir?
- May I sit here?
- May I have a piece of your cake?
- Might I drink some water from your bottle?
- Might I borrow your car for a day?
Use may, not might, to give permission.
- You may go now.
- If you have finished eating, you may use your phone.
- You may not live here unless you pay the last month’s rent.
- We may perform here. I have talked to the general already.
But using may to talk about having permission for something or not can confuse your readers. Study the following example:
- We may park the car outside this building.
What do you mean here? Do you mean “We have permission to park the car outside this building” or do you mean “There is a possibility that we park the car outside this building.”? 🤔
It is not clear if you are talking about having permission for something or showing a possibility of an event. This is a problem with using may as it can refer to both possibilities and permissions.
In such cases, using might helps you give clarity about the situation.
- We might park the car outside this building.
Now, the sentence makes it clear that the speaker is referring to the possibility of the situation as we don’t use might to give permission or to show that you have permission for something. But still, there are two problems with using might:
- It does not refer to a positive possibility.
- We can’t use it to talk about having or not having permission.
So, what’s the solution?😦
Use the modal can or could if you want to talk about having or not having permission, and when you are referring to the possibility of a situation, make sure you provide enough information so that the context of the sentence makes your readers understand that you are talking about the possibility of a situation, not about having or giving permission.
- We may park the car outside this building. The place looks safe and clean. (possibility)
- We can park the car outside this building. I have talked to the owner of the building already. (permission)
3. To talk about a past possibility
We use might to talk about a past possibility: something that was possible in the past. We avoid using may to refer to a past possibility, not because it’s not grammatically possible, but because most grammarians and even people prefer using might to talk about a past possibility, but we can. Might is considered the past tense of may.
- She might have called last night. My phone was switched off.
- He might have left earlier.
- We may have left the keys at your desk.
- I thought you might not join me.
- He said that I might be busy.
4. Direct and Indirect speech
May in the direct speech is changed to might in the indirect speech as might is considered the past tense of may, and it backshifts the tense in the indirect speech.
- Direct: Rohan said, “She may be upset with you.”
- Indirect: Rohan said that she might be upset with me.
- Direct: He told me, “Riya may call you tonight.”
- Indirect: He told me that Riya might call me that night.
5. Conditional sentences
Both may and might are used in conditional sentences.
- If we talk to your father, we may get entry to the auditorium.
- If you were taller, they mire hire you for this job.
- He may have been saved if he had taken to the hospital earlier.
- If I participated in the competition, I might actually win it.
- If you explain everything to your father honestly, he might forget you.
- If I had apologized to her, she might have forgotten me.
Note: The modal May is not used in type 3 conditional sentences.