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What’s the Difference Between “May” and “Might”?

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“May” and “might” have similar meanings. Sometimes you can get away with using “may” and “might” interchangeably, but in the English grammar world, there’s a subtle, but important difference.

There’s a time and place for “may” and might.”
May or might: Which is correct?
Is It “May” or “Might”?

May suggests a strong likelihood of something occurring (e.g., She actually may get a bonus this year). Might, on the other hand, hints at a lower likelihood of something happening (e.g., If we leave now, we might make it).

“May” vs. “Might”

In casual speech and informal writing, you can probably get away with swapping out may for might, or vice versa. May and might have similar meanings, so chances are you won’t cause confusion among your audience.

But if you want to be as grammatically correct as possible, there are three things to consider when choosing between may or might—tense, probability, and permission. This blog post will teach you the difference between may and might, and how to use these words correctly.

When To Use “May” or “Might”

May and might are modal auxiliary verbs—words that clarify a main verb by indicating possibility, permission, or necessity. As previously mentioned, there are three things to consider when deciding to use may or might.

1. “May” or “Might” When It Comes to Tense

When a sentence is in the present tense, the preferred word to use is may:

She may join us for dinner.
Howard may call you soon.
We may go to the party.

When a sentence is in the past perfect tense, the preferred word to use is might.

I might have joined you last night if it weren’t for the rain.
Elsa might have called, but my phone was on silent.
Lorraine might not have asked for help, but I knew she needed it.

2. “May” or “Might” When It Comes to Probability

If something is likely to happen (but there’s still a small chance that it won’t), the preferred word to use is may.

It may rain tonight, but I’m still going to the concert.
Johanna may get a promotion.
We may go on vacation this summer.

Might, on the other hand, indicates a lower probability of something occurring. It could happen, but there’s a high chance it won’t.

If we take this upcoming exit, we might make it on time.
We all laughed when Jacob said he might win the lottery tonight.
Stick around and you just might find out.

3. “May” or “Might” When It Comes to Permission

Like can, both may and might can be used when asking for permission (might is more common in British English than it is in American English).

May I please be excused from the table?
Might I get the menu when you’re done with it?

Use may when giving or expressing permission:

You may leave early today.
Georgia may go to the movies tonight, but only if she finishes her chores.
Yes, Alexander may join us for dinner.

It’s important to note that in a negative hypothetical situation, might clarifies possibility. Consider the following sentence:

Clara may not go to the picnic.

In the sentence above, may indicates that Clara doesn’t have permission to go to the picnic.

Clara might not go to the picnic.

This sentence demonstrates that there’s a probability that Clara might not go to the picnic.

“May” and “Might” As Nouns

Please be aware that may and might can also be nouns.

As nouns, May is the fifth month of the Gregorian calendar, whereas might refers to “the power, authority, or resources wielded.”

  • My birthday is in May.
  • He tried with all his might to open the jar.

How To Remember the Difference Between “May” and “Might”

The difference between may and might is subtle, but it can help clarify your writing, especially when it comes to permission and probability. It can take some practice before using these words correctly 100% of the time, but try to remember these key points:

  • Use may for present tense, and might for past perfect tense.
  • May expresses a high possibility of something happening, whereas might hints that it might not happen.
  • Both may and might can be used to ask for permission, but use may when giving permission.

The subtle difference between words is one of the many reasons the English language is difficult to learn. Using LanguageTool as your writing assistant is a foolproof way of making sure your text is free of spelling errors and grammar mistakes.

Quiz: Is it might as well or may as well?
Now you know when you should use “may” or “might” in your writing. 

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