Have you ever stopped mid-sentence and thought, is it “We may have an answer tomorrow” or “We might have an answer tomorrow”? Me, too. I had to brush up on this rule, and my findings may (or might?!) surprise you. Let’s talk about when it’s appropriate to use “may” versus “might.” Watch the video or read along!
The General Difference Between “May” and “Might”
The words “may” and “might” are similar in that they are neighboring verbs attached to main verbs, used to express the subjunctive mood (which just means that things are iffy, uncertain, or hypothetical). Both will supplement the main verb of a sentence. But there are nuanced differences here. Keeping these tips in mind will allow you to use both words correctly in speech and writing.
May = strong likelihood and a high degree of probability. Use may when something is more likely to happen. If you say you may do something, you are implying it is likely to happen.
- EXAMPLE: I may pick up a pizza on my way home from work.
Might = a sense of doubt and a lower degree of probability. Use might if something is less likely to happen or in a hypothetical situation. If you say you might do something, you are implying there is a decent chance you won’t do it.
- EXAMPLE: I might fold my laundry tonight if I have time.
Let’s look at them side-by-side and how they can change the mood of a sentence.
- EXAMPLE: You think all this snow will cancel school tomorrow? You may be right.
- EXAMPLE: You really think it will snow even though it’s 38 degrees outside? You might be right.
“Might” is preferable for the past tense.
- EXAMPLE: I might have booked the wrong hotel for Ali’s wedding.
- INCORRECT: I may have booked the wrong hotel for Ali’s wedding.
“May” is better for the present tense or if there is a chance of something happening in the near future.
- EXAMPLE: We may splurge on the more expensive hotel for Ali’s wedding.
If you wish to politely ask permission, and you expect an answer, use “may.”
- EXAMPLE: May I step outside for a moment to take this call?
If you don’t actually need permission, but you still want to express a thought or action, use “might.”
- EXAMPLE: Might I add, our RSVPs for the event are looking strong!
How to use MAY correctly
The modal auxiliary verb “may” clarifies the main verb of a sentence by suggesting that something will possibly happen, but it is not certain.
- EXAMPLE WITHOUT “MAY”: Henry will bring his famous chili to the party.
- It is certain. We will all be enjoying Henry’s chili at the party.
- EXAMPLE INCLUDING “MAY”: Henry may bring his famous chili to the party.
- It is not certain, but we are all hoping that Henry brings his famous chili to the party.
Three circumstances in which you should use “may”
- Use “may” to describe present-tense hypotheticals.
- EXAMPLE: She may be good enough to play tennis in college.
- Use “may” to describe things that are likely to happen.
- EXAMPLE: It may rain on and off all day, so we will practice inside.
- Use “may” to express permission — good or bad.
- EXAMPLE: You may miss only three practices a season.
- EXAMPLE: You may not, under any circumstances, throw your racket in anger.
How to use MIGHT correctly
The modal auxiliary verb “might” clarifies the main verb of a sentence by expressing a lesser degree of certainty than “may.” The word “may” is tied strongly to granting permission, so using “might” can clear up confusion.
Four circumstances in which you should use “might.”
- “Might” is the stronger option to describe past hypotheticals.
- EXAMPLE: I might have accidentally texted my ex-boyfriend last night.
- Use “might” to describe hypotheticals with lower degrees of certainty.
- EXAMPLE: I texted even though I thought I might finally be over him!
- Use “might” to express negative hypotheticals that don’t come with absolute certainty.
- EXAMPLE: I might not always make the best decisions, but I am trying.
- Use “might” to clarify a statement of possibility rather than permission.
- EXAMPLE: He said I may never contact him again, and I just might cry.
I will see y’all next month — no MAYs or MIGHTs about it!
For more grammar, spelling, and word usage tips, explore our Grammar Guru archives HERE!