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  1. #1
    ostap77 is offline Key Member
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    Default may have been lost or might have been?

    "They even admitted that papers may have been lost or misfiled."

    I was wondering if the speaker used it because he already thought of "may have been" as a past tense construction not the one that should have been shoved into the past tense?

  2. #2
    magdalena is offline Member
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    Default Re: may have been lost or might have been?

    Quote Originally Posted by ostap77 View Post
    "They even admitted that papers may have been lost or misfiled."

    I was wondering if the speaker used it because he already thought of "may have been" as a past tense construction not the one that should have been shoved into the past tense?
    I don't quite understand the question:) I think the speaker is guessing what could have happened. Normally the gradation of likelihood is : could-may-might have happened but in your example we have reported speech, where may usually changes into might? Maybe I should read up on my grammar

  3. #3
    ostap77 is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: may have been lost or might have been?

    Quote Originally Posted by magdalena View Post
    I don't quite understand the question:) I think the speaker is guessing what could have happened. Normally the gradation of likelihood is : could-may-might have happened but in your example we have reported speech, where may usually changes into might? Maybe I should read up on my grammar
    I guess that it might well have been changed to" might have been"? I mean backshifting?

  4. #4
    magdalena is offline Member
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    Default Re: may have been lost or might have been?

    yep, it could:) if it should I do not know but it definitely could;)

  5. #5
    ostap77 is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: may have been lost or might have been?

    Quote Originally Posted by magdalena View Post
    yep, it could:) if it should I do not know but it definitely could;)
    When we move may one tense back, may becomes mignt?
    Last edited by ostap77; 27-Mar-2011 at 08:59.

  6. #6
    5jj's Avatar
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    Default Re: may have been lost or might have been?

    There is no 100% clear answer here because:
    1. some speakers appear to make no distictinction between may and might.
    2.
    even speakers who do make a distinction appear to be less precise sometimes in talking aboutpresent and past conjecture on past happening.
    3. backshifting is not always obligatory in reported speech.

  7. #7
    TheParser is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: may have been lost or might have been?

    Quote Originally Posted by ostap77 View Post
    "They even admitted that papers may have been lost or misfiled."

    I was wondering if the speaker used it because he already thought of "may have been" as a past tense construction not the one that should have been shoved into the past tense?

    ***** NOT A TEACHER *****


    (1) As usual, you have asked an excellent question.

    (2) Mr. John Honey wrote a 1997 book entitled Language is Power/ The Story of Standard English and its Enemies (London and Boston: Faber and Faber).

    (3) He was severely criticized because he felt that there is correct English

    and incorrect English. At that time in his country (the United Kingdom),

    some people thought that he was wrong to insist that everyone learn

    standard English.

    (4) One thing that upset him was the fact that many educated people

    do not understand the difference between might have been and

    may have been.

    (5) I hope that I can explain his views correctly.

    (6) Professor Honey says that (generally speaking) might have been =

    something could have happened but it didn't!!!

    (7) Professor Honey says that (generally speaking) may have been =

    something could have happened, but we do not know yet!!!

    (8) These are only my examples, so I cannot guarantee you that they are

    correct:

    TV announcer: Terrible news!!! There has just been an earthquake in city

    X. 100, 000 people live there. We are getting reports that maybe

    as many as 10,000 people may have died (but WE DO NOT KNOW YET).

    ***


    TV announcer: There was a terrible airplane accident in country Y. When

    the plane crashed, all of the 100 passengers were immediately taken

    by ambulance to the hospital. Now they are all OK. Those 100 passengers

    might have died if there had not been those ambulances waiting to rush

    them to the hospital (but WE KNOW THAT THEY DID NOT DIE -- thanks to

    those waiting ambulances).

    (9) Based on my reading of Professor Honey's book, IF I am correct,

    your sentence "They admitted that papers may have been lost" =

    They do not yet know whether the papers have been lost or have not

    been lost. They are now checking.

    ("They admitted that papers might have been lost" would =

    The papers were NOT lost. For example: the papers were in a big

    box. The custodian/janitor picked up the box to take it to the

    trash container. But a good security guard told him: Don't touch those

    papers!!! They are important!!! So we can say:

    They admitted that papers might have been lost if the security guard

    had not stopped the custodian. But the security guard DID stop the

    custodian and the papers were NOT lost. Therefore, use "might have

    been.")

  8. #8
    5jj's Avatar
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    Default Re: may have been lost or might have been?

    I use the words in the way Professor Honey describes. However, I often see and hear such things as "Obama may have lost the election" (if certain voters had not been mobilised). To me that carries a nonsensical meaning (because Obama did not lose the election), but its use appears to becoming so common that perhaps I may have to accept that the language is changing.

    The reported speech of Ostap's, "They even admitted that papers may have been lost or misfiled" complicates matters further.

    Let us assume that their original words were "Papers may have been lost or misfiled," very roughly equivalent in meaning to, "It is possible that papers were/have been lost ...".

    We can report this in two ways:

    1. We can suggest that there is still, at the time of reporting the admission, the possibility of the loss of the papers:

    They even admitted that it is possible that the papers were/have been lost ... .
    They even admitted that the papers may have been lost.


    2. We can report that there was, at the time of admission, the possibility of the loss of the papers. without suggesting that the possibility still (at the time of reporting) exists:

    They even admitted that it was possible that the papers had been lost... .
    They even admitted that the papers might have been lost... .

  9. #9
    ostap77 is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: may have been lost or might have been?

    Quote Originally Posted by fivejedjon View Post
    I use the words in the way Professor Honey describes. However, I often see and hear such things as "Obama may have lost the election" (if certain voters had not been mobilised). To me that carries a nonsensical meaning (because Obama did not lose the election), but its use appears to becoming so common that perhaps I may have to accept that the language is changing.

    The reported speech of Ostap's, "They even admitted that papers may have been lost or misfiled" complicates matters further.

    Let us assume that their original words were "Papers may have been lost or misfiled," very roughly equivalent in meaning to, "It is possible that papers were/have been lost ...".

    We can report this in two ways:

    1. We can suggest that there is still, at the time of reporting the admission, the possibility of the loss of the papers:

    They even admitted that it is possible that the papers were/have been lost ... .
    They even admitted that the papers may have been lost.


    2. We can report that there was, at the time of admission, the possibility of the loss of the papers. without suggesting that the possibility still (at the time of reporting) exists:

    They even admitted that it was possible that the papers had been lost... .
    They even admitted that the papers might have been lost... .
    How would you interpret it, if the speaker said "might well have been"="may have been lost"? Or it would be a bit sronger than just "might have been lost"?

  10. #10
    5jj's Avatar
    5jj is offline VIP Member
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    Default Re: may have been lost or might have been?

    Quote Originally Posted by ostap77 View Post
    How would you interpret it, if the speaker said "might well have been"="may have been lost"? Or it would be a bit sronger than just "might have been lost"?
    If the actual words were, "The papers might well have been lost", I would interpret th words as implying a stronger possibility of loss than that implied by both 'may have been lost' and 'might have been lost'.

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