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  1. #1
    riverkid is offline Banned
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    examples of past tense 'might'

    In another thread a member of UsingEnglish noted that 'sometimes might is the past tense of may. {this may not be the exact quote but the overall gist of it is there}

    I'd truly like to see some of those situations and examples, if it's not too much trouble. And please, any and all, feel free to jump right in. The water ain't too hot.

  2. #2
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    Re: examples of past tense 'might'

    I'm glad that I might drop into this thread.

  3. #3
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Re: examples of past tense 'might'

    Would indirect speech count?

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    MrPedantic is offline Moderator
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    Re: examples of past tense 'might'

    Where "may" has a sense of "capacity", we sometimes find a genuine past-tense "might":

    "Of course she was very busy all day long, but whenever she had a little spare time she sat down to spin. Her distaff turned of itself and her spindle span by itself and the flax wound itself off; and however much she might use there was always plenty left."

    "Stilicho's position was not so secure as it seemed. His daughter, the Empress Maria, was dead, but Honorius had been induced to wed her sister Aemilia Materna Termantia, and Stilicho might think that his influence over the Emperor was inpregnable, and might still hope for the union of his son with Placidia. But any popularity he had won by the victory over Gildo, by the expulsion of Alaric from Italy, by the defeat of Radagaisus, was ebbing away."

    MrP

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    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Re: examples of past tense 'might'

    What about:
    Try as he might, he wasn't able move it.

    Hmm, the more I look at this one, the more baffling it seems.

  6. #6
    riverkid is offline Banned
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    Re: examples of past tense 'might'

    Quote Originally Posted by Tdol View Post
    What about:
    Try as he might, he wasn't able move it.

    Hmm, the more I look at this one, the more baffling it seems.
    If this, "might is the past tense of may", had any veracity, Tdol, the examples would have already overloaded your server. It is baffling but that's because it can't be done.

    In your example, it refers to 'him trying it as many times as he might/could'. It doesn't refer to him performing any specific finished action. He tried it one way, he tried it another, he may still be standing there trying to figure an new way.

    'might' doesn't refer to each differing action he tried. That is described by other forms, true past tenses.

    "He tried a crowbar and that didn't work."

    No one would describe these finished attempts with,

    *"He might try a crowbar but that didn't work."*

    Clearly ungrammatical for this instance.

    Remember what it is that we're trying to prove or disprove - "might is the past tense of may".

    =================

    The "backshifting" that we use for indirect/reported speech ONLY signals that it is reported speech and not direct speech. It does NOT report any finished action as a real past tense does.

    A: [to C] He's going to Tokyo.

    B: [didn't hear] What did he say, C?

    C: He said that he was going to Tokyo.

    The 'was' does not indicate that he has gone to Tokyo.
    Last edited by riverkid; 14-Oct-2006 at 19:42.

  7. #7
    riverkid is offline Banned
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    Re: examples of past tense 'might'

    MrPedantic: Where "may" has a sense of "capacity", we sometimes find a genuine past-tense "might":


    "Of course she was very busy all day long, but whenever she had a little spare time she sat down to spin. Her distaff turned of itself and her spindle span by itself and the flax wound itself off; and however much she might use there was always plenty left."


    "Stilicho's position was not so secure as it seemed. His daughter, the Empress Maria, was dead, but Honorius had been induced to wed her sister Aemilia Materna Termantia, and Stilicho might think that his influence over the Emperor was inpregnable, and might still hope for the union of his son with Placidia. But any popularity he had won by the victory over Gildo, by the expulsion of Alaric from Italy, by the defeat of Radagaisus, was ebbing away."


    Good day, Mr P.

    These are not past tenses, Mr P. The don't refer to any finished action. They refer to, like Tdol's example, a general condition, a theoretical condition if you will. Semantically, it means the same as,

    "... however much she used there was always plenty left."

    OR

    "If she used a lot of it there was still always plenty left."

    "If she were to use a great deal, there was still always plenty left."

    'might think' and 'might still hope' also do not refer to any finished actions. They describe future feelings. You're confusing operating in a past description with past tense.

    How are these examples connected in any way with 'may'?


  8. #8
    MrPedantic is offline Moderator
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    Re: examples of past tense 'might'

    Hello RK

    I'm quite comfortable with the sense of completeness in this passage:

    "Of course she was very busy all day long, but whenever she had a little spare time she sat down to spin. Her distaff turned of itself and her spindle span by itself and the flax wound itself off; and however much she might use there was always plenty left."

    At the time of speaking, the using and being-plenty-left were complete.

    For the connection with "may", I would change the passage as follows:

    "Of course she is very busy all day long, but whenever she has a little spare time she sits down to spin. Her distaff turns of itself and her spindle spins by itself and the flax winds itself off; and however much she may use, there is always plenty left."

    All the best,

    MrP

  9. #9
    riverkid is offline Banned
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    Re: examples of past tense 'might'

    MrPedantic: Hello RK

    Hello, Mr P. I see that you're enjoying a sunny day there in your neck of the woods.


    I'm quite comfortable with the sense of completeness in this passage:

    I have little doubt that you are, Sir. Let me try to disabuse you of that notion.

    "Of course she was very busy all day long, but whenever she had a little spare time she sat down to spin. Her distaff turned of itself and her spindle span by itself and the flax wound itself off; and however much she might use there was always plenty left."

    At the time of speaking, the using and being-plenty-left were complete.

    Whatever she used was at least complete, if in fact she used any at all. Really, give it a bit of a think; does this not say that this condition exists at anytime she engages in spinning.

    And what of the paraphrases I put for this in my last posting? Did you not consider any of them to be accurate?


    For the connection with "may", I would change the passage as follows:

    "Of course she is very busy all day long, but whenever she has a little spare time she sits down to spin. Her distaff turns of itself and her spindle spins by itself and the flax winds itself off; and however much she may use, there is always plenty left."

    Could 'might' not substitute there for 'may'? Could 'can' substitute for 'may'?

    All the best,
    MrP

    All the best to you too, Sir.

  10. #10
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Re: examples of past tense 'might'

    I don't see why the action has to have been done to qualify. I agree with your example being wrong, but with the backshifting examples, I can see a difference:

    A It may rain today.
    B (reporting the same day) He said it may rain today.
    The next day
    He said it might rain yesterday.

    Here, I see the possibility described as having finished.

    Also, I personally don't subscribe to the definition of tense being used there, as I don't see tense as simply a temporal relationship, but within that restriction, I still see 'might' as describing a completed past possibility of rain.

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