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  1. #1
    ian2 is offline Member
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    Default May have begun and Might have begun

    Yet this was the moment when he gave himself over to a project that he may have begun sometime earlier, in the late seventies.

    Correct me if I am wrong:

    This only implies that it is possible that the project began sometimes earlier, in the late seventies. It's a possibility. It probably began earlier.

    If I say: "Might have begun sometime earlier in the late seventies", then the meaning could be different. It then could mean it's possible that it began in the 70s and it probably did begin in the seventies, but it could also mean that it's possible that it began in the 70s, but it didn't take place, right? Thanks.

  2. #2
    Clark is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: May have begun and Might have begun

    Quote Originally Posted by ian2 View Post
    Yet this was the moment when he gave himself over to a project that he may have begun sometime earlier, in the late seventies.

    'May' here is wrong, 'might' should be used. A hypothetical action in the past with a shade of reproach.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: May have begun and Might have begun

    Yet this was the moment when he gave himself over to a project that he may have begun sometime earlier, in the late seventies.

    We think he began doing some kind of work/task/project back in the late 70s. However, he did not give a lot of time to it, and so it was not finished. A moment arrived when he then 'gave himself over'/devoted his time exclusively to the project.

    Yet this was the moment when he gave himself over to a project that he might have begun sometime earlier, in the late seventies.


    This is a bit tricky. If we take the sentence as indicating possibility, then time was that ‘may’ was used in the present tense, and ‘might’ in the past tense:
    “I may go to the party.”
    “We thought we might win the game.”


    But nowadays, the two words are also used to indicate degrees of possibility, with ‘may’ suggesting something is more likely than if we use ‘might’, irrespective of then tense. Hence, "I might go to the party. I'll see how I feel."

    So – with your sentence, with already got two problems: Should the author have used ‘might’ because he is referring to something in the past, the 70s? Or has he used ‘may’ because he thinks it more possible that he really did begin the project back then? more possible than ‘might’ would suggest.

    Then, as Clark points out, ‘might’ is used when we reproach someone: “You might have at least rung to say you would be late!”

    In speech, we would have the reproachful tone of voice to indicate the meaning. In writing, we would need some further comment, like, “…back in the 70s. Certainly, his colleagues had often chided him that lack of a thorough study of the area hindered their own progress.”

    All things considered, it is unlikely that the writer would editorialize to the extent of making a reproachful remark. So, with regard to possibility, we are still left in doubt as to whether he is indicating a shading of possibility by using 'may', or whether his grammar is at fault and he should have used 'might'.
    Last edited by David L.; 29-Jun-2008 at 10:28.

  4. #4
    ian2 is offline Member
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    Default Re: May have begun and Might have begun

    Wow, this is so crystal clear. Most people nowadays don't pay too much attention to language. But what you wrote above indicates that clear writing depend on clear thinking. Thanks a million.

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    Default Re: May have begun and Might have begun

    Thank you so much Ian! I hope I have further opportunity to fan this appreciation of the nuances of language you feel, so that we continue to raise communication from where we began - with a few grunts - to a delicate sensitivity for conveying our true meaning.

    David

  6. #6
    ian2 is offline Member
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    Default Re: May have begun and Might have begun

    I agree. I will continue doing that. I recently read a book called "The Dumbest Generation: How The Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans And Jeopardizes Our Future, Or, Don't Trust Anyone under 30", in which the author blames the computer screen for the weakening of our reading ability. I to a great extent agree with the author, even though I also feel guilty when I reply so much on the Internet for communication, as we are doing right now.

    It is really a problem that people don't want to know the subtle details. Each time when I raise such a question, native speakers of English often have a look on their face to indicate that I am sort of nuts. I admire you guys to take care of linguistic details.

  7. #7
    ian2 is offline Member
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    Default Re: May have begun and Might have begun

    David,

    I posted another details oriented question which was answered, but I added some further comment. Here is the address:

    http://www.usingenglish.com/forum/ne...reply&p=314995

    Ian

  8. #8
    ian2 is offline Member
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    Default Re: May have begun and Might have begun

    Sorry that was the wrong address. Here is the right one:

    http://www.usingenglish.com/forum/as...rd-soften.html

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