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  1. #1
    Bujji85 is offline Newbie
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    Default When to use May and Might?

    Hello All

    I always have a dilemma of using these words in a sentence.
    Could you please help with tips regarding this?
    I have taken a quiz here and got 9 correct answers out of 10.
    But still I am hesitant of which word would be correct in a context.

    Bujji

  2. #2
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    Default Re: When to use May and Might?

    Your confusion is understandable.
    Look at this from American Heritage Book of English Usage:

    may and might.: It may rain. It might rain. What’s the difference? Just as could is the past tense of can, might is the past tense of may:

    The book then gives a sentence as an example. Let me preface it with these:
    We may win the tournament.
    We might win the tournament.
    From previous postings I have read in this forum, these two sentences would be interpreted along the lines of 'degree of likelihood/possibility' expressed by may and might. And Amer. Heritage does also:
    But might can also be used as a substitute for may to show diminished possibility. Thus, saying "We might go to the movies" means that the likelihood of going is somewhat less than if you say "We may go to the movies."
    Yet the sentence Amer. Heritage gives as the example of might as Past Tense of may is:

    We thought we might win the tournament.

    One minute I'm in the Present, watching a tournament, chewing my nails, and saying, " We might win". The next, put a verb in the Past Tense in a sentence preceding it, and it is suddenly the Past Tense form of may....and...and...does it or does it not retain a sense of 'lower likelihood'?

    Yes, something is wrong with the way grammar books are teaching the modals that is not helping this confusion!

    I've been doing a lot of study on 'will' and 'would', every ebook I can find on the net, and grammar sites...and 'may/might' is rather down the list. Let's see what others have to say that may/might make this less confusing for you; and I'll have a think too.
    Last edited by David L.; 08-Apr-2009 at 03:46.

  3. #3
    greegorush is offline Member
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    Default Re: When to use May and Might?

    As I understood the Grammar about the Modals there's no difference between "may" and "might", just one exception:
    Talking about the unreal situation use "might" not "may" (If I were in your position I would... this is an unreal situation because I'm not in your position).
    So I've made the decision to myself not to pay attention which word to use in common circumstances.

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    Default Re: When to use May and Might?

    greegorushSo I've made the decision to myself not to pay attention which word to use in common circumstances.

    That's one way to eradicate confusion and uncertainty: denial.
    I don't think we should recommend that approach to any learner about to take an English Entrance exam.

    there's no difference between "may" and "might",
    (except use "might" for an unreal situation).

    How does that 'fit' with:
    Not today, but I may come tomorrow.
    Not today, but I might come tomorrow.

    If we regard this as an 'unreal' situation, then only 'might' is correct. Yet if Bujji85 did a search of this topic on this site, he will find forum members giving a table of probabilities as to the degree of likelihood of 'my coming tomorrow'. (As I recall, 'may' = 80%, and 'might' = 40% - I think 'could' came in at 60%).
    Hence, little consensus among forum members for Bujji85 to rely on!

    What of:
    He may be French.
    He might be French.


    and then we plummet into shades of politeness with:
    May I suggest the Chateaubriand? - May I have a word with you?
    Might I suggest the Chateaubriand? - Might I have a word with you?
    compare those two with:
    May I have one?
    Might I have one?

    Would forum members agree or disagree as to whether all six of those examples are valid? If any Brit. Eng. forum member does not agree with 'Might I have one?'...that construction (Might I have something to drink?/Might I borrow the stapler?) is an example of 'might' from a tutorial on the Englishforum website!

    Hmm. Food for thought can bring on digestive problems.

    Bujji85: Don't worry. Together, forum members will give you the best understanding we can come up with, but this may take a few days. You could help us by giving an example/examples of where your confusion still lies. It would help us to focus more.
    Last edited by David L.; 08-Apr-2009 at 10:04.

  5. #5
    greegorush is offline Member
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    Default Re: When to use May and Might?

    David L. I think you didn't understand my point of view.
    The thread creator didn't post any examples, sentences or something to recognize his misunderstanding.
    As I understood he doesn't see the difference between them and so he's got some doubts using them.
    I had the same doubts but when I learned about "may" and "might" in English Grammar Book (British by the way) my doubts were gone because there was a clear explanation with just one exception.
    I think that there could be a difference but it's very slight because in other case you could easly explain the difference.

    Not today, but I may come tomorrow. Not today, but I might come tomorrow.
    He may be French. He might be French.
    There is nothing unreal in these sentences (at least I don't see)

    In other your examples I don't see any difference either.
    But my e-dictionary says that (as well as you said in your first post): might in meaning of possibility is a weak form of may;
    Asking people to do something - might is a bit polite than may.

    Anyway thanks a lot for the time you're spending here to improve our knowledge in English language. It really matters to me (to all I hope).

    Hope there are not many mistakes in my post.

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    Default Re: When to use May and Might?

    greegorush: I had the same doubts but when I learned about "may" and "might" in English Grammar Book (British by the way) my doubts were gone because there was a clear explanation with just one exception.
    I think that there could be a difference but it's very slight because in other case you could easly explain the difference.

    I commented on your response, particularly the part that seemed a kind of 'denial', because truth be told, I do the same myself every time I avoid a thread that asks for clarification of modals. How can I bring any sense and order into what is in dictionaries about modals, when I don't feel I have it in my own mind. They satisfy themselves with giving instances of all their uses - oh, I can use them! - but understanding why we choose one 'polite' way over another, one form of possibility over another etc ad nauseum, leaves me in the situation grammarians agree on: modals are a 'messy' picture.

    I finally decided to devote my reading to the matter; and I'll post some of my thoughts for comment in the next 24 hours.

    I hope, as a learner of English, you'll keep contributing to this discussion, because it's only when we native speakers realize what confuses others, and we have difficulty bringing sense and order to it in some ready explanation, that we realize we're so confused ourselves!
    Last edited by David L.; 08-Apr-2009 at 20:35.

  7. #7
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    engee30 is offline Key Member
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    Cool Re: When to use May and Might?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bujji85 View Post
    Hello All

    I always have a dilemma of using these words in a sentence.
    Could you please help with tips regarding this?
    I have taken a quiz here and got 9 correct answers out of 10.
    But still I am hesitant of which word would be correct in a context.

    Bujji
    Whether you use may or might is actually determined by what YOU feel about a particular situation.

    Suppose you need some help from your friend. You've spoken to him, and he's assured you that he will help you out. You can talk about it to another person in this way:
    My friend is going to help me out. (you're absolutely sure of some help from your friend)
    or
    My friend will help me out. (more neutral; still, you're quite sure of him helping you out)

    Having spoken to your friend, you know that it will not be easy for him to help you out. Yet, he's said he will try, so you have hope that things will look better anyway.
    Talking about it to another person, you might say:
    My friend may help me out. (you're more optimistic than pessimistic that he'll help you out)
    or
    My friend might help me out. (you're rather pessimistic about a possibility of his helping you out; still, there's a glimmer of hope inside of you)

    In case you haven't spoken to your friend yet, you might say the same (except for the option with 'be going to', which is reserved for the most definite situations):
    I think my friend will/may/might help me out.

    The explanations refer not only to the situations presented above but also to any other situation regarding possibility.

  8. #8
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    engee30 is offline Key Member
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    Cool Re: When to use May and Might?

    Asking permission; (not) giving permission

    May I use the office phone? (may is more polite than can)
    Might I use the office phone? (might is more polite than may)
    Yes, you may/might. (= Yes, please.)
    No, you may/might not. (= I'm afraid not.)

    You may leave now. (= you are allowed to leave now)
    You may not smoke in this area. (= you are not allowed to smoke in this area)

  9. #9
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    Smile Re: When to use May and Might?

    Making requests and suggestions

    You might get some milk while you're out. (= Will you get some milk while you're out?)

    A: I can't find my glasses.
    B: You might look in the garage.
    (= I suggest you go and look in the garage)


  10. #10
    greegorush is offline Member
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    Default Re: When to use May and Might?

    I've got some questions then:

    Do you clearly separate these two words? I mean in real life do you think over which word to use in different situations? As an example: if somebody's asking you, "Might I use the office phone?", does it sounds more polite to you than if he's used may or you don't pay attention at all? May be there are some circumstances in which we should use only might (the age or position of the man I'm speaking to or somewhat else)?

    Thanks in advance.

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