English Teacher Article Had Princess Diana worn a seatbelt

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In my newspaper the other day, I came across the following sentence:

Had Princess Diana worn a seatbelt, she may have lived.

This usage is very common nowadays, but it strikes me as odd; I would have used might there.

May does not work in this context. I would use it for when we are not sure if the person has lived or not, and not for a past imaginary possibility. It brings the action into the present, when it so clearly is past. There is a sense in which a shade of meaning is being eroded by this usage and it is not a trend I particularly like.

Categories: General

2 Comments

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Brittany Haskins

How do u know that she wasn`t wearing a seatbelt. U dont know that she was. Even if she was she still may not have lived.NO one knows if she was. she may have been wearing a seat belt.

All the reports suggested she wasn't. However, the main point here is about the language used and the difference between 'may have lived' and 'might have lived'. If you say she 'may have lived', then it implies that we don't know whether she's alive. If you say she 'might have lived', then we know she died, but are not sure her death could not have been avoided.

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