Is 'might' past tense?

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kohyoongliat

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Is 'might' the past tense of 'may'? If not, what part of speech is it?

Many thanks.
 

kohyoongliat

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Dear Teachers

Could you please answer my query?

Thanks in advance.
 

engee30

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Is 'might' the past tense of 'may'? If not, what part of speech is it?

Many thanks.

It isn't according to the rules of modern English. You can, however, find information in dictionaries saying that might is still the past tense of may, especially when it comes to using it in reported speech.
:cool:
 

heidita

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Dear Teachers

Could you please answer my query?

Thanks in advance.

Hi koh, you may/might find this site interesting.;-)


may/might

This author considers might the past of may, others say they are equivalent.

In this exercise some sentences can only be answered or sound more logical with might.

May or Might - Online Language Quiz - UsingEnglish.com

And finally, this discussion on this forum about the same question:

https://www.usingenglish.com/forum/linguistics/28401-examples-past-tense-might.html
 

riverkid

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Hi koh, you may/might find this site interesting.;-)


may/might

This author considers might the past of may, others say they are equivalent.

Hello Heidita.

This site is loaded with errors. It is a terrible site for students who want to really know how language works. The URL shouldn't read "brians/errors", it should read "Brian's errors".


Most of the time “might” and “may” are almost interchangeable, with “might” suggesting a somewhat lower probability. You’re more likely to get wet if the forecaster says it may rain than if she says it might rain; but substituting one for the other is unlikely to get you into trouble—so long as you stay in the present tense.


He is wrong about 'might' being the past tense of 'may'; it is not.


But “might” is also the past tense of the auxiliary verb “may,” and is required in sentences like “Chuck might have avoided arrest for the robbery if he hadn’t given the teller his business card before asking for the money.” When speculating that events might have been other than they were, don’t substitute “may” for “might."

Professor Brian is very unclear in his thoughts on this but he seems to be suggesting that 'might' must be used because it is the past tense of 'may'. Well, as I've already mentioned, it's not, so what could be his reason for this. Well, he's simply repeating an old prescription that is patently false.

What Professor Brian is suggesting means that there are certain things that can't be expressed in English, a ludicrous position.

Any number of speakers could have different opinions about this situation and as the examples show, these can be expressed by a number of modal and semi-modals as the examples below show.

1. “Chuck certainly would have avoided arrest for the robbery if he hadn’t given the teller his business card before asking for the money.”

2. “Chuck would have avoided arrest for the robbery if he hadn’t given the teller his business card before asking for the money.”

3. “Chuck very likely have avoided arrest for the robbery if he hadn’t given the teller his business card before asking for the money.”

4. “Chuck probably/likely would have avoided arrest for the robbery if he hadn’t given the teller his business card before asking for the money.”

5. “Chuck may have have avoided arrest for the robbery if he hadn’t given the teller his business card before asking for the money.”

And finally,

6. “Chuck might have avoided arrest for the robbery if he hadn’t given the teller his business card before asking for the money.”

not to mention,

7. “Chuck probably wouldn't have avoided arrest for the robbery even if he hadn’t given the teller his business card before asking for the money.”

and other possible variants.


As an aside: if you are an old-fashioned child, you will ask, “May I go out to play?” rather than “Can I go out to play?” Despite the prevalence of the latter pattern, some adults still feel strongly that “may” has to do with permission whereas “can” implies only physical ability. But then if you have a parent like this you’ve had this pattern drilled into your head long before you encountered this page.

This too is patently false. It's simply an errant prescription. Those "adults" do not feel that "can implies only physical ability". These "adults" also use 'can' for permission in their daily lives.

As I said, Heidita, a terrible site for language.

###
 

riverkid

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In this exercise some sentences can only be answered or sound more logical with might.

May or Might - Online Language Quiz - UsingEnglish.com

And some, in their "frozen formula meaning" normally take 'may'. I'm not sure what that illustrates, Heidita.

I'm not even sure what this quiz is for. The funny thing is, in the right context, virtually every one of those could use what is described, errantly to my mind, as the incorrect answer.

Q1 - I was just wondering whether you ____ be able to help me.

Either may or might

Q2 - ____ God have mercy on your soul.

As a frozen formula, it's may but might is a possibility.

Q3 - You ____ well be right.

Either may or might

Q4 - I told them I ____ go if I felt like it, but wasn't sure.

Either may or might

Q6 - The examiner says we ____ leave when we've finished.

may is more likely but might is possible and can is the most likely

Q7 - It ____ be very expensive, but it's much better than the others.

Either may or might


context context context context context
 

heidita

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I'm not even sure what this quiz is for. The funny thing is, in the right context, virtually every one of those could use what is described, errantly to my mind, as the incorrect answer.

I suppose the finality of the quiz is to teach students to distinguish may and might. I don't think it is confusing and believe it was made by grammar specialists.
 
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heidita

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Riverside, you said this:

He is wrong about 'might' being the past tense of 'may'; it is not.

I just found this answer:

might (v.)
O.E. mihte, meahte, originally the past tense of may (O.E. magen "to be able"), thus "*may-ed." See may (v.). The first record of might-have-been is from 1848.

Online Etymology Dictionary

The Collins takes it as the past tense of may, too:

"might {1}" en el diccionario Collins English Dictionary & Thesaurus

And I am sure there are just as many sources which state quite the opposite. Even though the Etymology Dict. strikes me as rather trustworthy.
 

David L.

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Kenneth G. Wilson (1923–). The Columbia Guide to Standard American English. 1993.

may, might (auxs.)

For events in the present or immediate future, use either may or might (I may [might] decide to go after all), but for past time, most Standard users still prefer only might, as in, "Yesterday I might have decided to stay home", not the increasingly encountered, "Yesterday I may have decided to stay home." Journalese is now peppered with "may" where until recently "might" has been solidly entrenched.

Also:
might
modal verb ( 3rd sing. present might )
past of may , used esp.:
• in reported speech, expressing possibility or permission : He said he might be late.
• expressing a possibility based on a condition not fulfilled : We might have won if we'd played better.
• expressing annoyance about something that someone has not done : You might have told me!
• expressing purpose : He avoided social engagements so that he might work.
 

riverkid

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I just found this answer:

might (v.)
O.E. mihte, meahte, originally the past tense of may

Online Etymology Dictionary

Note that it says, 'originally the past tense of may, Heidita.

The Collins takes it as the past tense of may, too:

"might {1}" en el diccionario Collins English Dictionary & Thesaurus

And I am sure there are just as many sources which state quite the opposite. Even though the Etymology Dict. strikes me as rather trustworthy.

Collins gives no examples. That's typically the case because it's actually not possible to make an example.
 

riverkid

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Kenneth G. Wilson (1923–). The Columbia Guide to Standard American English. 1993.

may, might (auxs.)

For events in the present or immediate future, use either may or might (I may [might] decide to go after all), but for past time, most Standard users still prefer only might, as in, "Yesterday I might have decided to stay home", not the increasingly encountered, "Yesterday I may have decided to stay home."

This seems an idiotic example. I'm having trouble trying to imagine a person who can't remember whether they decided to stay home or not.

Regardless, it isn't even an argument for might as a past tense of can. It's that same confused argument that Professor Brians made and he was just repeating someone else's nonsense.


Journalese is now peppered with "may" where until recently "might" has been solidly entrenched.

Yeah right.

Results 1 - 10 of about 20,600,000 English pages for "may have"

Results 1 - 10 of about 7,650,000 English pages for "might have".

UK region:

Results 1 - 10 of about 577,000 English pages for "might have".

Results 1 - 10 of about 689,000 English pages for "may have".




Also:
might
modal verb ( 3rd sing. present might )
past of may , used esp.:
• in reported speech, expressing possibility or permission : He said he might be late.

Reported Speech IS NOT AN INDICATION OF PAST TENSE. It merely marks the speech as indirect reported speech. It indicates that the speech is not a direct quote.

• expressing a possibility based on a condition not fulfilled : We might have won if we'd played better.

Debunked in the posting about brian's errors.

• expressing annoyance about something that someone has not done : You might have told me!

Are you suggesting that this is an example of 'might' as the past tense of 'may', David? Since we can substitute 'could', would it also qualify as the past tense of 'may'.

• expressing purpose : He avoided social engagements so that he might work.

This too. Is this an example of 'might as the past tense of 'may'?
 

engee30

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...
Reported Speech IS NOT AN INDICATION OF PAST TENSE. It merely marks the speech as indirect reported speech. It indicates that the speech is not a direct...

Personally, I couldn't agree more, but...

We all know what reported speech is for, and what it consists in - in simple words, verb tenses are 'back-shifted', that is present forms are replaced by past forms. This shift is obviously not obligatory if the described state still holds. So how can you insist on saying that might is not the past form of may in such cases? We're not talking about something taking place in real past time, we're just reporting what others thought or said in the past, using past forms of verbs, and nothing else. That's it.
:roll:
 

riverkid

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Personally, I couldn't agree more, but...

We all know what reported speech is for, and what it consists in - in simple words, verb tenses are 'back-shifted', that is present forms are replaced by past forms.

Actually Engee, a whole lot of people don't know what reported speech is for and many of these people are teachers who instruct both ESLs and ENLs.

So how can you insist on saying that might is not the past form of may in such cases? We're not talking about something taking place in real past time, we're just reporting what others thought or said in the past, using past forms of verbs, and nothing else. That's it.
:roll:

The reason that I say this is simply because it is true, Engee. For one thing, it has led to a great deal of misinformation about language. It has led to the vast majority of ESLs believing that modals have tense.

This both prevents them from understanding language and actively using language and I know you know how important the modals are to a real understanding and use of English.

The modals are not the same as ordinary lexical verbs. Again, I know that you know that they differ in many respects and it's terribly unhelpful to ESLs to have them make comparisons that simply aren't there.
 
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engee30

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The reason that I say this is simply because it is true, Engee. For one thing, it has led to a great deal of misinformation about language. It has led to the vast majority of ESLs believing that modals have tense.

This both prevents them from understanding language and actively using language and I know you know how important the modals are vitally to a real understanding and use of English.

The modals are not the same as ordinary lexical verbs. Again, I know that you know that they differ in many respects and it's terribly unhelpful to ESLs to have them make comparisons that simply aren't there.

Yes, but the question is, how would you name that form of a verb being 'back-shifted' if a student asked you such a question? In all possible cases the answer would (or even should) be, a past form, like it is in most cases when it comes to dealing with reported speech:

I thought you were away. (were = past form of be)
I didn't know you had sisters. (had = past form of have)

and so on...
 

riverkid

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Yes, but the question is, how would you name that form of a verb being 'back-shifted' if a student asked you such a question? In all possible cases the answer would (or even should) be, a past form, like it is in most cases when it comes to dealing with reported speech:

I thought you were away. (were = past form of be)

I didn't know you had sisters. (had = past form of have)

OR the more emphatic version,

I didn't know that you have sisters. They're all stunning!


and so on...

Hello Engee.

What's so difficult about telling students that modals are tenseless, which they are. That solves the major problem of having students trying to figure out how,

She might go tomorrow. :-?

You should watch that program tonight. :-?

A: Should I go to see that movie?

B: Yes, you would really like that.

A: :-?

these examples do not indicate a past time or tense.

We already have to fill students in on the differences between modals and lexical verbs, so what's one more considering that it's the truth. Trying to sort out all these problems down the road, caused by the modals being inaccurately described, is a much much bigger task.

It's easy to show the modal pairings for backshifting for reported speech, [there really aren't that many, are there?] and you must make note, much of the time the traditional pairing is not the backshift that's normally used.

You know it's really funny, Engee, ironic too, that native speakers never use the purported past tense modals as past tenses because they can't, it's impossible yet, these "rules" that are supposed to help ESLs function in English only serve to mislead them. Kinda goes ta show ya just how valuable the rules of prescriptive grammar are.
 
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riverkid

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Personally, I prefer to call it a past form rather than a past tense.

Howdy Horsa.

If I may be so bold, doesn't that just prolong the problem, exacerbate the problem?

Do you mind if I ask how you happen to have chosen the moniker 'Horsa'?
 

heidita

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The reason that I say this is simply because it is true,

Riverkid, I have provided several sources which state the opposite, but of course, if you feel that the "truth" is yours, then it is really difficult to have a discussion about anything.

I believe the speaker was talking about reported speech, correct me if I am wrong. In reported speech, this sentence would be marked as incorrect

I didn't know that you have sisters.

Actually Engee, a whole lot of people don't know what reported speech is for and many of these people are teachers who instruct both ESLs and ENLs.

This as a surprising statement.:shock:

Note that it says, 'originally the past tense of may, Heidita.

Exactly, riverkid, that's what etymology dictionaries are there for: to give the origin of the words. And the origin of might is may as the latters past tense.
Are you implying that the origin has nothing to do with the actual form?
 
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