Know Thy English: “May” vs “Might”

So what is the difference between may and might? 

If you answered, “Duh, might is the past tense of may” – then you’re not entirely wrong, but you’re not entirely right either!

Because in today’s English, the distinction between the two words has become blurred as far as tense is considered.

Fact #1: Both ‘may’ and ‘might’ can be used interchangeably when talking about an event in the present or the past.

For example:

Present Tense –

  • I may be going crazy. (correct)
  • I might be going crazy. (also correct)

Past Tense –

  • I might have gone crazy. (correct)
  • I may have gone crazy. (also correct)

Now, technically speaking, the above rule holds good for future tense as well. But there’s a slight preferred distinction between the two words when talking about a future possible event. And it is good to keep this in mind as this has become the acceptable norm.

Fact #2: For a future event, the word ‘may’ is to be used for things that have a higher chance of happening. For things that are unlikely/unsure to happen, you use ‘might’. 

And I did not know this until I was 19 years old! Gah.

Examples:

  • It may rain. (Chances of raining are very high. In fact, the rain god himself has come and informed you so!)
  • It might rain. (You don’t know if it’s gonna rain. But your Weather app seems to suggest it.)

There are, of course, other usage rules for ‘may’ and ‘might’ but I think everyone knows them already. In any case, no one’s ever holding a gun to your throat for interchanging these two words so there’s no need to fret too much 🙂

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9 thoughts on “Know Thy English: “May” vs “Might”

    • Well Than/Then is a more rudimentary and obvious mistake which I think only a few people make. Maybe I’ll club all such stuff and put into one post. Thanks for pointing it out though.

      Like

    • Well now you know! 😀 To be honest, I would never have known either if I hadn’t attended that one-off oratory club session in our college. A lot of people lead their entire lives without knowing about this, so we should call ourselves lucky 😀 😛

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Reminds me of Can and May! Funny story from Primary school.
    Boy: Miss, can I go to the bathroom please.
    Miss(Teacher): Of course you can, BUT, you may not
    Boy: Huh?? So can I go or not?
    Miss: Weren’t you paying attention in this morning’s lesson?
    Boy: I may have been listening, then again I may have not!
    LOL! LOL!

    Like

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