What is the Difference Between May and Might ?

So, What is the Difference Between May and Might?

So what is the difference between May and Might? Both words are modal verbs — and native speakers usually think these words have the same, or similar, meaning. While one of them can be used in place of the other, there are slight differences between them. Again, these two words are interchangeable in most cases, but they can also be confusing to English learners or writers because they are not sure which one to use. If you ask a native speaker about the differences, chances are they might tell you they’re the same. The purpose of this post and the video is to help you understand what is the difference between May and Might!

May

This is a word that is becoming “old-fashioned”, which means that it’s not used as much as it was before, and even though it’s not used as much today, it still is an extremely common word in the English language. As students, if a native English speaker wants to use the restroom, he/she would have to ask the teacher using the word May. Here’s an example:
May I use the restroom?” (Will you give me permission to use the restroom?)
As you can see, May is used for politeness, or when you’re trying to act formally to someone like a teacher, a doctor, or a lawyer. In other words, this word is used to ask permission from someone to do something. However, this word is often used by children who are still in school! As we get older, this word becomes less and less used (we’re adults, not children!). Instead, there are two other phrases that you can use instead of May. Which ones?
  • Could I…? (ex. Could I call my friend on my phone?)
  • Do you mind if I…? (ex. Do you mind if I use the restroom?)
As an adult, you have more independence, and that means you don’t have to keep using May to ask for permission! Using one of those two phrases is not only acceptable in the general public, but it is also expected. Also, if you need to ask to use the restroom, here’s another tip you should use:
  • Do not use Might!
While this sentence is grammatically correct, it simply just sounds unnatural to native English speakers. If your textbook is telling you to use this, it’s lying!

Might

Let’s talk about this lovely word. This word is used to talk about the possibility of doing something. Unlike the other word (May), Might is not used to ask for permission from someone. Instead, it is often used as an answer to a question someone might ask you. If someone asks if you want to do something this weekend, then you can use Might. It talks about the possibility, but it is not guaranteed at that moment. Here’s an example:
  • Hey Gabby! Would you like to spend a weekend in the Grand Canyon? 
  • MmmmmI might, one day.
  • (Another acceptable answer): Mmmm….maybe I’ll go, someday. 

As you probably saw, Might was used because there is a chance that something is true or that there is a possibility of something happening (like spending a weekend in the Grand Canyon). Maybe can also be used in the same way! As you progress with your English, you will see that both of these words, Might and May, are not being used as much as before because of the other options available. Those other options are quickly becoming more common, and that means that these two words are simply not too important to know now, but it’s always good to what is the difference between May and Might.

Picture of Gabby Wallace, M.Ed TESOL

Gabby Wallace, M.Ed TESOL

About the Author
Gabby Wallace is the Founder of Go Natural English, where you can quickly improve your confidence speaking English through advanced fluency practice. Even if you don't have much time, this is the best place for improving your English skills. Millions of global intermediate - advanced English students are learning with Gabby's inspiring, clear, and energetic English lessons. Gabby has a Masters Degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from Boston University and 20+ years experience helping students become fluent through her online courses and membership program.

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