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May and might (grammar)

These two words cause a lot of confusion and many people are not sure when to use which one.  Both may and might can be used in requests and when expressing possibility for the present and future. Let’s discuss the rules regarding their use.

Expressing Possibility with May and Might

Most people use may and might interchangeably when referring to possibility and probability, but there is a small difference between the two.

May is used to express what is possible, factual, or what could be factual. For example,

  • We may go to cinema on Saturday. (maybe we go to cinema on Saturday)
  • I may be late. (maybe I will be late)
  • He may go to Germany next year.
  • I may go to university when I finish high school.
  • I may have an ice-cream after dinner.

Might is used to express what is hypothetical, contrary to fact, or remotely possible. For example,

  • If you buy a lottery ticket, you might get rich. (very unlikely you win)
  • You might make it on time, but you will have to hurry. (if you are lucky, you will be there on time)
  • We might go on a vacation to Australia.

Might as the past tense of May

The most important difference between these two words is that might is the past tense of may.

  • He might have stop by earlier, but nobody was home.
  • He might have killed you.

Asking for Permission or giving permission with May and Might

May and might can both be used when asking for permission. When asking for permission, may is used more frequently.

  • You may have another piece of cake.
  • May I go to the bathroom?
  • Might I ask for a favour?
  • May I borrow your dictionary, please?
  • May I stay a bit longer at my friend’s house?

May is frequently used to give permission in a formal way or to say that somebody has a permission.

  • You may leave now.
  • You may go to play now.
  • Students may travel for free.

Using may not to refuse permission

May not is used to refuse permission or to say that somebody does not have a permission. For example:

  • You may not borrow my car because you are not on its insurance.
  • Students may not wear casual clothes. They must wear uniforms.

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