May, Might, Should, Must...

Discussion in 'English Only' started by joseyyo, Feb 26, 2006.

  1. joseyyo New Member

    Castellano-España
    oops, i wrote in spanish... anyone could explain which are the differences between all these words??

    thanks!
     
  2. river Senior Member

    U.S. English
  3. SarahBeth Junior Member

    English, USA
    May or might can be used interchangably. "I may go to the library" and "I might go to the library" mean the same thing. It means that you are possibly going but have made no definite plans to do so.

    "I should go to the library" expresses the need or desire to go but again does not say definitely whether you are going. It is the same as saying "I ought to go". "I must go to the store" is a more emphatic way of expressing the need to go.

    Hopefully this makes sense.
     
  4. joseyyo New Member

    Castellano-España
    so for example, in the link river wrote, there's an example: I think Charlotte may/might be pregnant.

    Why don't you just use: I think Charlotte could be pregnant?

    Any differences?
     
  5. bartonig Senior Member

    UK English
    If the speaker's intention is to express the probability of her being pregnant then these sentences are equivalent. Some people might (could?) argue that on a scale of probability one form expresses a greater likelihood. May, might and could are also used to express modes such as ability and permission. However, I think those meanings are unlikley in these sentences.
     
  6. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I may go to the library.
    I probably will go.

    I might go to the library.
    I probably won't go.

    I could go to the library.
    It would be possible for me to go.

    I should go to the library.
    I ought to go, although I'm not sure I really want to.

    I must go to the library.
    It is important to me that I go.

    She may be pregnant.
    It is possible that she is pregnant.

    She might be pregnant.
    There is some possibility (less than above) that she is pregnant.

    She could be pregnant.
    I know that it is possible she is pregnant
    or there is something that would be explained if she were pregnant.

    She should be pregnant.
    Ah, now that is a tricky one:D

    She must be pregnant.
    There is almost irrefutable evidence that she is pregnant.
    or there is something that only makes sense if she is pregnant.
     
  7. river Senior Member

    U.S. English
    "Might" may suggest 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 I don't think most people make that distinction.

    Then there are those who insist that may is rarely a proper substitute for might, no matter what any dictionary tells you. May should properly be reserved for reference to permission, and might alone should refer to uncertainty.
     
  8. bartonig Senior Member

    UK English
    Mm. That may or may not be true.
     
  9. CAMullen Senior Member

    Amesbury
    US, English
    Yes, you might be right.
     
  10. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    ~~Chuckle~~
    I have no idea whether may is more probable than might or vice versa.
    I put them in order above, but I'd be amazed if there was anything other than subjective judgement involved - and clearly we don't completely agree:)
    I suspect it is more a question of which sounds best in the context rather than
    might = probability 0.25-0.29,
    may = probability 0.3-0.35:D

    Still, I bet there is an ESL student guide somewhere that sets this out with such mathemtical precision.
     
  11. CAMullen Senior Member

    Amesbury
    US, English
    I wonder whether Oxford would tell us that "may" and "might" come from the same place. They can after all substitute for one another in the "permission" sense, as well as in the "probability" one : "May I give it a try?" or "Might I give it a try?"
     
  12. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    They are VERY closely related....
    Have a look here and here.

    OED has pages and pages of stuff for may, amongst which I'm sure the close relationship is confirmed.
     
  13. tacandr

    tacandr Junior Member

    Russian (Russia)
    To me, this explanation deserves being hung on the wall:thumbsup:
     
  14. Geoff Jordan Junior Member

    Girona, Spain
    English
    What's the difference between "may" and "might" in terms of their meaning?

    I may go to London.
    I might go to London.

    Is one more probable than the other?
     
  15. Lora44 Senior Member

    Birmingham, UK
    England, English
  16. Geoff Jordan Junior Member

    Girona, Spain
    English
    They are in my opinion interchangeable. Even the example makes this clear. I might go and I may go are, semanticaly, the same, in my opinion. I have a good friend of mine here who insists that may is more probable than might. I think there is no difference. A search of a good corpus will surely prove me right.
     
  17. Lora44 Senior Member

    Birmingham, UK
    England, English
    Well according to the site I looked at, sometimes there's a very slight nuance. 'I may' do something suggests that it's more probably than if you say 'I might'.

    'I may go into town tomorrow for the Christmas sales. And James might come with me!' - That suggests that it's more likely you'll go into town than that James will. Therefore, if you do go there's a chance you will be alone.

    But they are nearly always interchangeable.

    The only time they're really not is with set phrases. Eg. Pigs might fly. It's always 'might' here and NEVER 'may'.
     
  18. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Today's question has been added to a previous thread that discussed this among other things. It also has links to other very useful threads. Have a look from the beginning of the thread.
     
  19. bat777 Senior Member

    Talmon, Israel
    Israel, Hebrew
    hi everyone
    how, where and why should one use each of these words?
    i understand the pure grammatical difference between them, but is there really a difference in use? in what contexts?

    i'm especially interested in sentences like: it may/might tell us something.
    (meaning that it's possible that it would tell us something)

    thanks a lot and gooday
     
  20. Siberia

    Siberia Senior Member

    UK-Wales - English
    Hi,
    May and might are more or less synonymous. They tell you the degree of probability in a sentence. Sometimes "might" may carry more doubt than "may"

    I may go to the party (50-50% possibility- depends if someone I like is there)
    I might go to the party (but you know I hate them) -30% possibility.
    Hope it helps
     
  21. bat777 Senior Member

    Talmon, Israel
    Israel, Hebrew
    thanks Siberia, it helps a lot. can you please also tell me whether one is "better english" than the other? i mean, whether one is more appropriate in academic writing.
     
  22. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Have a look at the posts that will appear earlier in this thread shortly.
     
  23. winklepicker

    winklepicker Senior Member

    Kent
    English (UK)
    <smiley riding hobbyhorse>
    Beware of confusing may and might in the past (as many native speakers do!):

    1. I may have done it. (It's possible that I did it, but I don't remember or am not saying.)
    2. I might have done it. (If the occasion had arisen, but it didn't, it's possible that I would have done it.)

    My favourite example is a newspaper headline Dead man may have lived (They mean he might have lived - if help had come more quickly. May have lived calls into question that he was ever alive!)

    There is an increasing migration away from might towards may in this context, but I think the distinction is worth retaining. There is a very helpful description here at RandomHouse.com.
     
  24. sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    I haven't performed a scientific survey, of course, but it is only lately that I have started to notice the conflation of "may have" and "might have", so I give the benefit of the doubt to those who say that this is getting more common. Just the other day someone on a BBC TV sports programme said "He [a footballer] may have scored if he had got the ball under control more quickly". The striker in question shot wide, so the correct modal was might, not may.
     
  25. winklepicker

    winklepicker Senior Member

    Kent
    English (UK)
    Yes Sound Shift, I think this is a usage being pioneered by those who are not educated people - the kind of folk who say different than... :D
     

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