may/might well have done meaning

moohyun

New Member
japanese- japan
Hello, I am studying English as a second language.

I looked the word up in the dictionary and there are two meanings of may/might well.


1.used to say that there is a good reason for a reaction, question, or feeling

2. used for saying that something is fairly likely to be true or is fairly likely to happen



Is there a past tense of "May well" that means the former one?

If there is, could you give me some examples?

Thank you
 
  • dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    Can you give an example sentence using "might well" (or "may well") with meaning 1? I recognize meaning 2 but not meaning 1. Thanks.

    There probably is a past tense, but I can't give an example of it, since I can't think of an example for the present tense.
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Present tense: He may/might well be telling the truth.
    Past tense: He may/might well have been telling the truth.
    Except in indirect speech and thought
    I thought to myself "He may/might well be telling the truth" ==> I thought he might well be telling the truth.
    I thought to myself "He may/might well have been telling the truth" ==> I thought he might well have been telling the truth.

    The same pattern goes for all modal verbs when used in epistemic senses.
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    He might be a little shocked at the irregulation of my lineament, his being so harmonious.
    This sentence makes no sense to me. Can't you use plain words, and avoid confusing and meaningless ones like "former", "latter" and "irregulation"? What sentence have you seen in which "may/might well" seemed ambiguous or confusing?

    In #1 when you said "former" and "latter" I thought you were talking about some kind of time sequence, not the items you had numbered 1 and 2.
     
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    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Hello moohyun
    I see your definitions come from the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, which gives these three examples for the first meaning:
    ‘What do they hope to achieve?’ ‘You might well ask.’
    ... a system of which we in Britain might well be envious
    This caused a few gasps, as well it might.

    The context will tell you which meaning is intended:)
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    In the Jane Eyre quotation, Jane doesn't actually know that St.John is shocked; she just thinks it's likely. So it's meaning 2.

    I can't think of a situation in which "may/might well have {verb}ed" would have meaning 1.

    .......

    PS. Welcome to the forums!
     
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    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    He might well be a little shocked at the irregularity of my lineaments, his own being so harmonious.
    Whenever a modal verb, including might, is used, it is likely to have at least two possible interpretations. If you want to be unambiguous, don't use modal verbs.

    I am not whether this sentence means
    I thought to myself at the time "It is possible that he thinks I am ugly in comparison"
    Or
    He had good reason to think I was ugly in comparison.

    If pressed, I think I could suggest several more plausible interpretations. No doubt one could debate for hours whether the ambiguity was intentional, and, if not, which interpretation is best.
     
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    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    I also want to know if English people use might/may well that means the first one frequently.
    You may well ask. "Frequently" is relative, but I'd say I use it now and again.

    Why does he wear his shirt inside out most days? You may well ask:rolleyes:. (That is not a stupid question/ That is not a question that has an obvious answer.)
    I think he likes to keep the right side clean for Sundays.
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Why does he wear his shirt inside out most days? You may well ask.
    I overlooked an important point in #3. I suspect now that this is the proper answer to the question of 1:-

    You may well ask is a deontic use of may, quite different from the epistemic sense I discussed in #3. It is not about whether an assertion is reliable (epistemic), it is about whether an action is permissible (deontic). It means that question is rational, it falls within the range of acceptable questions, you are entitled to ask it. Accordingly, it does not conjugate on the epistemic pattern I outlined in #3: you cannot, for example, say You may well have asked in this sense.

    If may well has a past tense in this sense, it is might well in all circumstances, indirect speech/thought or otherwise:
    Ordinary people were very disappointed. They might well (were entitled to) ask themselves if the election had been fair.
    However, many or most people tend to avoid using might as the past tense of may: it seems old-fashioned.
     
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