The difference between may and might?

Discussion in 'English Only' started by andersxman, Jun 16, 2005.

  1. andersxman Senior Member

    I opened this thread in the italian-english forum, they adviced me to turn to this forum. (I myself am danish)

    Basically, I never really understood what the difference is between "may" and "might". They may both(/they might both) be used to ásk/give permission.. they can both be used to express uncertainty.. Is might more formal, when asking a permission for something, then? Could anyone enlighten me at as to this?
    Clearly they are used interchangably in many curcumstances, so the question is: is there any difference??

    Thank you very much!
  2. PoeticDragoness Member

    United States;English
    MAY is alot more formal, especially when asking a question to elders. MIGHT is used as both, you are correct, but it doesn't sound as good as MAY does when asking something. Personally, I use MAY to ask a question, and MIGHT to express uncertainty.
    This may only be me, but you can usually read the sentence and see which one sounds better, but both are extremely similar in meaning.

    1. May I go to the movies with my friends?
    2. I might go to the movies with my friends.
  3. VenusEnvy

    VenusEnvy Senior Member

    Maryland, USA
    English, United States
  4. JLanguage Senior Member

    Georgia, US
    USA: American English, Learning Hebrew and Spanish
    But used as follows may is not interchangeable with might, or at least not without changing the meaning of the sentence:
    I may or may not go to the movies tonight depending on my work load.
  5. charmedboi82 Senior Member

    USA, English
    They aren't interchangeable in that case? To me they are! I don't think it changes the meaning.
  6. charmedboi82 Senior Member

    USA, English
    Wow, that's quite thorough. It's a bit hard to grasp though. They tried to outline it to some great degree, but I still think they could have done better. I'm glad I don't have to learn the difference.
  7. timcarlos New Member

    USA English
    An American myself , it is my opinion that Americans misuse the word "may" as interchangeable with "might". "May" is the act of giving permission, as in, "Mother may I? Yes, you may." While growing up one rarely heard may/might as interchangeable. However, over time it seems that Americans have interpreted "may" to be more erudite than "might" and the greater majority of Americans have simply erroneously employed that useage as correct.

    Another example of how we Americans have incorrectly adopted a particular phrase into the American lexicon is, "...exact same" or "but yet". It seems that few Americans can use "same" without preceeding it with "exact". As for "but yet", it is sufficient to omit "but".

    In a conversation with a British tourist, it was pointed out that Americans like to hear themselves talk, filling the conversation with unnecessary and/or redudent parlance. I couldn't agree more.

  8. go_leafs_go New Member

    English - Canada
    I stumbled upon this thread, and thought that I should reply. :)

    May and might both indicate that something is possible, but something that may happen is more likely than something that might happen.

    For instance, you may go to a party if a celebrity invites you, but you might go to a party if your least favorite cousin invites you.

    Another explanation is as follows:
    These words occupy different places on a continuum of possibility. May expresses likelihood {we may go to the party}, while might expresses a stronger sense of doubt {we might be able to go if our appointment is cancelled} or a contrary-to-fact hypothetical {we might have been able to go if George hadn't gotten held up} (Garner, The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style).
  9. Basil Ganglia

    Basil Ganglia Senior Member

    Bellevue, WA
    English - USA
    May/might/can/should and similar verbs have been discussed extensively in the forums. Here is a link that provides numerous links:

    To keep information concise and accessible, I suggest that additional responses be posted in one of those threads rather than splitting discussions across even more threads.
  10. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    To me, might is simply past tense and conditional of may, just like could is of can and would is of will. In other words, where may means something "is possible", might means it "was possible", "were possible", or "would be possible", and where may means "has/have permission", might means "had permission" or "would have permission".

    Conditional forms can be used without an expressed condition as "I would like to go to a party", "we could go to a party", or "we might go to a party". Could and might both suggest a degree of doubt that can and may do not simply because they can act like conditionals (with unstated conditions).
  11. go_leafs_go New Member

    English - Canada
    Might is also the past tense and conditional of may, but that is not the only usage.

    There is a difference between the usage of may and might, outside of past and conditional tense. The connotation of the words, as explained before, is the primary difference between the two. The verb tense of the words is just an exception.
  12. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    I have yet to see a use of might where it cannot be the past tense or conditional of may. As far as I can tell, all of its connotations come from its relation to may.

    The biggest difference in meaning between may and might, where they both fit the same sentence, is that might refers to something even more remotely possible than may. I see this sense of doubt for might as a direct consequence of its association with "contrary-to-fact" (impossible or unlikely) conditions.

    "Might I have this dance?" is less forward than "May I have this dance?" just as "Would you dance with me?" is not as likely to put a person on the spot than "Will you dance with me?". Both conditionals give the other person an "out", a chance to refuse, because the unexpressed conditions tone down the request for a "promise".
  13. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima (English Only)

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I remember being told that might outnumbers may in usage, and that in some varieties like Scottish English, may is virtually non-existent.

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