There <might /may> have been some discussions

powerhousebridge

Senior Member
Malayalam
1)There might have been some discussions between John and Ben
2)There may have been some discussions between John and Ben
What is the difference between these sentence?
 
  • owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    I don't see any difference in meaning between those two sentences, powerhousebridge. "May" and "might" both indicate that discussions between John and Ben were possible. The speaker who uses those sentences doesn't know whether John and Ben had the discussions, but the speaker thinks the discussions between John and Ben could have happened.
     
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    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    While I agree with Mr. Nightbird, I think the speaker who uses 'might' finds it just a bit less likely for John and Ben to have discussed anything.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    There is no difference between them except that 'might' is the past tense of 'may'.

    This can be seen if we put the sentences into indirect statement. For sentence (1), a main verb in the past tense is appropriate:

    (1a) He thought there might have been some discussions between John and Ben;

    for sentence (2), a main verb in the present tense is correct:

    (2a) He thinks there may have been some discussions between John and Ben.

    There is no difference in terms of likelihood, because 'may' and 'might' express possibility (not probability).
    With possibility, there are only two alternatives: possible or impossible.

    Thus when Sherlock Holmes said, 'When we have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth', he was mistaken. He ought to have said, 'When we have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however probable or improbable, is possible'.

    The possible is that which may be true or may not be true.
     
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    Buman_heing

    Member
    russian
    Actually the difference is in the grammatical mood.
    Not really the difference but the rule of using it. Your sentence is in subjunctive mood and the grammar says (well, we all know that grammar can be very flexible sometimes :) ) that you should use "might" in subjunctive and "may" in conditional.
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    I disagree with much of the above. :) While 'might' is, indeed, the past-tense form of 'may', it is also a modal verb in its own right.
    Here is part of the definition in Merriam-Webster:
    used in auxiliary function to express permission, liberty, probability, possibility in the past
    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/might
    For me it can express both probability and 'possibility in the past'.
    I am totally reluctant to use the word 'sunjunctive' in connection with anything that can be said about the simple sentence in post 1.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    While I agree with Mr. Nightbird, I think the speaker who uses 'might' finds it just a bit less likely for John and Ben to have discussed anything.
    That's how I see them too; a slight difference in probability, or possibility, ...whatever.

    "There may/might have been some discussions, but I don't think it very likely."--probability
    "There may/might have been some discussions, in fact it's quite possible."--possibility
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    Different speakers use 'might' and 'may' differently. To many people, the two sentences mean the same - there is no difference in likelihood. Many other people prefer to use 'might' for all such sentences; many people prefer 'may'. Some people might use both of them, and mean a difference in likelihood. It is much more a matter of personal habit than of difference in meaning.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Lest people get the impression that the words are interchangeable in all circumstances, even for those who don't normally distinguish between them, it may be worth considering the difference between these two:

    Refusing to go on the expedition might have saved him - he didn't refuse, and he wasn't saved.
    Refusing to go on the expedition may have saved him - he did refuse, and he was saved.

    I suspect that the inability of may to operate happily as a conditional excludes it from certain meanings.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Refusing to go on the expedition might have saved him - he didn't refuse, and he wasn't saved.
    Refusing to go on the expedition may have saved him - he did refuse, and he was saved.
    This comparison is a good illustration of the difference which can be expressed by using the past tense form 'might' or the present tense form 'may'.
    Since the meaning is that of possibility, the verbal idea with 'may' or 'might' can always be re-expressed using the formula 'it is possible that'. This is a useful way to clarify the sense in case of doubt.

    Applying that to these sentences, 'Refusing to go on the expedition might have saved him' becomes:
    'It is possible that refusing to go on the expedition would have saved him'; or 'It is possible that, if he had refused to go on the expedtion, that would have saved him' (all these versions mean that he did not refuse and he was not saved).

    The second sentence, 'Refusing to go on the expedition may have saved him', becomes (in the sense intended):
    'It is possible that refusing to go on the expedtion is what saved him' (this means he did refuse and he was saved).
    The second sentence is also open to another meaning:
    'It is possible that his refusal to go on the expedition has saved him' (this means he did refuse, but we do not know whether he was saved).
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    What happens if we apply the formula 'it is possible that' to the original sentences?
    1)There might have been some discussions between John and Ben
    2)There may have been some discussions between John and Ben
    These become respectively:
    (1b) 'It is possible that there were (or, depending on context, 'had been') some discussions between John and Ben';
    (2b) 'It is possible that there have been some discussions between John and Ben'.
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    My wife and I argue incessantly about this. For me:

    1)There might have been some discussions between John and Ben (... if something hadn't prevented them).
    2)There may have been some discussions between John and Ben (... but we don't yet know).

    If that sounds like a distinction without a difference, consider:

    1. A: Napoleon might have won the battle of Waterloo. B: Yes, you're right, if Blucher hadn't helped the British forces.
    2. A: Napoleon may have won the battle of Waterloo. B: Don't be silly, of course he didn't!
     
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