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sacredmime
04-16-2006, 10:10 PM
I'm not really sure when to use "might" and when to use "may." Does it have to do with possibility versus permission?

trumancoyote
04-16-2006, 10:32 PM
Well, for one, 'might' is the past tense of 'may.' Their usages therefore overlap, but they vary in degree.

For example, he may give it to me, to me, sounds a bit stronger than he might give it to me.

So in terms of probability, 'may' tends to be more certain.

As regards permission, 'might' is technically more polite than 'may.'

May I go squat in the loo?
Might I go squat in the loo?

And there're other things, but I'll let someone else take care of those. I'm tired. Hehehe.

ComicBent
04-16-2006, 10:52 PM
It is not possible to provide a simple rule to govern the proper use of the two. There are many subtleties involved. If you have any examples, I can tell you which of the two would be best for this or that reason, but the matter is hugely complex.

A few guidelines and thoughts:

1. *Might* is the past and subjunctive of *may*. In sequence of tenses, when the main verb is past tense, you will probably want to use *might*.

Example: I told him he might want to rewrite his script.

2. In many instances you can really use either *may* or *might*, but even then there are some subtle differences. In general, *might* expresses more doubt.

3. You will probably get a lot of opinions on this issue.

Post some examples of difficult instances if you would like.

veronie
04-16-2006, 11:42 PM
Seems to me that "may" and "might" are both subjunctive. I think that whatever difference between the words there once was, it no longer applies. In my view, they are synonyms. Some would use "may" for matters of permission, and "might" as the subjunctive, but I wouldn't. It's just me.

reph
04-17-2006, 02:24 AM
I think that whatever difference between the words there once was, it no longer applies....It's just me.Yes, it's just you. The difference between "can" and "may" has narrowed, but the difference between "may" and "might" remains.

This is a wrong use: "The Donner Party may have survived if the winter hadn't been so harsh." The word should absolutely be "might."

sacredmime
04-18-2006, 07:11 AM
Thanks for the help. It seems there are subtleties that will take me some time to master. But the guidelines will definitely help.

CaroGirl
04-18-2006, 05:24 PM
This comes directly from the technical style manual that I use at work:

Use the verb can to describe actions or tasks that the user or applications is able to do. Use might to exrpess possibility or when the result of an action is unknown or variable. Use may to state that the user has permission to do something.

Essentially:
can = ability
may = permission
might = possibility

LloydBrown
04-18-2006, 05:52 PM
Use the verb can to describe actions or tasks that the user or applications is able to do. Use might to exrpess possibility or when the result of an action is unknown or variable. Use may to state that the user has permission to do something.

And that's what a very constructive editor told me, too. It's the guideline I've used since, and no other editor has changed a thing.

reph
04-18-2006, 09:22 PM
Use might to exrpess possibility or when the result of an action is unknown or variable. Use may to state that the user has permission to do something."May" is used for possibility and unknown/variable results, too, as in "Your mileage may vary."

YossiD
05-10-2012, 10:29 AM
As a technical writer producing documentation often used by non-native English speakers, I tend to use might over may to avoid confusion. A reader not familiar with the subtle nuances might misunderstand may as giving permission rather than as a statement of possibility.

Fallen
05-10-2012, 12:32 PM
Just for reference purposes, may, might, must, shall, will, should, could, would and can are called 'modals' (there are nine altogether).

You also have semi-modals (have to, be going to, ought to etc) that act as modals.

Knowing their name may/might help if you want to do your own research. :) Uses are complex (e.g. I could use either in my example to mark logical possibility).

Once!
05-10-2012, 12:39 PM
Might = could conceivably happen.

May = allowed to do something.

"May I buy a lottery ticket? I might win the jackpot."

But ... they are often used interchangeably in speech.

boron
05-10-2012, 01:25 PM
I often use "may" instead of "can" in my current draft to express uncertainty of certain claims concluded from studies' results. So, should I replace "may" with "might?"

Cranberry juice may prevent urinary tract infections.

evilrooster
05-10-2012, 01:54 PM
I often use "may" instead of "can" in my current draft to express uncertainty of certain claims concluded from studies' results. So, should I replace "may" with "might?"

Cranberry juice may prevent urinary tract infection.

No, in that context, "may" is the correct level of uncertainty. It's not guaranteed, but there are studies that you are willing to rely on that back it up.

I'd use "might" in this context to indicate that although there's a chance it will help, there are reasons not to follow the advice.

Drinking two gallons of cranberry juice a day might prevent urinary tract infections, but it's also going to make you spend a lot of time in the loo.

boron
05-10-2012, 02:35 PM
Tnx. It would be actually weird to have "mights" all over the place in an evidence based article.

Fallen
05-10-2012, 03:31 PM
I often use "may" instead of "can" in my current draft to express uncertainty of certain claims concluded from studies' results. So, should I replace "may" with "might?"

Cranberry juice may prevent urinary tract infection.

Modals generally fall into three catergories when showing degrees of uncertainty or obligation: low (not too certain), median (a little more certain), high (yep, really certain).

1) low level: can, may, might (needn't, doesn't have to etc)

2) median level: will, would, should (won't, wouldn't, shouldn't)

3) high: must, ought to, has to (can't, mustn't).

In academic writing (Brit En), 'may' is more common (might is used too). Conversation, for the same use, uses 'might' more. (LSGSWE)

randi.lee
05-10-2012, 04:21 PM
I love this site. I learn so much without even asking questions.