Thursday, March 31, 2011

If I May, If I Might

If I may, I’d like to explore the infinitesimal difference between may and might. In this case, I don’t see a “wrong” way to use one word in place of the other so much as I harbor a curiosity about why there are two such words. I retrieved my enormous dictionary and found the following definitions. I’ve abbreviated them to the salient points.

May: be allowed to or capable of, be likely to (to some degree), or to be obliged to (in matters of contract or statute). For purposes of brevity, I am ignoring “may he reign in health for a century” uses and the completely irrelevant definitions.

Might: the past version of may, in bygone days, and something less likely to happen than what you may do. Again, I’m ignoring uses and parts of speech that range away from my point.

Consider this sentence: Don may be forced to fire Ted if he cannot resist the temptations of YouTube while at work. I’ve heard that he might seek counseling to curb his addiction.

The difference between may and might lies in the degree of likelihood. It seems Don has seriously considered firing Ted but the video-watching fool doesn’t sound ready to admit he’s got a problem. I may paint my house green and I might add purple trim. I’m much more likely to find a pleasing shade of vermilion than I am to combine it with aubergine. I certainly am capable of doing both (though I may not like living with the results).

I may stop writing before I beat you over the head with another example for fear you might choose not to return. Yikes!


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Nice explanation. May and Might like a brothers of past and present. In most of cases May use as a permissible word, like May i come in, Sir. Might recommend that things that happened just before, or in the past. i am saying this according to the behavior of Might(Past). Thank for Sharing.

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Good job. I sometimes feel this too; the need to find out what word to use or in this case the effectiveness of a word.



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