Monday, August 23, 2010

MAY vs. MIGHT... a matter of degree

Some time back, we received a request from Maria Cecilia, a PLS English User, asking us to clarify the difference between MAY and MIGHT.

So here goes…

The fact is that the difference isn’t really all that big. Both MAY and MIGHT are used to suggest the possibility of something happening in the future.

However, MAY suggests the “possibility” as more likely, whereas MIGHT suggests that "possibility" as less likely. A matter of degree some would say.

Congratulations! Yes, you’ve been offered a job. Now depending on how much you really want it, you could use MAY or you could use MIGHT in reference to whether you're going to take the job or not.

Example 1:
You know, I really need a change so I may take that job offer.
(I am seriously considering the job offer)

Example 2:
There aren’t really any other openings, so I might take that job offer.
(I am considering it because I have no choice, but it's not really what I'd like to do)

So far, we’ve been referring to talking about things happening in the future. Yet of course, you may have seen some uses when referring to situations in the past. You don't need to get your eyes checked. You saw it right.

MIGHT is the past tense of MAY. Just like COULD is the past of CAN, or WOULD is the past of WILL.

Example in the Past:
If I had known about the party, I might have gone to it.
(Here there is no possibility of anything because you never knew about any such party... or so you say)

Bottom line. If you get an invitation to a place you really want to go to, but you’re not sure if you can, say you MAY go. On the other hand, if you get invited to a place you really don’t want to go to and you still want to be polite, say you MIGHT go. It all depends on HOW MUCH you really want to do something.

At the end of the day… it’s a matter of degree.

Thanks Maria Cecilia!