Do you ever write the word may only to wonder if you should really be using might instead? What is the difference between may vs. might anyway? If you aren’t sure, don’t worry. We’re going to explain the difference between them in this post.
How are may vs. might similar?
May vs. might are similar in an important way, which is why you may mix them up. How are they similar? Both are words we use to describe a possible event or outcome. For example, if it’s possible that Alexis will go to the concert on Saturday, we could write about it like this:
- “Alexis may go to the concert on Saturday.”
- “Alexis might go to the concert on Saturday.”
How are may vs. might different?
Although may vs. might both describe something that’s possible, there are some key differences between them:
Expressing possibility vs. doubt
One key difference between may vs. might is the degree of probability they convey. We use may when we think that something is possible and there’s a reasonable chance of it happening. For example, if you like going to the movies and have some free time on Saturday, you would write this:
- “I may go to the movies on Saturday.”
In comparison, we use might when something is less likely to happen and we want to express doubt that it will. For example, if you hate working out and don’t have time to go to the gym on Wednesday, you would write this:
- “I might work out on Wednesday.”
So if you invite your friends from work to a party and they say they might come, you probably shouldn’t hold your breath until they arrive.
Present vs. past tense
Some grammar experts will tell you that you have to use might when you’re talking about a possibility in the past. For example, they would say that “Anya may go to the party” would become “Anya might have gone to the party.” In their eyes, “Anya may have gone to the party” would be wrong.
But is it? Not everything thinks so.
If you don’t want to worry about using might for sentences in past tense, you can use the Oxford Dictionaries to back you up. This trusty source notes that people rarely distinguish between may vs. might when it comes to present vs. past tense sentences.
Take a look at this sentence:
“Anusha may sleep over at her friend’s house on Friday.”
What does this sentence mean? Does it mean that there’s a possibility that Anusha will sleep at her friend’s house? Or does it mean that Anusha is allowed to?
The formal way to say that someone is allowed to do something is to say that he or she may do it. So in some situations, it may not be clear whether may indicates possibility or permission.
In cases where using may could cause this confusion, steer clear of ambiguity by using might instead.
When should you use may vs. might?
So what’s the key message about when to use may vs. might? Use may when something could reasonably happen and it’s unlikely your reader would confuse it with the may that describes permission. On the other hand, if something is unlikely to happen or if you think using may would confuse your reader, use might instead.
Should you use compose or comprise in this sentence: “Three rooms _______ the house?” Find out in our post on the difference between compose vs. comprise.