lynnem at COGS.SUSX.AC.UK
Thu Jan 20 13:52:01 UTC 2000
Bibiana Ogando asked:
> Can you tell me the difference between May and Might?
> Are they the same?
> Do you prefer one of them?
> Or do you use them in certain situations?
A nice, rather simple discussion of modals is in Thomas R. Hofmann's textbook
_Realms of Meaning_. Another (less detailed) is in John Saeed's _Semantics_.
Anyhow, there are lots of places that you can use 'might' but can't use 'may'.
'Might' is used for counterfactual, subjunctive-y things, and the like, and for
indirect speech. 'Might' is also 'past tense' (to whatever degree a modal can
have a tense) of 'may'. For example:
Indirect speech: He said he might/?may go soon.
Counterfactual subjunctive: She wishes that she might/#may someday win.
Past perfect?: He might have said something about it, but I don't remember.
(vs. present perfect 'may have'? I'm not really sure about this.)
But the indirect/past versions of modals can also be polite forms of the
base modals. (Which makes a lot of sense--making the meaning more tenative/
indirect.) So, you can use both 'may' and 'might' in requests and statements
of intention, but the 'might' version is always more tentative.
I may/might go.
May/Might I have some?
The difference between them is especially clear for the following, where 'may'
is interpreted as giving of permission, but the 'might' form is interpreted as
You may try this dip. (Depending on the tone/situation, can be rude.)
You might try this dip. (Depending on the tone, can sound like a wimpy
Now, there may/might be some dialectal differences. It seems like only some
people would use 'might' in situations like 'Might I...?' and 'Might you...?'
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