may/might confusion

Dennis R. Preston preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU
Fri Jan 18 14:30:51 UTC 2002

I'm pretty sure you mean "the age group mentioned by Ron," not "Ron's
age group."

dInIs (who is two days older than Ron)

>Although might could was once my only acceptable double modal, I
>find myself saying may can more and more.  but then, I'm younger
>than you!  still in Ron's under-45 age group, in fact.  Ellen
>-----Original Message-----
>From: Dennis R. Preston [mailto:preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU]
>Sent: Thursday, January 17, 2002 3:42 PM
>Subject: Re: may/might confusion
>Certainly not for me. I can say 'might could' but have never been
>able to say 'may can.'
>>do you think there is a concomitant shift to "may can" from "might
>>could"?  I think so.  Ellen
>>Ellen Johnson
>>Assistant Professor of Linguistics
>>Dept. of English, Rhetoric, and Writing
>>Berry College, Box 350
>>Mt. Berry, GA 30149
>>ejohnson at
>>Ron Butters:
>>There has been a lot written about the merger of MAY and MIGHT, but for many
>>people this seems to be a done deal. I know, it is hard to understand how a
>>distinction that seems so natural and clear to ME simply does not register
>>with most educated Americans under the age of 45 or so (and even older in the
>>case of such folks as Ashcroft). I don't even remember, as a youth, having
>>had anyone point out to me that there was such a distinction--it seems to me
>>to have always been a part of my linguistic "competence." So my gut reaction
>>is that this is not something like the prescriptivist SHALL/WILL distinction,
>>which has been preserved largely only in textbooks (but cf. "Shall I
>>castigate the evil doers?" vs. "Will I castigate the evil doers?"); there is
>>really a linguistic change in progress here, and it is inevitable and well on
>>its way to completion. MAY is replacing MIGHT in virtually all environments,
>>though MIGHT still exists for such speakers as a free variant in some
>>I think this is a linguistic change that is at least as important as the
>>extension of invariant BE, though it is scarcely mentioned in the
>>sociolinguistic literature.

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