may/might confusion

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Fri Jan 18 03:03:53 UTC 2002

At 2:30 AM -0500 1/18/02, Douglas Bigham wrote:
>I also think the age factor in "may" vs. "might" isn't so clear.  For me,
>"may" has never existed outside of a polite form of "can" (yeah, I know may
>isn't a FORM of can, still...).  As in "May I go to the bathroom?" vs. "Can I
>go to the bathroom."  That's it.  Everywhere else I have "might".  My
>roommate, however, (whom I have known since kindergarten, same town, etc.)
>makes a hard distinction between "may" and "might" (as well as "can" and
>"could", which I'm not sure I do).  She's asleep.  I'll ask the difference
Well, I doubt you ALWAYS have "might" where others have "may".  "You
might not take one giant step" doesn't paraphrase "You may not...",
where the negation takes scope over the permission modal.  "Might"
and "may" are much closer in the epistemic possibility use (It
{may/might} rain) than they are in the deontic (permission) use or
the related logical use (Parallel lines {may/#might} not meet).  If
"may not" is to be replaced here it would have to be with "can't",
not with "might not".


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