Questions and negatives:

We make questions by putting the subject after may/might:
May I …? Could I … Might I …? Etc.

The negative forms are may not and might not..

We use may:

  • when we are not sure about something:

Jack may be coming to see us tomorrow.
Oh dear! It’s half past ten. We may be late for the meeting.
There may not be very many people there.

  • to make polite requests:

May I borrow the car tomorrow?
May we come a bit later?

When we use may not for a refusal it is emphatic:

You may not!
You may not borrow the car until you can be more careful with it.

We use might:

• when we are not sure about something:

I might see you tomorrow.
It looks nice, but it might be very expensive.
It’s quite bright. It might not rain today.

• As the past tense of may for requests:

He asked if he might borrow the car.
They wanted to know if they might come later.

• For very polite requests:

Might I ask you a question?
Might we just interrupt for a moment?

We use may have and might have to show that something has possibly happened now or happened at some time in the past:

It’s ten o’clock. They might have arrived now.[= Perhaps they have arrived]
They may have arrived hours ago. [= Perhaps they arrived hours ago.]

 

Exercise

Section: 

Comments

I have a question regarding tense.
Does may apply future tense (as will and shall)?
And what role does may (or other modals for that sake) play in tenses. f.x. if we have past perfect progressive (had been running), what tense is it if you put a modal in front (may have been running). and if it is might, is it then future past perfect progressive (might have been running) as it would be with 'would' (would have been running).
I am not really getting any answers out of The Oxford Modern English Grammar.
Thanks, Casper.

Hello Casper,

Yes, 'may' can refer to the future just as 'will' can.

The relationship of modal verbs to time is complex and cannot really be described in the way you suggest. For example, 'might' can have a present or future reference, depending on the context, while 'could' can have a past reference (for ability) or a present reference (for possibility or logical deduction). This is why we organise the modal verb pages of our grammar section as we do. Sometimes it is helpful to look at the various meanings and uses of a particular modal verb while in other cases it is more helpful to consider different ways of expressing a particular notion (e.g. obligation, possibility, ability etc).

Perfect modal verbs are similarly complex. For example, 'will have' can refer to the past or the present (expressing an expectation) or the future (a prediction); to do these in the past we would use 'would have' or 'was/were to'/'would':

 

He will have finished by now. [describing a situation before now]

He will have been working on it for fifteen minutes by now. [describing a situation now]

He would have finished it a long time ago. [describing a situation in the past]

When he started his career nobody knew that he was to become one of the most famous writers in history. [describing a future situation in the past]

When he started his career nobody knew that he would become one of the most famous writers in history. [describing a future situation in the past]

 

As you can see, it is a complex system. I don't think trying to fit modals into the system of non-modal verbs is helpful.

 

I hope that helps to clarify somewhat.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello...
Please, I want to know the main difference between may and might, and when (may be ) are used.
Thank you

Hello suliman ali 2000,

When expressing uncertainty, there is no difference in meaning between 'might' and 'may'. 'might' is very rarely used to make requests -- either 'may', 'can' or 'could' are much more common in this case.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Team,
I noticed in the modal verbs examples the following and wondered if it might be a punctuation error.
Verbs - may, might, may have, might have
Last entry
= May I have your attention, please
Should the above sentence not have a question mark?

Hello GerryVick,

That's a good point. The sentence you point out isn't really a question, but rather a very indirect command, which is why there is not question mark here. Some might prefer to use a question mark, as of course the sentence is formed as a question -- and there's nothing wrong with that, I'd say -- but since it's not really a question, here we've just used a full stop.

Thanks very much for pointing this out to us, though!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Is "There may have been a pen on the table" correct? Why? Can I say "There may has been a pen on the table"? (there has been a pen = singular)

Hello Cristina,

Yes, the first sentence is correct, but not the second one. This is because 'may' is a modal verb, and all modal verbs are followed a bare infinitive form (when the next word is a verb). 'has' is not an infinitive form, whereas 'have' is.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi!
Please, I want to know if the following are correct:
1. Might you have been learning English by June next year?
2. You might have been learning English by June next year.

Hello judeee,

The sentences are grammatically correct, but I can't imagine a context in which they would make sense. In fact as the sentences have no context it's not clear to me what you are trying to say here.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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