'may' and 'might'

Level: beginner

We use may:

  • when we are not sure about something in the present or future:

Jack may be coming to see us tomorrow.
               (= Perhaps Jack will come to see us tomorrow.)
Oh dear! It's half past ten. We may be late for the meeting.
               (= Perhaps we will be late for the meeting.)
She's had no sleep. She may be tired.
               (= Perhaps she is tired.)

  • to ask for permission in a formal way:

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

  • to give permission in a formal way:

You may go now.
You may come at eleven if you wish.

  • to say that someone has permission in a formal way:

Students may travel for free.

We can use may not to refuse permission or to say that someone does not have permission, but it is formal and emphatic:

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

We use might when we are not sure about something in the present or future:

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

Level: intermediate

We use may have and might have to make guesses about the past:

I haven't received your letter. It may have got lost in the post.
It's ten o'clock. They might have arrived by now.

We also use might:

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

  • as a very polite way of asking for permission:

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

Questions and negatives

Level: beginner

We make questions by putting the subject after may/might:

May I …?     Might I …?

The negative forms are may not and might not.

may and might 1

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may and might 2

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Average
Average: 4 (45 votes)

Submitted by Muhammad Naeem Khan on Sun, 30/07/2023 - 11:10

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Hello!
Can we use may or might in interrogative sentences to talk about possibility?
Muhammad Naeem

Hello Muhammad,

May in questions is used for requests rather than than possibility, but might can be used this way. For example:

What do you think - might it rain tomorrow?

We also quite often use might not, especially when warning about possible negative consequences. For example:

I'm going to ask the boss for a day off.

Is that really a good idea? I mean, mightn't he she angry?

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by howtosay_ on Sun, 25/06/2023 - 05:13

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Hello, dear teachers and team!

Could you please help me with the following:

Which sentences are correct:

1. They thought he might have some mental problems

2. They thought he might have had some mental problems

(I personally would say "might have had", but hearing the first sentence in a video has made me doubt, though I understand it may be wrong. The context is that they thought he might have some mental problems, but he turned out to be a genius.)

3. He might have some mental problems (about the past)

4. He might have had some mental problems (about the past)

I'm very very grateful for your precious contribution to my knowledge, and thank you very much indeed for answering this comment beforehand!

Hello howtosay_,

Both forms are possible.

Having mental problems in this context is a state which is generally true (or not), as opposed to being something which is true (or not) for a limited time. In this sense it is similar to being a nice person, or having green eyes. When we describe these kinds of facts we can think of them as being always true (or not) rather than fixed to a particular moment in time, so 'might have' is fine (general time). We can also describe the situation at a given moment without reference to whether or not it is generally true, so 'might have had' is also possible.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by g-ssan on Mon, 03/10/2022 - 20:54

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Hello sir ,
Is infinitive verb always after modal verb ?
I’ve seen many example but in this sentence it’s quiet different (My camera may be broken ) you can find it in first example in first exercise .correct me if i’m wrong please .

Hi g-ssan,

Yes, that's right. Actually, this example is the same: may (modal verb) and be broken (infinitive verb 'be' + adjective 'broken').

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Faii on Tue, 19/07/2022 - 21:17

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"Do you think John may have completed the report by now ?"
If we leave out "may" here ,is the meaning still the same?

Hello Faii,

No, I'm afraid not. In fact, 'Do you think John have completed the report by now?' is not grammatically correct; 'have' should be 'has'.

'Do you think John has completed the report by now?' is a general question that, by itself, doesn't really suggest anything about the speaker's assessment of the situation. The question with 'may have completed' suggests that the speaker has an opinion about the matter, though what exactly it is isn't clear.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team