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Word comparisons

Note 127 – Using the words ‘may’ and ‘might’


It’s quite common to mistakenly use the word may instead of the word might and vice versa.  Collins Improve your Writing Skills by Graham King explains that you should use the word may in present and future tense situations “when an outcome is still unknown”, whereas you would use might “when an if is lurking in the background – when we discuss something that was likely or possible on some past occasion”.

A couple of examples

“If Tony hadn’t gone on holiday last Thursday, I might/may have gone round his house.”

Explanation – The correct answer is might.  It’s in the past tense, the outcome is known and it’s got an if lurking about.

“I might/may win the lottery next Saturday.”

Explanation – The correct answer is may.  It’s in the present tense and talking about a future outcome, which is also unknown.  There’s also no if lurking about.

A quick test

Is the correct word might or may in the following sentences?

  1. I might/may go to work tomorrow; I’m still not sure.
  2. I might/may have died when the car hit the barrier, but I live to tell the tale.
  3. She might/may pass her exams – the results are out tomorrow.

To recap…

Check your sentence.  Is it in the present or future tense where the future is still unknown?  If it is, then the correct word is ‘may’.  Is it talking about a possible or likely outcome in the past (and is now known)?  If it is, then the word is ‘might’  Sometimes with ‘might’ sentences, there is an if involved.

My thoughts:  It took a while to get these rules to sink in today, but I got there in the end.  I’d never given much thought of ‘may’ and ‘might’ before today.  Now I will have to stop and think before writing my sentences!

I hope you enjoyed today’s blog.  Don’t forget that you can subscribe to receive my daily blogs by email so that you don’t miss any. Just click ‘sign me up’ on the home page. Alternatively you can follow my blogs on Twitter http://twitter.com/#!/madeirasandra or my new Tips and Luxuries Facebook page. Requests for future blogs (punctuation/grammar/writing tips) are always welcome.

Until tomorrow…

Sandra

My writing challenge: http://wp.me/p1x6Ui-4

This blog: https://mywritingnotebook.wordpress.com

My other blog: http://sandramadeira.wordpress.com

My website: www.tipsandluxuries.com (includes the introduction to my upcoming book ‘A Gift for Stressed and Busy Parents’)

Twitter: @madeirasandra and @tipsandluxuries

Reference list:

Graham King The Collins Improve your Writing Skills, UK

Answers to quick test above…

  1. I might/may go to work tomorrow; I’m still not sure. [Explanation: present tense, outcome unknown]
  2. I might/may have died when the car hit the barrier, but I live to tell the tale. [Explanation: something that was likely, past tense, outcome known]
  3. She might/may pass her exams – the results are out tomorrow. [Explanation: present tense, outcome unknown]

Well done if you got them right.

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About Sandra Madeira

I am a full-time working mum with a passion for writing and inspiring others. Please let me know what you think of my blog - constructive comments welcome. Have a great day Sandra Freelance Writer www.sandramadeira.com

Discussion

2 thoughts on “Note 127 – Using the words ‘may’ and ‘might’

  1. Hello, Sandra. I’m linking you into my blog. It looks like we have a similar need to make everyone the best they can be! You have some good topics here.

    Posted by Jennifer M Eaton | September 21, 2011, 3:13 am

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: Lesson Five from the Gold Mine Manuscript Red Line: Let’s keep it in the past « Jennifer M Eaton - September 21, 2011

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