Vocabulary: ‘May’ and ‘might’

Vocabulary: ‘may’ and ‘might’
Pre-intermediate to advanced level (A2-C1)

‘May’ and ‘might’ can be used to talk about possibility and asking for permission. Looking at some examples will help to show their meanings.

‘May’ and ‘might’ belong to a family of special verbs that include, ‘can’, ‘could’, ‘will’, ‘would’, ‘shall’, ‘should’ and ‘must’. They are called modal verbs.

Expressing possibility in the present:

A. Where is Paul?
B. I’m not sure. He may/might be in the city centre

Expressing possibility in the future:

A. Where are you going for your summer holiday?
B. I’m not sure. I may/might go to Turkey. My friend said it was really good.

People disagree about whether there is any difference between using ‘may’ or ‘might’ in these situations. Some people say using ‘may’ means there is more possibility than when using ‘might’ but other people think there is no clear difference. The possibility is somewhere between 20% and 50%.

Expressing possibility about the past:

A. Why didn’t Katherine come to the party last night?
B. I’m not sure. She might have been tired or she might have seen her boyfriend.

This looks like the present perfect but it is not.

We can also use ‘might’ in reported speech e.g.

Fatima said: ‘I may/might take the train.’
Fatima said she might go by train.

Another kind of meaning is often seen in questions when you ask for permission to do something:

May I return your book next week?’

This is quite formal and people would more often use ‘can’ or ‘could’ or ‘is it all right if I return …’.

Expression: ‘may/might as well’

Imagine the situation where you are with a friend and are not sure what to do after leaving the cinema.

A. What shall we do now?
B. Well, we may/might as well go home because I have to work early this morning. Or
B. Well, we may/might as well have a quick drink in that new bar.

We use this expression where we can’t think of a better suggestion. It indicates that you don’t have a very strong feeling about your decision.