Word Choice: May Versus Might
  • 2-minute read
  • 3rd March 2023

Word Choice: May Versus Might

May and might are two modal verbs (a type of auxiliary verb) that often get confused with each other and misused. This is completely understandable, as their meanings are quite similar and both have many different uses. In this article, you’ll learn how to use may vs. might in your writing and everyday language.

How to Use “May”

Used to indicate a possibility or probability that is higher than might

I may come to dinner later (more likely to come than not come).

Used to express or ask for permission

You may go to the movies tonight.

May I see you tomorrow?

May and can are often confused when asking questions or permission. If you’re requesting permission, use may rather than can. For example:

Can I go to the bathroom, teacher?
May I go to the bathroom, teacher?

Can refers to someone’s ability to do something, while may is asking for permission.

Used to grant or deny permission in response to a request

You may not play video games later. You have to do homework.

He may absolutely not go to the concert next weekend.

You may play video games later since you’ve already done your homework.

Used for present or future hypotheticals

It may rain tomorrow.

She may arrive any moment now.

How to Use “Might”

Used to describe past hypotheticals (might + have)

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I might have been on time if there wasn’t so much traffic.

He might have passed the test if he’d studied more.

Used to express a request or possibility in the past

My neighbor came by and asked if she might have some sugar.

Used to make a suggestion in a polite way

You might consider adding some peas to your soup next time.

I thought you might want to join me for dinner.

Used to indicate a possibility or probability that is lower than may

I might come later (probably not, though).

We might arrive on time (probably not, though).

He might not come to work today (probably not, though).

Used to express a present condition contrary to the facts

If you had gone to the training meeting, you might know what I’m talking about.

If you were older, you might understand.

Used as a polite alternative to may, ought, or should

Might I ask who’s calling? vs. May I ask who’s calling?

You might at least apologize. vs. You should at least apologize.

I might have known she’d be late. vs. I ought to have known she’d be later.

Note: This use is considered old-fashioned, but it’s good to know in case you encounter one of these!


May and might have many uses in the English language. If you get confused, don’t worry! Modal verbs can be quite tricky and take practice to master in speech or writing.

Interested in learning more about modal verbs (can, could, shall, should, etc.)? Check out our article What Are Modal Verbs? If you need help with using modal verbs or any other aspect of English grammar in your writing, the experts here at Proofed are ready to help. Try out our free trial today!

Comments (3)
5th March 2023 at 21:01
Thank you, thank you, thank you! It seems everyone nowadays uses “might” to mean “may” when referring to something that’s a possibility (“I might go to the Grateful Dead concert” leaves the reader or listener thinking, “Well they’re probably not going.” If the speaker meant there’s a good likelihood she’ll attend the concert, she should have used “may.” And you can intensify the probability by saying “I may well go….” “Might” leaves a lot more doubt on the table. Is “might” not the subjunctive of “may”?
    12th March 2023 at 11:56
    Hi, Scott. Thanks for this comment! “Might” is actually the past tense of “may,” but can be used with a subjunctive function in conditional sentences (see our section on “Might - past hypotheticals”). English doesn’t have a specific subjunctive mood in itself, but instead uses modal verbs such as “might” or verb forms that have other purposes in other contexts, such as “were” (“if I were you”).
    14th March 2023 at 12:07
    I hate the current trend when people ask for their bus ticket and ask "Can I get a single to the station?:

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