What is the difference between the modal verbs “May” and “Might”?

“May” vs. “Might”: What's the Difference?

When to Use “May” and “Might”

The modal verbsmay” and “might” are very common in English and although they have similar meanings, there are some key differences. Understanding when to use “may” versus “might” can be tricky for English learners, so let’s break it down.

Usage of “May”

  1. Permission: “May” is commonly used to seek or grant permission. It is often perceived as more formal and polite when compared to “might.”
    • May I use your computer, please? (Seeking permission)
    • You may leave the room now. (Granting permission)
  2. Possibility in the Present or Future: “May” is used to express a possibility in the present or future. It indicates that there is a good chance something will happen.
    • It may rain this evening. (There’s a high probability of rain.)
    • She may join us for dinner tonight. (It’s likely that she will join.)

Usage of “Might”

  1. Possibility in the Present or Future (with Less Certainty): “Might” is also used to express possibilities, but it suggests a lower degree of certainty compared to “may.” It implies that there is a chance something will happen, but it’s not as likely.
    • It might snow tomorrow. (There’s a possibility of snow, but it’s not very likely.)
    • He might come to the party if he’s feeling better. (There’s a chance he will come, but it’s uncertain.)
  2. Hypothetical Situations in the Past: In some cases, “might” can be used to talk about hypothetical situations or possibilities in the past.
    • If he had studied harder, he might have passed the exam. (Hypothetical situation in the past)

Additional Tips

  • “May” is often considered more formal and is commonly used in written and spoken language when seeking or granting permission.
  • “Might” is used when there is a lesser degree of certainty or when discussing more informal situations.
  • In some contexts, “might” can be used to express a sense of caution or skepticism.
  • While there are distinctions in usage, modern English allows for some flexibility, and the boundaries between “may” and “might” can be blurred in casual conversation.

May vs. Might: Definitions and Usage

“May” and “might” are part of the category of auxiliary or modal verbs used to express possibilities, permissions, or conditions. Let’s explore their usage further.

Distinction in Degree of Probability

One of the key differences between “may” and “might” is the degree of probability they convey. “May” implies a higher probability, often around a 50% chance of occurrence, while “might” suggests a lesser degree of certainty.

  • I may go to the theater. (There’s a relatively greater possibility that I will go.)
  • I might go to the theater. (There’s a somewhat lower possibility that I will go.)

Implications in Tense

Historically, “may” was used to express probable current or future events, while “might” addressed hypothetical situations in the past. While modern usage allows for more flexibility in this regard, maintaining this distinction in formal or academic writing can enhance clarity.

Seeking or Giving Permission

In situations involving the seeking or granting of permission, “may” has traditionally been the preferred choice and is often seen as more polite or formal. “Might” is rarely employed in this context.

See the table for details on the differences between “May” and “Might”.

Degree of ProbabilityHigher probability (around 50%)Lower probability (less certain)
FormalityOften formal, used in official contextsCan be less formal or casual
Present/Future PossibilityUsed for present and future possibilitiesUsed for present and future possibilities with less certainty
Hypothetical Situations in the PastNot used for past hypothetical situationsUsed for past hypothetical situations
Caution/SkepticismNot typically used for caution or skepticismCan be used to express caution or skepticism
Request for PermissionCommonly used for seeking or granting permissionLess commonly used for permission requests
Tradition vs. Modern UsageTraditional distinctions are maintained in formal writingBoundaries between “may” and “might” are blurred in modern usage
Formal vs. Informal WritingMore common in formal writingCan be used more informally in conversation


The ability to differentiate between “may” and “might” enhances your precision in English communication. Remember, “may” indicates a higher probability or is used for formal requests, while “might” conveys a lower likelihood or a more informal tone. Keep in mind that the usage of these modal verbs can vary between different English dialects and individual conversation styles. Practice is key to mastering the usage of “may” and “might.” The more you encounter these modal verbs in context, the more proficient you will become in using them accurately.

Exercises on the use of “may” and “might”

Exercise 1: Choose the correct modal verb (may/might) to complete each sentence.

  1. I __________ go to the movies tonight if I finish my work early.
  2. She thinks it __________ rain later, so she’s taking an umbrella.
  3. __________ I use your computer for a moment, please?
  4. He’s not sure if he __________ come to the party on Saturday.
  5. We __________ have a picnic in the park if the weather is nice.
Correct Answers for Exercise 1:
  1. may
  2. might
  3. May
  4. may
  5. might

Exercise 2: Identify whether “may” or “might” is more appropriate for each sentence.

  1. She __________ buy a new car soon. She’s been saving money for a while.
  2. He’s not feeling well, so he __________ stay home from work tomorrow.
  3. I have to check my schedule, but I __________ be available for the meeting.
  4. It’s getting late, and they __________ miss the last train if they don’t hurry.
  5. If the weather clears up, we __________ go for a hike in the mountains.
Correct Answers for Exercise 2:
  1. may
  2. might
  3. may
  4. might
  5. may

Exercise 3: Fill in the blanks with the correct form of “may” or “might.”

  1. I __________ go to the concert if I can find a ticket.
  2. They are not sure if they __________ come to the party.
  3. You __________ want to bring an umbrella. It looks like it’s going to rain.
  4. She said she __________ call you later to discuss the project.
  5. If you’re not feeling well, you __________ want to see a doctor.
Correct Answers for Exercise 3:
  1. may
  2. might
  3. may
  4. might
  5. may

These exercises should help you practice using “may” and “might” correctly in various contexts.

Test for understanding the use of “may” or “might.”

She _____ come to the party if her work finishes early.

_______ I borrow your umbrella? It looks like it's going to rain.

The concert tickets are sold out, so we _____ have to wait for the next show.

He said he _____ join us for dinner, but he's not sure yet.

The weather forecast suggests it ______ rain heavily this evening.

If you hurry, you _____ catch the last bus home.

She _____ not be available for the meeting tomorrow due to a prior commitment.

He's not feeling well; he _____ need to see a doctor.

We _____ need to reschedule the event if the weather turns bad.

You _____ want to double-check your answers before submitting the exam

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

error: Content is protected !!