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Difference between “may” and “might”

Difference between the modals may and might

I may get a new hat… does this one look good on me?

The difference between may and might is very small:

Use “may” when the event is slightly more likely to happen

  • “What are you doing this weekend?”
    “Shopping! I’m going to buy some new clothes, and I may get a new hat as well.” (it’s slightly more probable that I will buy the hat)
  •  ”What are you doing this weekend?”
    “I might go to the movies. I’m not sure.”
    (it’s slightly less probable that I will go to the movies)

In the past, always use “might” (in the structure might + have + past participle)

  • “Why is Sheila so happy today?”
    “I don’t know. She might have gotten a promotion – I’d heard a rumor that the boss was thinking of making her manager.”

Always use “may” when asking for permission

  • “May I open the window?”
    This question is correct, but it sounds rather formal. Most English speakers would probably say “Can I open the window?” in everyday life.

Always use “might” with “not”

  • I may not go to the wedding.
    In this case, may not sounds like I don’t have permission to go.
  • I might not go to the wedding.
    In this case, might not means maybe I will go, maybe I won’t go.

Many native English speakers do not make a major distinction between may and might, and the two words are often used interchangeably - so don’t worry too much about it!

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