• Lucas North

The subtle differences between may and might

Updated: Feb 8, 2021

Photo: Unsplash

THE FIRST DAY of the month got me thinking about the way we use the word ‘may’. Mainly because it gets mixed up a lot with its cousin ‘might’.

Look at these two sentences:

I may go for a walk today.

I might go for a walk today.

Any difference?

Some people will tell you that the second sentence is wrong because ‘might’ is the past tense of ‘may’ (and the second sentence is written in the present tense). Few people would be bothered about that distinction; though it’s worth knowing about for formal writing.

How about writing in the past tense? Look at these two:

He may have been for a walk today.

He might have been for a walk today.

Any difference?

Yes. If the writer knew the person being talked about had NOT been for a walk, they should use ‘might have’ rather than ‘may have’.

This is because ‘might’ implies more doubt than ‘may’. So, while the writer knew a walk was a possibility, they knew it had not taken place. Using ‘may’ would suggest the writer wasn’t sure.

To sum up:

‘Might’ implies less probability (or refers to something hypothetical) and is the past tense of ‘may’.

‘May’ is better for situations that are possible or could be possible and is used in present tense.

Happy May Day everyone.

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