THE WRITE STUFF!
Both "may" and "might" are words that have the same overall meaning: indicating that something is possible. As a result, this can generate the valid question of how and when to use each appropriately.
Let's begin by reviewing some grammar terminology. "May" and "might" are both modals, just like the words "would", "should" and "could". Modals are helping verbs that tell more about the mood or attitude of the action verb. For example, you can tell that someone has a different attitude towards attending an event depending on the modal used. There's a big difference between "I may go to the party" and "I should go to the party".
"May" and "might" also show different moods. By using "may", it indicates you are more likely to do something, while the use of "might" suggests that you are less likely to do so. Choosing one over the other can alert listeners and readers to how likely it is for an action to occur.
For example, "I may go to the store" means "I probably will go to the store". "Might" suggests that you are less likely to do so. "I might go to the store" means "It's unlikely that I'll go to the store".
While this rule seems simple enough, it has a few exceptions worth noting. "May" should not be used in a negative hypothetical because it can indicate a lack of permission to do something. For example, saying "I may not go to class" could be misread as "I am not allowed/authorised to go to class". In this case, use "might" ("I might not go to class").
Also, and perhaps more confusingly, "might" is also the past tense of "may". For example, if the event occurred in the past, the mood implication doesn't matter, and you should use "might", such as in "I might have pulled a hamstring running yesterday".
Hopefully, the concept is clearer now.
Heather Vlach is an English-language specialist and Intensive Studies educator at International School Bangkok in Nonthaburi. Her email address is
Heather Vlach is an English-language specialist and Intensive Studies educator at International School Bangkok in Nonthaburi. Her email address email@example.com.