“May” or “Might”: Main Differences & How to Use Both Correctly as a Writer

English is a language that both beginners and native speakers frequently find challenging. Amidst the many mysteries is the appropriate usage of “may” and “might.” It’s common to employ these two modal verbs to convey potentiality, permission, and possibility.

In formal English, “may” and “might” can be used for making a request, asking for permission, or making a suggestion. When it comes to expressing possibility, “may” is used to express what is possible, factual, or could be factual, while “might” is used to express what is hypothetical, counterfactual, or remotely possible. It’s important to use the right word to avoid confusion and provide clarity in communication.

In this article, we’ll provide a clear insight into the meanings of the two words and when best to use them in your writing. Let’s get started!

What Is The Meaning of “May”?

May is a modal verb. It is used with the base form of a verb. Here aare the various definitions of the word, May.

1. Present or Future Possibility

The word “may” is frequently used to indicate a possibility that is anticipated to happen either now or in the future. When you use the word “may,” you’re expressing the possibility that something will occur or already is.

Example: “It may rain tomorrow.”

Here, “may” suggests that rain is a possible future event.

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2. Permission

“May” can also be used to ask for or grant authorization. This usage, which is more formal, is frequently observed in formal correspondence or requests.

Example: “May I leave the room?”

In this sentence, “may” is asking for permission to leave.

3. Politeness and Formality

Using “may” can lend a formal or polite tone to your writing or speech, making it suitable for professional or courteous contexts.

Example: “May I assist you with that?”

This phrase demonstrates a polite offer to help.

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What Is The Meaning of “Might”?

As a verb, ‘might’ refers to:

    1. Past Possibility

    “Might” frequently denotes a possibility that was once possible. The word “might” is appropriate when discussing possible outcomes that did not occur.

    Example: “If we had left earlier, we might have avoided the traffic.”

    Here, “might” refers to a missed opportunity in the past.

    2. Present or Future Possibility

    “Might” can also express a possibility in the present or future, but it often suggests a lower probability compared to “may.”

    Example: “He might come to the party if he finishes work early.”

    In this case, “might” indicates that his attendance is uncertain.

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    3. Hypothetical Situations

    “Might” is frequently used to discuss hypothetical situations or to speculate about what could happen under certain conditions.

    Example: “If I were rich, I might travel the world.”

    This sentence uses “might” to describe a hypothetical scenario.

    As a noun, might means

    1. A display of strength or power

    Differences Between May or Might

    Understanding the differences between may or might  can enhance your writing’s precision and clarity. Here are the key distinctions:

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    1. Probability

    “May” generally suggests a higher probability than “might.” When you use “may,” you imply that something is more likely to happen compared to using “might.”


    • “She may come to the meeting.” (Higher chance)
    • “She might come to the meeting.” (Lower chance)

    2. Tense and Context

    “May” is typically used in present or future contexts.

    “Might” can be used in past contexts, as well as present or future contexts, but often with a conditional or less certain tone.


    • “She may arrive later.” (Present/Future)
    • “She might have arrived earlier if she had left on time.” (Past conditional)

    You may want to see When to Use “Passed” vs “Past”: Definitions and Examples

    3. Formality

    “May” tends to be more formal than “might.” In formal writing or speech, “may” is preferred when granting permission or making polite requests.

    • Example: “May I use your phone?” (Formal)
    • Example: “Might I suggest an alternative?” (Polite but slightly less formal)

    4. Degree of Certainty

    The choice between may or might  can reflect the degree of certainty you wish to convey. “May” indicates a higher likelihood, whereas “might” suggests a lower likelihood or a hypothetical situation.

    • Higher certainty: “There may be a meeting this afternoon.”
    • Lower certainty: “There might be a meeting this afternoon if the manager returns.”

    How To Use May or Might Correctly in A Sentence

    To understand how to utilize may and might, look these sentences. You can use may to describe a likely scenario, anything that is happening in the present tense, or something for which you are providing or requesting permission. On the other hand, you can use might when you’re describing an unlikely or even completely speculative hypothetical.

    To ensure your writing is clear and accurate, consider the following guidelines for using may or might :

    1. Contextual Clarity

    Make sure your choice between may or might  aligns with the context of your sentence. For example, when discussing past possibilities, “might” is the correct choice.

    • Correct: “She might have been at the meeting, but she had a prior engagement.”
    • Incorrect: “She may have been at the meeting, but she had a prior engagement.”

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    2. Consistency in Tone

    Match the formality of your writing with the appropriate modal verb. Use “may” for formal writing and “might” for more informal or speculative writing.

    • Formal: “May I offer my assistance in this matter?”
    • Informal: “If you need help, you might ask John.”

    3. Consider the Degree of Certainty

    Reflect the degree of certainty you wish to convey. Use “may” for situations with a higher likelihood and “might” for those with lower likelihood or hypothetical scenarios.

    • Higher certainty: “There may be a meeting this afternoon.”
    • Lower certainty: “There might be a meeting this afternoon if the manager returns.”

    4. Permission vs. Possibility

    Distinguish between using “may” for permission and “might” for expressing doubt or possibility.

    • Permission: “May I leave the room now?”
    • Possibility: “I might leave the room if the speech gets too long.”

    5. Hypothetical Scenarios

    Use “might” when describing hypothetical scenarios or situations that are not real but imagined.

    Example: “If I had known, I might have done things differently.”

    6. Formal Writing

    In formal writing, prefer “may” to maintain a professional tone.

    Example: “May I propose an amendment to the contract?”

    7. Informal Writing

    In informal writing or casual conversation, “might” can be more appropriate, especially when discussing possibilities with less certainty.

    Example: “I might go to the movies tonight.”

    Examples of “May” or “Might” in Sentences

    To illustrate the correct usage of “may” and “might,” here are several examples:

    Using “May”:

    1. Present Possibility: “You may find the book you need in the library.”
    2. Future Possibility: “We may go to the beach this weekend.”
    3. Permission: “May I borrow your pen?”
    4. Polite Request: “May I ask you a question?”
    5. Formal Context: “May we proceed with the meeting?”

    Using “Might”:

    1. Past Possibility: “She might have called if she had known you were home.”
    2. Future Possibility: “He might visit us next week.”
    3. Hypothetical Situation: “If I were you, I might reconsider that decision.”
    4. Lower Probability: “They might not finish the project on time.”
    5. Informal Context: “I might join you for lunch.”

    Synonyms for may or might

    While may or might  are useful, there are other words and phrases that can express similar meanings. Here are some synonyms and their contexts:

    Synonyms for “May”:

    1. Can: Often used to indicate ability or permission.
      • Example: “Can I leave early today?” 
    1. Could: Can express possibility or polite requests.
      • Example: “Could I speak to the manager?”
    1. Shall: Used in formal contexts to indicate future actions or permission.
      • Example: “Shall we begin the meeting?”

    Synonyms for “Might”:

    1. Could: Often used interchangeably with “might” for expressing possibility.
      • Example: “We could go to the park if it doesn’t rain.”   
    1. Would: Used to indicate hypothetical situations or polite requests.
      • Example: “I would go with you if I were free.”
    1. Should: Can express a lower degree of certainty or a recommendation.
      • Example: “You should check the weather before planning the trip.”

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    Common Mistakes To Avoid When Using May or Might In Your Writing

    Even experienced writers can make mistakes when using “may” and “might.” Here are some common errors and tips on how to avoid them:

    1. Confusing Tenses

    • Mistake: Using “may” when referring to past possibilities.
    • Correction: Use “might” for past possibilities.
    • Incorrect: “She may have been at the party.”
    • Correct: “She might have been at the party.”

    2. Mixing Formality Levels

    • Mistake: Using “might” in a highly formal context where “may” is more appropriate.
    • Correction: Match the formality of your modal verb to the context.
    • Incorrect: “Might I present my findings?”
    • Correct: “May I present my findings?”

    3. Overusing One Modal Verb

    • Mistake: Relying too heavily on either “may” or “might” in all contexts.
    • Correction: Vary your usage based on the context and degree of certainty.

    Example: “He may come to the event. He might also bring a guest.”

    4. Ignoring Probability

    • Mistake: Not considering the likelihood of the event when choosing between “may” and “might.”
    • Correction: Use “may” for higher probabilities and “might” for lower probabilities.

    Example: “The meeting may end early if all goes well. It might extend if new issues arise.”

    FAQs On How To Use “May” and “Might”

    What’s the difference between may and might?

    The word may is typically used in the present tense to indicate something that’s likely to happen or to ask for permission. While might is used in the past tense to describe something that’s unlikely to happen or situations that didn’t take place.

    Can “might” be used to express permission?

    Might is rarely used to convey consent. It is often preferred for hypothetical situations or courteous requests. For example, “Might I suggest a different approach?”

    What is the past form of “may”?

    May doesn’t have a past form. Instead, “might” is often used to convey a sense of past possibility. For example, “I thought I might see you here.”


    Whether you are writing an academic paper, a professional email, or a casual note, the correct use of may or might  will enhance your communication skills and help you convey your message with confidence.


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