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May Versus Might

You may learn something.

By
Mignon Fogarty,
February 22, 2008
Episode #096

Page 1 of 3

May Versus Might

Today I'm going to answer a question from Elizabeth:

Hi, Grammar Girl. I love your podcast and I wanted to know if you could clarify the correct usage of may and might. I may go to the party or I might go to the party? I'm unsure. Could you please clarify this for me?

Thanks, Elizabeth! The difference between may and might is subtle. They both indicate that something is possible, but something that may happen is more likely than something that might happen. So you may go to a party if Matt Damon invites you, but you might go to a party if your least favorite cousin invites you.

A Mighty Stretch

I remember the difference by thinking that I should use might when something is a mighty stretch. Imagine something you'd almost never do, and then imagine someone inviting you to do it. For me, it's white-water rafting. The idea terrifies me. So if someone (such as my former employer) asked me to go on a corporate bonding white-water rafting trip, it's unlikely I would go, but I could be convinced if I thought my job depended on it. But it would be a mighty stretch. So I'd say something like, "Yeah, I might go; and pigs might fly, too."

So imagine whatever it is you'd be reluctant to do but wouldn't completely rule out, and then imagine yourself saying in a nice, sarcastic voice, "Yeah, I might." And that should help you remember to use might when the outcome is uncertain or unlikely and to use may when something is more likely to happen, such as attending a nice, safe company lunch where helmets and life vests aren't required.

You might clean your room, but you may call your friend later. You might climb Mt. Everest someday, but you may go hiking in the foothills next weekend.

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