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May Versus Might

You may learn something.

By
Mignon Fogarty,
Episode #096

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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About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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