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Which one of the following is commonly used in daily British English conversation?

  • The story could be true, but I don't think it is.
  • The story might be true, but I don't think it is.
  • The story may be true, but I don't think it is.
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The story could be true, but I don't think it is.

This simply means it is plausible. It is physically possible for the person to have done the deed. However, in NAm, could/would and may are practically interchangeable. It's nitpicking to correct a person who uses could when they technically should use would or may.

The story might be true, but I don't think it is.

Might is the past tense of may. It works just fine in this sentence. I cannot imagine it would change with more context.

The story may be true, but I don't think it is.

May is the present tense of might. It works just fine in this sentence. I cannot imagine it would change with more context.

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Speaking as a native American English speaker, here's my understanding:

Could - Possible with no inference whether event/behavior is likely or not.
Might - Probable; Sometimes used conditionally "Might work/happen IF."
Might-Could - Colloquial Southern phrase that guys use in their man caves.
Can - Could but implies that you want it to happen or a warning that it could.
May - Permission granted; Often improperly used to mean "might."
Should - Assertive favorable judgement about suitability, or proper behavior.
Ought - Archaic term for "should" as used in the expression "Ought to."
Would - Conditional "could," or preceding excuse/reason for failure/inaction.
Coulda-Shoulda-Woulda - Colloquial: "Stop making excuses" (AKA "whatever").

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The story could be true, but I don't think it is.

==> I read this as "It is entirely possible that the story is true, however I do not think it is". The speaker is casting doubt on the story's verity, as it has not yet been decided.

The story might be true, but I don't think it is.

==> I read this as "It is possible the story has already been proven true but I have not heard. Until I know otherwise, I will believe the story is not true". The speaker remains skeptical without any solid word on the story's verity.

The story may be true, but I don't think it is.

==> I read this as "I do not think the story is true although it has already been proven so." The speaker is taking a stance of cognitive dissonance in the face of solid verity.

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