I've always thought "may" shows a greater possibility than "might." At least that is how I was taught at school. But I hear the opposite view as well. Isn't there a clear distinction between the two?

For example, if someone simply asks you "Will you be there?" and you think you are not likely to make it but there is a slight chance that you will, which word would you choose?

  • Please use the edit link to add to your question some examples in which may expresses greater "possibility" than might. Since the latter is the past tense of the former, examples in which time perspective is not a factor might be more illustrative. Or they may be! Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 5:57

2 Answers 2


It's all about dialect variation — call them A and B — which are differentiated by reference to constructions like:

[1] I thought it might rain before we got home.

[2] I thought it may rain before we got home.

In the older Dialect A (which I speak) [2] is ungrammatical (just like *"I thought I can finish the book before I got home"): [1], with "might" required.

In Dialect B, [2] is possible as well as [1]. In Dialect A, "might" is undoubtedly the preterite counterpart of "may", just as "could" is of "can" because it is the form required in backshift. In Dialect B there's no basis for retaining (from earlier stages of the language) the analysis of "might" as the preterite of "may": it must be a distinct lexeme.

One factor facilitating this linguistic change is that "might", even in Dialect A, is hardly used in the primary sense of the preterite, to indicate past time: we usually say "was/were allowed" rather than "might" for past time permission, e.g. "He told me I/we might go".

  • 2
    Surely "I think it may rain before we get home" in any dialect. At best, "I think it might rain before we get home". Or am I hopelessly at sea here? I think this answer suffers from a forced brevity. I feel as if you're withholding a lot of great stuff. Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 6:30
  • Thank you all very much for taking your time to answer my very first question here at Stackexchange. My apologies for not being able to fully explain what I put in question. But I was just wondering if there is a difference in nuance when you answer "I may" or "I might" to a question like "will you be there?" Sorry if I overly simplified the question.
    – Pororoca
    Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 8:11
  • 1
    In line with what @P.E.Dant said, the question was interesting to me but as a non-native speaker I don't understand the concept of dialect variation here. Please elaborate more.
    – Ehsan88
    Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 8:17
  • We plebs have spoken. Please elaborate. This distinction is fascinating and difficult to express. As a native speaker, I know that I mean to imply something subtly different than I may when I say I might. If you can elucidate that subtle difference, preferably in detail and at length, you will render a service not only to our audience of students, but to me. Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 9:23

Fiddle sticks!

May is for permission. Period. He may stay for dinner.

Might is for possiblity. Period. It might rain tomorrow. Only God can correctly "It may rain tomorrow, because only he/she can give permission for it to rain."

This balderdash about some kinds of possiblity etc. is nonsense.

If you are going to simply misuse of language, then forget the rules and speak gibberish.

Other errors:

My wife and myself like shrimp. NO!!! My wife and I like shrimp. Myself is a reflexive word showing the subject received the action. I dropped the shrimp batch on my wife and myself.

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