In OALD, the 3rd definition of might is used to make a polite suggestion.

You might try calling the help desk.

I thought we might go to the zoo on Saturday.

While the 5th definition of could is used to suggest something.

We could write a letter to the director.

You could always try his home number.

I wonder if both usage is common in everyday speech. Which is preferred or more polite? Are they interchangeable in making suggestions?

  • Being curious what my grammar might say about this, I looked it up and found this great explanation: "We can use could to mean 'would be able to' and might to mean 'would perhaps' or 'would possible' -- PEU 258.6. – Damkerng T. Mar 28 '14 at 5:10
  • Are you suggesting that would be equivalent to: "It would be possible for you to write a letter to the director if I were to give my opinion"? @DamkerngT. – Kinzle B Jun 29 '14 at 13:24
  • I think that might work too, in an uncommon context. Though it's rather wordy, a bit odd, and too literal (and by extension, non-idiomatic, imo), it still has a similar meaning to "You could write a letter to the director." No matter what its literal meaning is, it's still rather obvious that "You could write a letter to the director" is used as a suggestion. – Damkerng T. Jun 29 '14 at 14:37
  • That's just a way of paraphrase. I would never intend to say that in conversation. Do you agree might and could are both hypothetical here? @DamkerngT. – Kinzle B Jun 29 '14 at 14:43
  • I believe that we could think of it as hypothetical thinking. (I believe that people think of hypothetical differently, even native speakers, though they usually arrive at a similar usage.) – Damkerng T. Jun 29 '14 at 14:52

They are both perfectly correct and common in everyday speech. If there is a difference, it's a subtle one. "Might" is perhaps a bit more suggestive that the speaker's mind is open to other ideas, so I would call it a bit more polite. "Might" also feels slightly more informal, but that's just a gut feeling based on my particular experience. In that particular usage, the words are just about interchangeable. In the last example you would need to delete the word "always" to substitute "might" for "could".

The accepted answer here: Difference between might and could gets into other usages of the same words.

  • What you do think of the other answer? – Kinzle B Mar 28 '14 at 4:56
  • It's an excellent answer to a slightly different question. – Jolenealaska Mar 28 '14 at 5:09
  • What will that question be? – Kinzle B Mar 28 '14 at 5:17
  • Maybe I misunderstood your comment. Do you mean J.R.s answer in the link I posted as a part of my answer? Or user3169's answer here? If you meant the latter, I'd say that I don't really see the words as (s)he does, but as I said, the difference between the words in this context is very subtle. Even something like how your parents used the words could affect how you perceive them. – Jolenealaska Mar 28 '14 at 5:30
  • OK! And why would I need to delete "always" if I replaced "could" with "might"? @Jolenealaska – Kinzle B Mar 28 '14 at 6:17

To me, could implies possible actions without any bias or personal interest. Just suggestions that are possible.

On the other hand, might has more of an implication of the speaker's personal involvement or interest in the suggestion. It's more than just a possibility, the speaker is saying something like "I personally want you to consider this".

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.