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In OALD the entry for might, the second usage is as below:

2 used when showing that something is or was possible

He might say that now (= it is true that he does), but he can soon change his mind.

I have three questions. Please help me clarify.

  1. I don't know whether this example describes his typical trait or a specific occasion where he will probably break his promise but usually he doesn't do it.

  2. Since "might" implies possiblity, why does the note in the bracket say "it is true that he does."? I think it should be "it is likely that he does." instead.

  3. Can I use "but he may/might soon change his mind." in place of "but he can soon change his mind." in this example?

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This is an idiomatic use of may/might, and I am surprised that OALD does not enter a distinct definition for it.

The may/might X ... but Y construction is essentially ‘dismissive’: that is, you acknowledge a fact but by casting it as a mere ‘possibility’ you declare it to be irrelevant. The underlying thought is something like this:

He may say this now, or he may say something entirely different; but in either case, what he says can be ignored, because he can change his mind.

  1. The sentence does not address his reliability; to know that you would have to have more context.

  2. I have explained this above.

  3. You can use may/might, but it would have a slightly different meaning, addressing the possibility of his reneging rather than the fact that reneging lies within his power. If you do use may/might, it should probably be accompanied by something like also or equally or by the same token, to indicate that you are placing the two may/mights in parallel on purpose, to contrast the two possibilities:

He may say this now, but he may, by the same token, change his mind.

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  • Your answer reminds me of that! OALD enters this usage in "may" instead, but does not introduce the "may/might X ... but Y" construction like MacMillan does. No wonder I have a doubt. Thx!
    – Kinzle B
    Apr 13 '14 at 12:38

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