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"She maybe/may be the principal, but I have a job to teach you," said Mr. Brown in a conversation to his foreign students in an old TV program, Mind Your Language, regarding a call from his principal, Ms. Courtney. I am not sure what he said, maybe (probably) or may be (could be). In this case, he knew exactly who she was, so no doubt to Mr. Brown is guessing her position. So, which one is the correct one? And what is the reason for saying so?

3 Answers 3

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The correct one is: may be.

"She may be the principal but I have a job to teach you," said Mr. Brown.

It is used as an idiom in this sentence and does not mean "could be." Mr. Brown is not guessing Ms. Courtney's position; he knows she is the principal and that he is just a teacher.

Using "may be" that way is a way of speaking, an idiom, often used by a lower-status person (e.g. teacher) when a higher-status person (e.g. principal) interferes with the way they do their job.

What Mr. Brown meant was, "I know Ms. Courtney is the principal. But I have a job to do so I can't follow all her ideas for other things." He does not like that she interfered in his job.

Used this way, "may be" normally means "It is the case," or "is." That sentence can be reworded:

"Ms. Courtney is the principal but I have a job to teach you," said Mr. Brown.

Technically, it means the same as "She may be the principal," but it does not have the emotional impact for sarcasm or indignation.

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  • Thank you for your complete explanation, so do to correct my word principle to principal. Very good. – Apr 10, 2020 at 5:45
  • I deleted my previous comment as in the previous comment I put word "dear", The original sentence is: "Thank you dear for your complete explanation, so do to correct my word principle to principal. Very good." One commenting below that it is not polite to call dear in online. Sorry for my limited English. Apr 10, 2020 at 5:46
  • You're welcome. Apr 10, 2020 at 6:05
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The correct form is "She may be principal,...". That "may be" is the verb in that clause. The word "maybe" is an adverb, and it can't substitute for a verb.
While the teacher knew for sure that she was the principal, that particular use of "may be" is an idiom that means "Although she is principal...".

You may wish to note the correct spelling of "principal"; check a dictionary for the different meanings of "principal" and "principle".

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  • Thank you, you improved my English. Apr 10, 2020 at 5:44
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"She *maybe the principal" has no verb. In "She may be the principal", the verbs are "may" and "be".

The following sentences all have two verbs:

She may be the principal.

She might be the principal.

She may see the principal.

She must be the principal.

The first verb in each example is a modal verb. Modal verbs have a single form in the present tense, unlike regular verbs where at least the third person singular is different (e.g. "see"/"sees").

She is maybe the principal.

She is maybe seeing the principal.

"maybe" is an adverb that modifies verbs (many adverbs don't modify verbs but other parts of speech instead). It has the same meaning as "perhaps".

From Wiktionary:

Usage notes

  • Do not confuse maybe with the verb construction may be: "Maybe that's true", but "That may be true".

The two sentences "She may be the principal" and "She is maybe the principal" have the same meaning.

"She may be the principal, but ..." means "Although she is the principal" and "I have a job to teach you" means "It is my job to teach you" or "I am a teacher".

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  • Thank you dear for the nice explanation. Apr 10, 2020 at 5:36
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    @AirCraftLover Don't call people "dear" online. Although I'm not offended by it, there are many who would be and it could get you into a lot of trouble.
    – CJ Dennis
    Apr 10, 2020 at 5:38
  • Very sorry. I didn't intend to make any one on trouble. It was just due to my limited English knowledge. If you don't mind, what is wrong with the "call"? I used to be called like that. I thought that it was something good or polite call. Apr 10, 2020 at 5:42
  • I was just thinking like writing email to put "Dear ...." on top of the email. Apr 10, 2020 at 5:43
  • @AirCraftLover It's overly familiar and some people might take it as being condescending. It's pretty much limited to close family (husband, wife, children, grandchildren, etc.) or starting certain letters, although this is increasingly old fashioned and decreasing in use. Within families it's usually (but not always) said from a superior role to an inferior role, e.g. parent to child. Spouses might use it equally, but siblings wouldn't at all. In a letter it's always the first word, just before the person's name, and not repeated later.
    – CJ Dennis
    Apr 10, 2020 at 5:52

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