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Consider this sentence, please:

Your child might do better with a different teacher.

Can I paraphrase "might" with "it is possible that...would..."? For example:

It is possible that Your child would do better with a different teacher.

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Yes, that is exactly what the first phrase means. However, your paraphrase is not as good because it ends with "would," which implies virtual certainty. It is true that you have previously qualified this with "it is possible," which negates any implication of certainty, but the formulation is still slightly contradictory and so may be interpreted differently from what you intend. The first sentence unambiguously implies possibility; it does not even formally imply probability although in practice people may use this formulation to indicate their opinion that it is not merely possible but probable.

Personally, I would use "might perhaps" to imply "not probable but possible," use "might" to mean possibility without any implication that it was more probable than not, use "might well" to indicate at least an even chance, "probably would" to indicate a much better than even chance, and "would" to indicate close to certainty, but not everyone uses the modals in the exact same way.

In short, "might" here indicates possibility unambiguously without implying much of anything about probability except that it is materially less than 100%.

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  • You say: although in practice people may use this formulation to indicate their opinion that it is not merely possible but probable. Do you mean people can use this formulation...?(actually I've been learning recently about "may", "can" and their difference) – Mr. X Jun 2 '20 at 18:53
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    I am saying that many native English speakers may be somewhat careless in their use of modals. And in speech, people have complex thoughts that do not get translated into exactly what they intend. "May/might" indicate, strictly speaking, possibility or permissibility, but that does not mean that in everyday speech people always speak strictly. There is the English written by those whose profession requires careful use of language and the English spoken in a bar on Saturday night. They are not exactly the same. – Jeff Morrow Jun 2 '20 at 20:14
  • One last question: Can I replace "might" in the original sentence with "could",with the meaning remaining the same? i.e., "Your child could do better with a different teacher." – Mr. X Jun 11 '20 at 7:01
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    As I said before, different people use modals in slightly different ways because modals are used in part to express nuances. Many would feel that there is no difference in meaning between "could" and "might" in this particular sentence. To me, however, "could" implies a somewhat stronger recommendation than "might" but not as strong as "would." – Jeff Morrow Jun 11 '20 at 14:23
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You could use the alternative you suggest as it is correct and conveys the same meaning.

However, 'might' as a modal verb works well to be succinct in expressing possibility.

'It is possible that...' is a more wordy alternative.

You don't tell us the exact context of your sentence, but I would prefer using 'might' as it's more succinct and allows you to keep 'your child' as the subject (rather than a general 'it is'), thus keeping the focus on the human subject. It sounds more natural to me with 'might'.

Note that both alternatives allow the speaker to give additional information with 'if' if desired. For example:

Your child might do better with another teacher if you wanted

It's possible your child would do better with another teacher if you wanted

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