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Let's look at the sentence:

I might go to the market.

We know that 'might' is the past form of 'may'. Also might is used to describe possibility in the present. Then what does the above sentence refer to? What is the tense of the sentence? Does it refer to the past or the present? How to understand which tense this type of sentences refer to? Please make me know with explanation.

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  • Syntactically, it is past tense. Semantically, it refers to future time.
    – BillJ
    Jul 1, 2020 at 12:04
  • Didn't get it 😕. Please explain. Jul 2, 2020 at 3:51
  • You asked about the tense. Syntactically, "might" is a past tense form, meaning that the whole sentence is past tense. But the meaning is clearly to do with future time, cf. "I might go to the market tomorrow". Note that English does not have a future tense, but uses various constructions to refer to the future.
    – BillJ
    Jul 2, 2020 at 9:35
  • BillJ, 'Might' (as the past form of may) can be used in the conditional . If I knew his number, I might phone him. (I am not inviting him). Here we cannot use may. Again we can use might (as the past form of may) in reported speech. He said, 'I may buy the book.' He said that he might buy the book. Oct 28, 2022 at 15:19

3 Answers 3

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The word "might" is used to express modality. Specifically, the word "might" is closely related the notion of possibility.

The word "might" almost always is used in the present-tense and future-tense. It is not often used to talk about the past.

Some examples are provided below:

  • "I might go to the market sometime within the next hour" (this is an acceptable usage of the word "might")
  • I might go to the market today (this is standard usage of the word "might"
  • I might go to the market tommarow.

In order to use the word "might" in the past-tense you use the phrase "might have"

  • I might have purchased a pineapple while I was still at the store, but I did not do so. (past tense)

One is allowed to replace the phrase "I might" with "It is possible that I will"

  1. I might go shopping at the grocery store today.

  2. It is possible that I will go shopping at the grocery store today.

Occationally, the word "might" is used as a noun to mean "strength". However, that usage is uncommon today (use of "might" as a noun is becoming archaic).

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May and might are modal verbs. They are both used to talk about the present and the future. We use them to say that something is very possible. Might is used to talk about a smaller chance than may.

I may go to the market.

I might go to the market. (smaller chance)

I might go to the market tomorrow. (=Perhaps I will go to the market tomorrow)

For the past we use may have + past participle or might have + past participle.

He might have gone to the market. (Perhaps he went to the market)

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The modern English word "might" is not, in any useful sense, a past tense of "may".

It is an independent modal verb that can express conditional or possible actions, and is also used to make polite requests. Since it indicates possible actions, it tends to indicate a future event.

I might go to the party (tomorrow).

Might I take a biscuit?

Etymologically it was derived from the past, and past subjunctive forms of the Old English word magan, forms like meahte or *mehte. Magan became "may" in modern English (with a change of meaning from the OE). There are some formal structures in which "might" functions like a past tense for "may", for example in backshifted speech. These are pretty rare.

I tend to disagree with BillJ's comment that it is "syntactically past tense". In OE, there was a single lexeme "magan", but in modern English there are two lexemes "may" and "might", and (except in the contexts I've mentioned) its not useful to think of "might" as being an inflectional form of "may".

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