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In a talk show with the topic: How to discover your authentic self – at any age. The speaker starts her speech like this:

I am a late bloomer. In fact, a friend of mine you may have heard of – Chris Rock – he once called me the most late-blooming mofo he’d ever met. Now, some people might consider that snide, but I revel in it. I’m 55, and I’m here in this curvy body as someone who has done the work, lived the life walked the walk in these very high heels.

(1) some people might consider that snide,.

a. Can I use "may" instead of "might" here with the same meaning?

b. Can I use "will" here to show that I am certain that people will consider that snide.?

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    Does this answer your question? Could vs Might vs May Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 15:21
  • Why bother with an auxiliary verb at all? Assuming you believe what you're saying in the first place, just express it as Some people consider that snide. Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 15:24
  • Because "will" also expresses the speaker's belief, so that I am wondering that does "will" make sense": Some people will consider that snide.
    – LE123
    Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 4:33
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    b. Yes, you can and that would be correct usage. However I wouldn't. It is somewhat arrogant to be absolutely certain of someone's reaction, especially when you are referring to people (your readers) whom you have never met.
    – mcalex
    Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 9:26
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    Don't waste your time with ideas like "may" expresses a higher chance to happen than "might" and "could". That's just a bizarre misconception harboured by a few people, but since most native speakers don't recognise any such distinction, it's really pointless. Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 11:19

3 Answers 3

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Yes, on both questions.

"May" is a strange word, since it also is used for permission, and you have to understand the meaning from context. But here it would certainly be understood as having the same meaning as "might".

"Will" indicates greater certainty.

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  • How about "would"?
    – LE123
    Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 6:12
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    See all the other questions about the difference between will and would in condtionals.
    – James K
    Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 6:15
  • I know that "would" is used for conditionals, but is it appropriate to use in this context?
    – LE123
    Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 6:20
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    I strongly agree that "may" has problems, and try to avoid it in technical writing etc. as a result. Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 12:31
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James K’s answer is valid for many English speakers, but it is not universal. May and might are quite close in meaning, and many use them interchangeably, but they remain distinct to many speakers as well (myself included), with might being primarily the past tense of may, both in terms of morphological form and meaning.

With modal verbs such as may/might, the past tense is also used in hypothetical (‘irreal’, counterfactual) conditionals, and semantically it carries the same shades of being ‘remote’ and more ‘distant’ from the speaker that such conditionals normally do. That is, compared to the present tense, the past tense increases the uncertainty implied by the speaker.

This difference between past and present also goes for would, which you added to the mix in a comment: may/might is one present/past pair, will/would is also a present/past pair.

May/might indicates a potential outcome – there is a possibility of something occurring. May indicates a stronger likelihood than might.

Will/would indicates something occurring in the future, which is by definition unknown and therefore somewhat hypothetical. Will indicates stronger certainty of this hypothetical than would.

The difference within each pair is small, but it is there (except to those who treat may and might as completely synonymous). It’s not easy to describe these sorts of minute differences in words without using the same words and differences in the explanations, but the following is an attempt to give some hypotheticals where each would realistically apply:

Now, some people may consider that snide, but I revel in it.
→ If you ask random people if they think it’s snide, there’s a strong likelihood that some will say yes

Now, some people might consider that snide, but I revel in it.
→ If you were to ask random people if they think it’s snide, there’s some likelihood that some would say yes

Now, some people will consider that snide, but I revel in it.
→ If you repeat it to random people, some of them will definitely find it snide (without being specifically asked)

Now, some people would consider that snide, but I revel in it.
→ If you were to hypothetically repeat it to random people, some of them would definitely find it snide (without being specifically asked)

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  • (1) I know that "might" can be used for a conditional meaning (as in 2nd conditional sentence). But the problem is that my grammar book says that "may", "might" and "could" are also used for the present or future (2): Joe may/ might/ could come with me tomorrow. Here, these 3 modal verbs express a possibility in the future, but "may" has a higher chance to happen than "might" as "could". So, I don't know that "might" here belongs to (1) or (2).
    – LE123
    Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 5:44
  • In (2), could does not express a possibility in the future, but a suggestion: “Joe could come with me tomorrow” roughly means, “How about if Joe comes with me tomorrow” – it’s quite different from “Joe may/might come with me tomorrow”. I’m not sure what you mean by “I don't know that "might" here belongs to (1) or (2)”, though. Might can both be used in true conditionals and in expressing present or future potentialities. Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 9:33
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I would consider may and might nearly interchangeable if we are talking about how people possibly feel in the future. Another word that would work here is “some people could,” which is more likely than may but less certain than will or would (and even less emphatically certain than shall). Both “may well feel” and “might well feel” imply that they very likely do feel that way, and that they would be justified in feeling that way, but it’s still not certain.

However, if we are talking about the past, I think may and might are more distinct. To me, “may have felt” means that we are not certain whether or not someone felt that way in the past. The way I use it, especially in writing, “might have felt” is a counterfactual, and we are talking about a scenario that did not happen. The phrase “could have felt” can mean either. However, people often use these terms more loosely than that, and I’ll understand them.

When we’re talking about the present, it gets a bit more muddled. I use do instead of will when talking about the present. The word may still implies that it’s unknown whether they do or don’t. The words I would use for a hypothetical statement are might or could, but it doesn’t feel like an error to use those the same way as may (unlike with may have/might have).

So, we’ve covered statements about the future, like you asked about. If I say, in the present tense:

They didn’t think so the last time I talked to them, but they [might/may/could/may well/would/do] feel that way now.

There’s no if clause nearby to make any of these verbs contingent. Might implies that they probably don’t, could implies they probably do, and may is in between. If I say may well, I’m implying it’s almost certain, and would means I am certain of it, but still implies I have not confirmed it. If I say do, it’s a statement of fact. You cannot use will in this context.

Talking about the past:

They don’t feel that way, but in the past, they [may have/could have/may well have/would have].

In this context, many native speakers would also use “they might have,” but that sounds wrong to me, and I would only use might have , when writing or speaking carefully, in a sentence like, “... but under different circumstances, they might have.”

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  • They didn’t think so the last time I talked to them, but they [might/may/could/may well/would/do] feel that way now. You cannot use will in this context. Can you explain why? I have learned that "will" expresses a strong belief.
    – LE123
    Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 5:50
  • @LEHANH Will forms the future tense, so it doesn’t work for statements about the present.
    – Davislor
    Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 7:52
  • Someone knock the door, I am inside the house, I think I can say "It will be John". This means I have a strong belief that it is John. Right? I think that "will" is also used for the present.
    – LE123
    Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 7:56
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    “They didn’t think so the last time I talked to them, but they will feel that way now” is perfectly fine – it means that you’ve logically deduced from context that they feel that way now, though you don’t have first-hand knowledge. It’s the same use of will that you find in contexts such as, “He’ll be long gone by now” (= I deduce that this is the case). In the example given, it would sound more natural to add an adverb such as surely and contract the auxiliary: “They didn’t think so then, but they’ll surely think so now [i.e., given what’s happened in between]”. Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 9:39
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    @LEHANH I’d interpret that as, “[If I go see who it is,] it will surely be John,” but you’re right, that sentence is fine. Good point. (By the way: “If someone knocks on the door, and I am inside the house, ....”)
    – Davislor
    Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 21:42

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