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I thought it might help her.

Why "might" and not "might have" since it's about the past?

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  • Because it's easier to stick with simpler verb forms when more complex ones aren't necessary. It's not just a matter of adding "have", as implied by your question - the Perfect alternative also requires changing unmarked infinitive "help" to past participle "helped". Note that you haven't given a full context, anyway. If the speaker was talking about having an offer of help turned down in the PAST for something that still lay in the FUTURE at time of utterance, I imagine many speakers might say it would actually be logically / syntactically invalid to use the Perfect form. Commented Dec 10, 2023 at 12:31

2 Answers 2

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You can look at it as indirect speech. If you quoted your thoughts you would get:

  • I thought 'it may help her'

Then, by leaving the quotation marks we often backshift the tense:

  • I thought 'it may help her' -> I thought it might help her

You may also remember that when we talk about the past we often use past tenses even if we are talking about things that are still true:

  • It's a shame that we moved out of Tokyo. It was such a nice place. (Tokyo still is a nice place)

Note also that 'might have' is not wrong in this case. It is used to say that it is possible that something happened, was true in the past or something was possible but did not happen

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  • What If I want to still use " may'" then I should say I thought it may help her or it may have helped her? Commented Dec 10, 2023 at 13:05
  • "I thought it may help her" is ungrammatical for some speakers, just like ”I thought I can finish the book before I got home”.
    – BillJ
    Commented Dec 10, 2023 at 14:40
  • @BillJ How can something be ungrammatical 'for some speakers'? English has rules for everyone although there are differences e.g. between British and American
    – kyadere
    Commented Dec 10, 2023 at 14:44
  • @Samgra Both works but there is a difference in meaning
    – kyadere
    Commented Dec 10, 2023 at 14:45
  • That's obviously not true. Here, it all boils down to Dialect A (older) vs Dialect B. For example, in Dialect A "I thought it may rain before we got home" is ungrammatical (just like ”I thought "I can finish the book before I got home”). "I thought it might rain before we got home is required". In Dialect B, both forms are possible.
    – BillJ
    Commented Dec 10, 2023 at 14:59
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I thought it might help her.

I thought it might have helped her.

Both are grammatical. The perfect version implies that "it" wasn't just an idea the speaker thought of, but something actually tried with the goal of helping her.

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  • Is is also grammatical when we change might to may in both examples? Commented Dec 10, 2023 at 13:30
  • Some AmE speakers don't shift may to might for past tense. Possibly the same is true of BrE. For me may sounds marginal there but others might hear it as ungrammatical. Commented Dec 10, 2023 at 13:59
  • I was taught that might is for the present and future and might have is for the past. Why i that might is allowed in the past without have? Commented Dec 10, 2023 at 14:05
  • I should say "in past contexts" not "for past tense". might is an auxiliary not the main verb in "I thought it might help", which would be understood as "At the time I thought there was a chance it would be helpful". It refers to a prospective view situated in the past. I thought it might have helped refers to a retrospective view situated in the past. Commented Dec 10, 2023 at 14:34
  • Now I get it thanks Commented Dec 10, 2023 at 14:56

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