Do the following sentences sound natural in formal AmE speech:

  • You may go now if you want to.

  • You might go now if you want to.

I think both of them are correct, but the latter is far more formal or rather literal. Though I doubt about this opinion.

  • 4
    I'm a native AmE speaker, and I'll say that I've never heard anyone use the "might"-construct, and I would never expect to hear it. If someone phrased it that way, I would understand it to be a consciously-British usage, using dry wit to (not-so) subtly indicate you're (ahem) suggesting the person leave.
    – Dan Bron
    Oct 21, 2014 at 0:25
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    Agree with Dan Bron, except might calls for wanted. But most American speakers would say can, anyway! Permissive may has been on its deathbed for at least two generations. Oct 21, 2014 at 0:31
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    @A-friend, 1: TV: British, 2: Rain: normal, 3 : kill: normal (though a bit stilted; we'd normally used could), 4: camping: British, 5: gone out: normal.
    – Dan Bron
    Oct 21, 2014 at 1:07
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    @A-friend, if you said "I may have killed her", it would express uncertainly about whether or not you actually had killed her. You'd only use it in a case like "I was so drunk, I don't even remember getting behind the wheel. I don't know man, I may have killed her.".
    – Dan Bron
    Oct 21, 2014 at 1:26
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    @A-friend, I'd say "may" is qualitatively different in this context, not just quantitatively different. The words "might" and "could" differ in register, but "may" differs in meaning. And yes, the person you'd talking to would understand the uncertainty inherent in "may" (meaning your interlocutor would know that you don't know, if you follow me).
    – Dan Bron
    Oct 21, 2014 at 1:32

4 Answers 4


May and Might both suggest uncertainty, but they offer different degree/perspective/perception. There might/may be situations where they can be interchangeable. (like this very sentence :-)) may and might - one suggests something that is less likely to happen and the other suggests something that is more likely to happen.

While might suggests possibility, may suggests probability.

Consider the following sentences -

  1. The CEO might resign.

  2. The CEO may resign.

In both sentences above the uncertainty about his resignation is looming. But there is a difference in register. Sentence #1, possibility and sentence #2, probability.

In sentence #2, the resignation is likely to happen, but not certain. In sentence #1, there are more chance of resignation, yet uncertain.

Even saying so, in both these sentences the difference is effectively very subtle.

OP's sentence -

You ____ (may/might) go now if you want to.

We need either may or might to feel that blank. That blank should contain a word that will suggest uncertainty.

If you use may, it's a plain statement of uncertainty. But if you use might, you are suggesting there is more chance of your going, though uncertain.

So both are possible depending on context.

  • Er, the most likely interpretation for the OP's example would be one of the speaker giving permission. E.g. "You may go to the movies, if you have finished your homework." which is what a parent could/might say to their child. The parent is giving permission.
    – F.E.
    Apr 7, 2015 at 5:49

might is the simple past of may and I think it's used to express Subjunctive Mood, like would, could or should.

  • Could you edit your answer and expand a bit? This is so short it's misleading.
    – M.A.R.
    Sep 29, 2015 at 19:41

The first sentence implies some sort of permission is needed. For example, after a required wait period, someone in charge will then say "You may go now"

The second sentence implies that an opinion is being offered that it is "ok" now to go or "seems like a good time to go".


Might sounds very weird. As for may, I was taught in the old school where the word may expressed permission. Almost universally now the word can is substituted, even though purists may still consider it sub-standard.

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