Friday, June 11, 2004

Grammar: May/Might

Most of the time “might” and “may” are almost interchangeable, with “might” suggesting a somewhat lower probability. [Think: May = 80 percent; might = 50 percent] You’re more likely to get wet if the forecaster says it may rain than if she says it might rain; but substituting one for the other is unlikely to get you into trouble—so long as you stay in the present tense.

For events in the present or immediate future, use either may or might (I may [might] decide to go after all), but for past time, most Standard users still prefer only might, as in Yesterday I might have decided to stay home, not the increasingly encountered Yesterday I may have decided to stay home. Journalese is now peppered with may where until recently might has been solidly entrenched.

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