Think you’re great at grammar? You might be.
In fact, you may be.
Wait, aren’t those the same thing? Not quite. There are a few differences between may and might, and some of them are fuzzy, subtle, or fluid. Here, we’ll take a closer look at the differences between the two words, so you’ll know when to use each correctly.
May vs. might
May and might may seem interchangeable, but they aren’t. These are the key differences between them:
- Used most often in the present tense
- Used to describe a probable hypothetical
- Can be used to give or ask for permission
- Used most often in the past tense
- Used to describe unlikely hypotheticals
- Used to describe situations that did not occur
As you can see, may and might aren’t diametrically opposed. While may is often used to ask for or imply permission, might has nothing to do with permission—at least, in American English. In British English, might is often used to ask for permission. And to most American English speakers, while this doesn’t necessarily sound wrong, it’s less common.
When it comes to choosing may or might to describe a hypothetical, the onus is on the speaker or writer to determine just how likely the hypothetical is to occur. For example, let’s say you applied to a highly selective graduate program. If you’re feeling confident about being accepted, you’d likely communicate this by saying, “I may enroll in a highly selective graduate program next fall.” If you’re less confident but still want to communicate that it’s a possibility, you’d instead say, “I might enroll in a highly selective graduate program next fall.”
In a lot of instances, though, the line between may and might is more clear-cut. Generally speaking, may is the best word choice when writing in the present tense, while might is the better choice when writing in the past tense. However, this isn’t always the case. Here are a few examples to the contrary:
- Upon further review, I may have graded your work unfairly.
- She might be wearing a hat.
With might and may, the grammatical rules for using them may be more accurately described as guidelines. Unlike other word categories and speech components, such as its versus it’s, there are few definitively correct and incorrect ways to use them. Other word pairs that are commonly confused despite having clearly defined usage rules are to versus for and was versus were.
When you’re unsure of whether to use may versus might, our grammar checker can help you by flagging mistakes in your writing and offering suggestions.
May in a sentence
An easy way to understand how to use may and might is to see them in sentences. Use may when you’re describing a likely hypothetical, something that’s happening in the present tense, or something about which you’re granting or asking for permission. Here are a few examples:
- Javed may offer more tutoring sessions in the future.
- You may bring one guest.
Might in a sentence
Use might when you’re describing an unlikely or even completely speculative hypothetical. Generally, might is the better choice for past tense as well. Look at these examples:
- The mistake was only in a few frames, so the film’s editors might have missed it.
- If I win the lottery, I might buy a private island.
May be vs. might be
The differences between may and might extend to may be and might be.
May be is a verb phrase that, like may, indicates a likely possibility. Here is an example:
- The students may be going on a field trip next week if the budget is approved.
Might be is also a verb phrase. It can be used to form a polite suggestion or, like might on its own, indicate an unlikely possibility:
- If you plan to apply to medical school, you might be best served by majoring in biology.
- I’ll do all I can to make it to the meeting, but I might be late.
May vs. might examples
Here are different ways may can be used in a sentence:
- Guests may park in our driveway.
- My brother may need to pick up groceries on his way home.
- May I be excused from class next week?
- We may be in the running for the top prize!
Compare them to the ways might can be used in a sentence:
- If it hadn’t rained, we might have held a barbecue.
- The delivery person might have dropped off a package while I was in class.
- When I’m an astronaut, I might lead the first mission to Jupiter.
May be vs. might be examples
Now, compare may be example sentences with might be example sentences:
- I may be new to this industry, but I have many relevant skills.
- If the beautiful weather holds, we may be dismissed early to enjoy the outdoors.
- The new software may be more complex than we realize.
- It might be easiest if you prioritize major courses this semester and take electives next year.
- The author hinted that a new book might be released this summer.
- I might be required to take an internship in order to graduate.
May vs. might FAQs
What’s the difference between may and might?
The word may is typically used in the present tense to indicate something that’s likely to happen or to ask for permission.
The word might is typically used in the past tense to describe something that’s unlikely to happen or situations that didn’t take place.
What’s the difference between may be and might be?
May be indicates a likely possibility. Might be can communicate a polite suggestion or indicate an unlikely possibility.
May be vs. maybe
May be is a verb phrase, which means it’s a phrase that functions as a verb. Maybe is an adverb—which means it modifies a verb, adjective, adverb, or an entire sentence—or a noun that means uncertainty.