Main Difference – May vs Might
May and might are two modal verbs that are used to talk about permission, and possibility. The main difference between may and might is that might is the past tense of may.
May vs Might – Meaning and Usage
As mentioned above, May and Might are both can be used to talk about possibility and permission. However, there is a distinct difference between may and might based on their usage, and in this section we are going to look at these differences individually.
When we are politely asking for permission for something, we tend to use the modal verb may. This is considered to be more formal than using can.
May I ask you a question?
May I borrow your notes?
Though it is not wrong to use might in the above sentences, the use of might in modern usage is considered to be very formal. Therefore, it should be reserved for extremely formal situations.
Might I ask you some questions?
However, when we are talking about granting (or not) permission we can only use may. Might cannot be used in this sense.
√ Yes, you may go out.
X Yes, you might go out.
According to some grammarians, may should be used when we are talking about a possibility that is mostly likely to come true whereas might should be used when talking about an unlikely possibility. For example,
They may go to Paris next summer. – means that they’ll probably go to Paris next summer.
They might go to Paris next summer. – means that it is unlikely that they’ll go to Paris.
However, this difference is not very noticeable in practice.
On the other hand, might is always preferred in hypothetical and conditional situations.
If you go to bed earlier, you might get up early tomorrow.
If I were rich, I might migrate to France.
In addition, we always use might in negative sentences that indicate possibility. This is because using may in a negative sentence can mislead the readers.
For example, “I may not go to school.” gives the meaning that you are not allowed to go to school. It is “I might not go to school.” that indicates the sense of possibility.
Wishes and Hopes
May is always the correct word when you are expressing a wish or hope. Might cannot be used in this manner.
May you have a happy and prosperous life!
May you be happy and healthy!
Though might is the past tense form of may, both may and might can be used to refer to a past event. W can use both may and might when we don’t know the truth about a possible situation at the time of speaking.
He may have gone to the party.
He might have gone to the party.
But if you are referring to a possibility in the past that actually didn’t happen, might is more preferable.
The exam was difficult, and he might have failed. – implies that he didn’t fail.
His condition was not critical, but he might have been seriously hurt.
In addition, might should be always used in reported speech since it is the past form of may.
Direct Speech: We may visit her next week.
Reported Speech: They said that they might visit her the following week.
Difference Between May and Might
May is a modal verb that express possibility and permission.
Might is considered to be the past form of may.
May is used to ask for and grant permission.
Might is only used to ask for permission.
May is used to talk about a possibility that is likely to come true.
Might is used to talk about a possibility that is unlikely to come true.
May is more polite than can.
Might is more polite and formal than may.
Wish and hopes
May can be used to express wishes and hopes.
Might is not used to express wishes and hopes.