"Mother, may I watch a movie?"
"Yes, darling, that’s a splendid idea. If I finish up my work, I might be able to join you!"
MAY and MIGHT: They seem interchangeable. But are they? Let's examine them together.
MAY is a polite way of expressing hope and desire to do something. It is also appropriate when the chance of something happening is more likely than not.
**May I stay up all night, pretty, pretty please? (hope and desire)
**I may have dinner on the table by 6:30. (strong likelihood)
With grammar, everything depends on sentence construction. If you start a sentence using may, don't switch to might mid-sentence. In the following sentences, the speaker should be feeling more than 50% optimistic that he/she will see the movie or attend the dance.
**There's a chance I may make the movie on time, but there's a chance I may not.
**I may or may not go the dance.
MIGHT expresses a greater than 50% likelihood that whatever you're saying won't happen. Consider this sentence:
**I might let you go, but we'll have to discuss it further.
Why shouldn't you use MAY when doubt is present? It can be misleading, that's why. Let's look at the following example:
**Zima may not use Yaya's bike. What's wrong with that? It sounds like Zima can't use Yaya's bike ever. Now let's change to MIGHT.
**Zima might not use Yaya's bike. That indicates she has another transportation option to consider, not that she's forbidden from using Yaya's bike.
Phew! That was tricky, even for me! Now let's cover another aspect of these words: VERB TENSES!
MAY is present tense; MIGHT is past tense
But both are used to indicate the likelihood of something occurring in the future!
Fortunately, only MIGHT is used to reflect on something that occurred in the past. Here are two examples:
**If Mary had studied harder, she might have done better on the test.
**I fear that I might have overbaked the brownies, but I hope they're still enjoyable.
P.S. If you're looking for an uplifting, original movie to watch, I highly recommend YESTERDAY - you MAY become a Beatles fan if you aren't one already. Please accept my deepest hopes and prayers for your continued safety.
Laura Fineberg Cooper
A Spoonful of Grammar