May vs. Might

What's the Difference?

May and might are both modal verbs that express possibility or permission. However, there is a subtle difference in their usage. May is used to indicate a higher degree of possibility or likelihood, while might suggests a lower degree of probability. May is often used when there is a greater chance of something happening, whereas might is used when there is a smaller chance or when the possibility is more uncertain. For example, "She may attend the party tonight" implies a higher likelihood of her presence, while "She might attend the party tonight" suggests a lower probability or uncertainty.


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Modal VerbMayMight
Present TenseMayMight
PossibilityExpresses a higher possibilityExpresses a lower possibility
ProbabilityIndicates a higher probabilityIndicates a lower probability
Formal UsageCommonly used in formal contextsCommonly used in formal contexts
Conditional SentencesUsed in first and second conditional sentencesUsed in first and second conditional sentences
Polite RequestsUsed to make polite requestsUsed to make polite requests
PermissionUsed to ask for permissionUsed to ask for permission
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Further Detail


When it comes to expressing possibility or probability in English, two commonly used modal verbs are "may" and "might." While they share similarities in their usage, there are subtle differences that distinguish them. In this article, we will explore the attributes of "may" and "might" and shed light on when to use each of them.

Usage of May

The modal verb "may" is primarily used to express possibility or permission. It suggests that something is likely to happen or be true, but it is not certain. "May" is often used in situations where there is a higher degree of probability compared to "might." For example:

  • I may go to the party tonight if I finish my work early.
  • She may have already left for the airport.
  • It may rain later, so don't forget your umbrella.

As seen in the examples, "may" indicates a reasonable chance of the event happening, but it leaves room for uncertainty.

Usage of Might

Similar to "may," the modal verb "might" is also used to express possibility. However, "might" suggests a lower degree of probability compared to "may." It implies a weaker chance of something happening or being true. Consider the following examples:

  • He might come to the meeting, but I wouldn't count on it.
  • They might not have received the invitation yet.
  • It might be too late to catch the last train.

In these instances, "might" indicates a possibility, but with a sense of doubt or a lower likelihood of occurrence.

Formal vs. Informal Usage

Another aspect to consider when comparing "may" and "might" is their formality. "May" is generally considered more formal than "might." It is often used in formal writing, official documents, or polite requests. For instance:

  • May I have your attention, please?
  • The president may visit our office next week.
  • Students may not use cell phones during the exam.

On the other hand, "might" is commonly used in informal speech, casual conversations, or when expressing less certainty. For example:

  • I might go to the movies tonight if I can find someone to join me.
  • She might be running a bit late, so let's wait for her.
  • They might not be able to make it to the party.

While both "may" and "might" can be used in various contexts, understanding their formality can help you choose the appropriate one for your specific situation.

Expressing Polite Requests

When it comes to making polite requests, "may" is generally preferred over "might." It is considered more formal and polite. For instance:

  • May I borrow your pen, please?
  • May I have a glass of water, please?
  • May I ask you a question?

Using "may" in these situations shows respect and courtesy. However, it is worth noting that in informal speech, "can" is often used instead of "may" to make requests, especially in everyday conversations.

Expressing Past Possibility

When discussing past events or possibilities, "might" is commonly used. It indicates that something was possible but did not happen. Consider the following examples:

  • I thought I saw her, but it might have been someone else.
  • He might have missed the train if he hadn't run.
  • They might have forgotten to lock the door before leaving.

In these cases, "might" is used to express uncertainty about what actually occurred in the past.


In conclusion, while "may" and "might" are both modal verbs used to express possibility, they have distinct attributes. "May" suggests a higher degree of probability and is often used in more formal contexts or polite requests. On the other hand, "might" implies a lower likelihood or a sense of doubt. It is commonly used in informal speech or when discussing past possibilities. Understanding the nuances of these two modal verbs can help you convey your intended meaning accurately in various situations. So, whether you may or might use them, remember to choose wisely!

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