I thought that he might go to the beach. No. I thought that he may go to the beach. Which one is correct and why? Let’s find out.
What’s up guys? My name is Shane and today we are talking about may and might.
These words cause a lot of confusion for English learners and sometimes even for native speakers as well.
But don’t worry if these words are confusing for you because by the end of the lesson you will understand how to use them and how they are different.
And make sure you watch until the end of the video because there will be a quiz to test your understanding.
‘May’ and ‘might’ for requests
May I have a coffee please?
What am I doing here? I am making a request. I am asking for something.
What about this one? Might I have a coffee please?
What am I doing here? I am making a request again. I am asking for something.
So this is the first use of may and might. You can use them to make requests.
And when you use may and might, these are very very polite words.
If you say may I have a coffee or might I have a coffee, that is very very polite.
But using might in a request is not very common. Some people would say its actually old fashioned to say might I have a coffee please.
So if you want to make a really polite request, use may. Don’t use might.
Making a request with may is very formal and it’s not something you will hear or use very often.
You will normally hear requests with may in really formal situations when you check into a really hotel.
For example, the staff members might say to you may I have your passport please or may I take your coat please?
You also might hear may on the phone when people are making requests. For example, you might hear something like may I speak to john please or may I transfer you through to another department?
So in summary you can may and might for very polite requests but remember might is old fashioned and it’s not really used in 2020. So if you want to make a really polite request, use may.
‘May’ and ‘might’ for probability (what we think will happen)
I may watch TV tonight.
What is this sentence saying? It’s saying that I think watching TV is likely. I think it’s possible. I think that it could happen.
Let’s look at another example. He may lose his job.
Do I think it’s possible? Yes.
Do I think that there’s a chance that it will happen? Yes.
So we use may here to talk about something that is very possible or something that could happen.
Okay, now let’s look at might. I might watch TV tonight.
Do I think it’s possible? Yes.
Do I think that I will do it? Probably not. There is a chance I’ll do it but it’s a small chance.
Let’s look at another example. If you hurry, you might get there on time. Do I think it’s possible? Yes.
Do I think it will happen? Probably not. It’s possible but I think it probably won’t happen.
So in summary, we use may to talk about situations that we think that are likely to happen.
And we use might to talk about situations that are possible but we think that they probably won’t happen.
If you’re not sure which one to use, think about it like this. If you’re talking about something that you think has more than 50% chance of happening, use may.
If you think that something has less than 50% chance of happening, use might.
So just think about how likely the event is. If it’s more than 50%, use may. And if it’s less than 50%, use might.
Do I use ‘might’ or ‘may’ in the past?
I thought that he might go to the beach. What am I talking about here? Past, present or future? Past.
Is this sentence okay? Is the grammar okay? Yes it is.
What about this one? I thought that he may go to the beach. What am I talking about? Past, present or future? Past.
Is the sentence okay? Is the grammar okay? No it isn’t.
Because we cannot use may in the past tense. We can only use may in the present tense. Might is the past tense of the word may.
So just remember, when making sentences in the past we cannot use may.
We must use might. And it doesn’t matter if you think the situation has 80% chance of happening, we still have to use might.
May and might can both be used in the present but when we’re talking about the past, we must use might.
When not to use ‘may’
I may not go to the store. Is this sentence okay? Yes and no.
This sentence could have two meanings.
The first meaning could be talking about probability, right/ because may means something has more than a 50% chance of happening, right?
But may not can also have another meaning. If you say may not, it means you are not allowed.
So this sentence here might mean you are not allowed to go to the store. You do not have permission to go to the store.
So when you’re using may, it’s better to not use may not. Because it might be confusing as to what you’re saying. Are you talking about permission or are you talking about probability?
So just remember, don’t use may not when you’re talking about probability.
Summary for ‘may’ and ‘might’
Let’s make a quick summary of what we have learned today. If something has more than a 50% change of happening, we use may.
If something has less than a 50% chance of happening, we use might. Can we use may in the past? No. We need to use might.
Can we say may not? No we can’t because it has, it could have two meanings and it could be confusing.
And can we use may and might in requests? Yes we can but we should use may because might is very old fashioned.
So that is the summary of may and might. Easy, right?
Okay, we have learned the basics of may and might. So now let’s have a little quiz to test your understanding. I will show you a sentence with a missing word and I want you to fill in the missing word with either may or might.
Number one. I ____ go to the game tonight. I think it’ll probably happen. I ____ go to the game tonight. I think it’ll probably happen.
And the correct answer is: I may go to the game tonight because remember, we use may with things that we think have more than a 50% chance of happening.
Number two. He said he ___ not the exam. He said he ___ not the exam.
And the correct answer is: he said he might not pass the exam. We use might because we are talking about the past and we can’t use may in the past.
And last question, number three. I ___ study English tonight. I don’t think it’ll happen. I ___ study English tonight. I don’t think it’ll happen.
And the correct answer is: I might study English tonight because remember, when we have an event which we think has less than 50% chance of happening, we use might.
And that is the end of the lesson today. Now you know the basics of may and might. You see? It wasn’t that hard, right? If you’re interested in more videos about commonly confused words in English, check out this video right here.
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