Lesson Transcript

Hi, everybody! My name is Alisha.
In this lesson, I'm going to talk about the differences between "may" and "might."
Let's get started!
First, I want to begin this lesson with the word "may."
I want to talk about two ways that we use "may" in Modern American English.
First, we use "may" to request and give permission.
So, that means when we ask for permission, we can use "may," and when we give permission, we can use "may."
Let's look at a common example.
First, person A says: "May I use your pen?"
B says: "Yes, you may."
So in this question, "may" is used to request, to ask for permission, "may Iโ€ฆ," and then B gives permission with "may," "Yes, you may." So this "yes, you may" means "yes, you may use my pen," in other words. In many cases; however, native speakers drop this part. They just say "yes" or "sure" or "okay."
When you're making a question like this, make sure that "may" comes before your subject. So, "May I use your pen?," not "I may use your pen?" Don't use that pattern.
Please use:
"May I use your pen?"
"May we use your pen?"
Or use your computer, for example.
So, make sure "may" is coming before your "I" or "we" or "he" or "she."
You can choose to reply with "Yes, you may."
The negative here would be, "No, you may not," "No, you may not."
Another common example with "may," a common request is:
"May I use the restroom?"
I'm going to talk a little bit more about another expression we use, "can," in this question and similar questions a little bit later. For now though, let's consider this point 1 for "may."
Let's go to point 2 for "may."
The second use of "may" is to express a low to moderate, moderate is like medium, a low to moderate level of possibility. So, "may" has this meaning, yes, so does "might," as I'll talk about later. But "may" is less commonly used than "might" in American English. So, if you use "may" in a case like this, as we'll see in a moment, it's going to sound a little more formal, a little more polite in American English. We tend to use "might" more, but let's look at some examples. There's no communication problem here. It just sounds a little formal.
First, a positive statement:
"I may visit a restaurant later today."
"I may visit a restaurant later today" means there's a possibility, so kind of low to moderate level, maybe like 20% to 40%, 50% chance I'll visit a restaurant later today.
In the negative then, the next two sentences:
"We may not have time to finish our report today."
So this "may not" means there's a possibility that we will not have time. So, there's kind of this chance that this thing will not be done today.
So, same thing in the next one:
"She may not be able to make it to the meeting."
So, "it might not" is another way to say this, yes, but there's a low or moderate chance she will be able to make it. So, we use "may not" or as we'll see later, "might not," to express that.
One more positive sentence:
"He may join us later."
So again, positive, so that shows there is a chance that he's going to come later. So, think about this. You can use "may" to talk about something in positive sentences that you think has a chance of happening, a chance of occurring, and "may not" to talk about something you think has a chance of not happening.
So, finally, I want to end this section with this note, about "may versus can" for permission. So, I mentioned that in this question here, "May I use the restroom?," for example, we use both "may" and "can" in Modern English" to ask for permission, so there is generally not a communication problem. However, some people prefer to use historical rules for these two words. Historically, "may" has been used for permission, so for this kind of thing. This is a situation where the speaker is asking for permission, like is it okay if I do this.
"Can" however, historically, has been used to talk about abilities, so the things we are able to do.
For example:
"I can speak English."
"I can speak French."
So, if you're thinking historically, "Can I use the restroom?," for some people, some people who are very strict about rules think it means like, "Do I have the ability to use the restroom?" Of course, in Modern American English, we use them the same, so it's a permission question, but occasionally, you will meet people who prefer to use this "may rule," the historical "may rule."
So, if you want to be sure, to be correct always, please use "may" when you're trying to ask for permission in a situation like this or like this as well. So, if you want to be very, very strict, you can use "may," but many people use "can." I think I probably use "can" most of the time because "may" does sound a little bit formal, but for your information, this is the historical difference between these two words. Okay.
So, with that in mind, let's continue to "might," might.
So, we use "might" to express a low to moderate level of possibility, just as with "may" here. However, "might" is more commonly used than "may" in American English. So again, this point is about American English. We tend to use "might" more often than "may" in American English. It might be a little different for British English speakers.
So, we can make the same sentences that we made over here. We can substitute "might" in place of "may."
For example:
"I might visit a restaurant later today."
"I might" here, so a positive sentence. And, to me, an American English speaker, this sounds much more, like friendly, much more commonly used.
"I might visit a restaurant later today."
A negative:
"We might not have time to finish our report today."
"We might not have timeโ€ฆ"
So again, there's a chance we won't have time to do this.
Another negative:
"She might not be able to make it to the meeting."
So again, this doesn't sound so formal. "She may not" sounds a little more polite.
"He might join us later."
A positive expression. So again, it sounds friendly. It sounds like an everyday conversation.
So if you want to sound a bit more polite, maybe, you're using this at work, for example, you could use "may" to sound a little bit more polite. Otherwise, I would recommend using "might" to sound friendly and have kind of a more everyday feel to your conversation.
One final point here is this old-fashioned point. So, this is not used, "might" is not used in this way, in Modern American English, but you might hear it sometimes. So, it's an old-fashioned use, but using "might" to make requests for permission. So, like we talked about here. But, like I said, this is not used in Modern American English, except for media. So, this is why I chose to include this point in this lesson.
So, you might hear sentences like these, like:
"Might I come in?"
"Might I help you?"
So, these are like requests. We're asking, "Is it okay to come in?" or like, "Is it okay if I help you?" So, it's kind of like making an offer. This is an old-fashioned or archaic use of "might" in American English. Perhaps, you'll hear this in British English, but this is very rarely used in Modern American English, unless you're watching a movie that's set in a time period, a couple of hundred years ago, perhaps. But this is not so commonly used. If you want to make a question, a permission question, use "may" instead, but you may hear this. Okay.
So this is a quick introduction to the differences between "may" and "might" and a quick discussion of "may" versus "can" for permission. So, I hope that this helped you understand the differences between using these words. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to let us know in the comment section of this video.
Thanks very much for watching this lesson and I will see you again soon. Bye-bye!


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Today i feel like this ๐Ÿ˜Ž