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May vs Might (Which to Use, Grammar, Examples)

What’s the difference between may vs might? The main difference between the words may and might is slight, but using the correct word can make your writing clear and comprehensible. It will take some time and practice before you can use these words accurately. Have patience for yourself and have fun learning the process.

Here are the key differences:

  • The correct use of may is for only the present tense form. The past tense of may is might (to be precise, it is the past perfect tense of may).
  • The word “may” typically expresses a high chance of something taking place, while ‘might’ indicates that it ‘might’ not take place(used in a negative hypothetical situation).
  • Both the words may and might be used when you ask for someone’s permission, however, only use ‘may’ if you are giving permission to someone.
  • Use the word may for expressing permission and possibility in the English language.

The slight difference between words is what causes confusion for those learning English and writing English.

In the guide below, we discuss the differences with proper definitions, examples with clear sentences, and a comprehensive proper English grammar explanation.

May vs might
May vs might

May vs Might: Definition and Examples of “May”

“May” is typically a modal auxiliary verb. It clarifies the principal verb of the sentence. If you are preceding a verb, the word ‘may’ means the possibility of something occurring, but it doesn’t guarantee the occurrence as a certainty.

For example, if you say, “I will go to school today,” the auxiliary verb here, “will,” suggests a certainty.

However, when you say, “I may go to the school today,” the auxiliary verb here, “may,” suggests there is a chance but no certainty. I hope the two sentences made it clear to you.

May is generally used for expressing possibility, real, or could be real.

For instance:

  • I may go on a vacation this week.
  • She may get cheated on by him.
  • I may visit her in the evening.

You can also use may to express permission.

For example:

  • You may go to the game tonight.
  • You may join the class.
May vs might
May vs might

May vs Might: Definition and Examples of “Might”

Similar to “may,” the word “might” is also a modal auxiliary verb. It clarifies the principal verb of the sentence.

However, the subtle difference is that “may” suggests more substantial certainty that the word ‘might.’

“Might” is undoubtedly a more decisive choice than the word “may” if you describe past hypothetical situations. It’s the word to use when highlighting possibility instead of permission. “May” is strongly associated with granting permission.

Both the words may and might clarify the main verb, but for granting permission, you only should use ‘may’, and for highlighting possibility, use ‘might.’

Might is generally used to express what is counterfactual, remotely possible, or hypothetical.

For instance:

  • I might haven’t lost my job only if I have arrived on time.
  • You might get there on time only if you hurry.
May vs might
May vs might

Main Difference Between The Words May vs Might

In informal writing and casual speech, you are more likely to get away with switching out the word may for might, and vice versa. Many writers use may and might interchangeably since they have similar meanings. But a professional writer will never make that mistake.

The past tense of may is might, and a professional writer (or someone writing an essay) should know when and where to use may and might.

If you want to use the grammatically correct word, here are three easy ways to remember

  1. Tense (Present tense May and past tense might)
  2. Probability (For strong possibility, use might)
  3. Permission (For granting permission use may)

Ways to Use the Word ‘May’ in Sentences

Follow these 4 rules for putting “may” in sentences.

  • “May” describes things that can occur. For instance, “I may go to the movies tonight”
  • “May” describes present-tense hypothetical events. For instance, “Carry on like this, and you may get her in the end.”
  • “May” expresses confidence in a negative hypothetical situation. For instance, “No matter what, I may not attend school today.”
  • “May” expresses permission. For instance, “You may join the group.”

Ways to Use the Word ‘Might’ in Sentences

Whether copy editing or writing, use “might” in these 4 circumstances below.

  1. “Might” describes hypothetical situations with lower certainty. For instance, “I might know her better than you.”
  2. “Might” is the accurate word to express past hypothetical situations. For instance, “I might have crossed the line when I insisted on her.”
  3. “Might” clarifies a statement of chance instead of permission. For instance, “I just might cry tonight as my parents didn’t allow me to go to the tour.”
  4. “Might” expresses negative hypothetical situations that do not come with certainty. For instance, “I might not be able to join the group.”


The word “might” generally deals with cases that are hypothetical or didn’t happen, while may deals with cases that are likely to happen or could be real. So, keeping this in mind, you can use the words correctly.


Can You Use May/Might Have Interchangeably?

Although some people use them interchangeably, that is not a good idea. Might express a lower probability, and you can never use might for granting permission.

In some cases, they can be interchangeable but not always.

Is it may or might have?

Both forms are correct. The only difference is that when you are referring to a present-tense situation, you can use ‘may have,’ and for a past tense, use ‘might have.’


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About the author

Dalia Y.: Dalia is an English Major and linguistics expert with an additional degree in Psychology. Dalia has featured articles on Forbes, Inc, Fast Company, Grammarly, and many more. She covers English, ESL, and all things grammar on GrammarBrain.

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