Monday 19 April 2010

Usage: Modals Anatomy -- Part 4 (May & Might)

Grammar time again! This time, we will move on to another pair of modal verbs, May & Might.

Before we start, let's bear in mind that the use of Might is more polite and more formal, as we have discussed in previous entries on distancing.

May and Might are very similar to each other as they both suggest the chances that something will happen, or is happening. Might is used when the situation is less certain and less possible:

Expressing possibilities:
  1. We may go camping this Sunday.
  2. She might go Egypt this summer, but it all depends on her cash.
  3. She may not be at home.
  4. He might not be with her. 

Asking for permission:
  1. May I watch TV now?
  2. Might I be allowed to meet your daughter? (More formal)
  3. I wonder if I might be allowed to meet your daughter. (More formal, indirect use)

Giving and refusing permission: (May only)
  1. A: May I watch TV now?             B: No, you may not.
  2. You may not go into the conference room without a smart card.
  3. You may leave now.

Express wishes and hopes: (May only)
  1. May you and your family live happily ever after!
  2. May he rest in peace. (Prayer for a dead person)
  3. Let's hope that the orphans may receive love from their new families!

Talk about something definitely true (may / might ...but):

  1. You may be smarter than me, but I work 10 times harder than you.
  2. The cat might look cute now, but she won't be so cute when she starts making scratches on your deluxe sofa.

Modal Perfect:

may / might have done
may not / might not have done

Possibilities in the past:
  1. Sam called, he said he is still on his way. He didn't say what happened. I guess he might have got caught up in something.

  1. If she hadn't been wasting all her time trying to find her 200% Mr Right, she might have got married ages ago.

Try to explain the meanings of the following sentences in details, you can make your predictions as you wish:
(Leave comments for me to check)

  1. Jane: Look! That's him! Isn't he handsome? I kinda like him.       Peter: He might be stupid.
  2. Jane: May I slap you in the face?                Peter: No, you may not. What's so good about him?
  3. Jane: He might become the next best Japanese pop singer!
  4. Peter: He might? I thought you have ALWAYS worshipped certainties.
  5. Jane: What? I can't fancy a guy who is cute and talented?!      Peter: You may......
  6. Jane: Then?       Peter: I'm just, you know, he may be cute now, but not in another 5 years.
  7. Jane: What may your reason be now, grumpy?            
  8. Peter: Well, his face looks real stiff to me, he might have injected a litre of two of those Botox things into his face, so his face will turn into Ironman's mask in 5 years.
  9. Jane: You are just jealous!!!


Practical English Usage Third Ed. -- Michael Swan