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May and might: What’s the difference?

English grammar chart illustrating the differences between 'may' and 'might' for future possibility, present speculation, and asking for permission, with correct and incorrect usage examples.

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May and might are similar modal verbs that can often be used interchangeably, although with subtle differences in meaning. However, on some other occasions, only one of them can be used. In this lesson, we’ll help you understand their differences so that you can use them correctly.

We can use both may and might

To indicate possibility in the future

We can use may or might + infinitive to indicate possibility in the future: to say that maybe something will happen or someone will do something.

  • It may be too late when we arrive.
  • It might be too late when we arrive.

We use may not or might not + infinitive when we want to express negative possibility in the future: to say that maybe something will not happen or someone will not do something.

  • I may not go on holiday this year.
  • I might not go on holiday this year.

To speculate about the present

We can also use may or might + infinitive to speculate about the present: to say that maybe something is true.

  • I think they may be sisters.
  • I think they might be sisters.

We use may not or might not + infinitive to say that maybe something is not true in the present.

  • He may not be home yet. 
  • He might not be home yet.

In everyday conversation, the difference between may and might when we express future possibility and when we speculate is very small, and many people use them interchangeably. However, using may instead of might suggests a stronger possibility that something will happen.

We use may and NOT might

To give, deny, or ask for permission

We use may and may not to give and not give someone permission to do something. Might is not used in this context.

  • You may sit anywhere you like. blank
  • You might sit anywhere you like. blank
  • You may not use your phones in the classroom. blank
  • You might not use your phones in the classroom. blank

We can also use may in questions to ask for permission.

  • May I ask you a question?

While using might in this context is grammatically possible, it is not standard and sounds very unusual. Might is rarely or never used to ask for permission in modern English.

Common mistake!

Note that after may or might, we use an infinitive without to.

  • We may/might to visit you next summer. blank
  • We may/might visit you next summer. blank
  • She may/might not to arrive in time. blank
  • She may/might not arrive in time. blank