MAY vs MIGHT: How to Use Might vs May Correctly

May vs Might!!! What’s the difference between Might vs May?

May vs Might

The two commonly confused words actually have slightly different meanings.


May is used to express what is possible, factual, or could be factual.


  • The problem may be solved in a number of different ways.
  • You may go home now, John.

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


  • I might be a few minutes late.
  • He might be able to help you.


May and might can also both be used when asking for permission.

Asking for Permission

When asking for permission, may is much more common than might. While both of these words can be used to ask permission, if you’re not careful, they can lead to ambiguity.


  • May I come in and wait?
  • May I go to the movies tonight?
  • Might I make a modest suggestion?

Giving permission


  • Thank you. You may go now.
  • You may sit down or stand, just as you wish.

Requests and Suggestions

When politely or formally making a request, asking for information, or making a suggestion, might is regarded as preferable to may.


  • May we use your office for a few minutes?
  • Might I borrow your pen?
  • If you need more information, you might try the Internet.


If you want to express a wish or hope, then may is always the correct word to use.


  • May I have the bill, please?

Differences Between Might vs May | Infographic

Might vs May – When to Use May vs Might


Last Updated on July 25, 2020

1 thought on “MAY vs MIGHT: How to Use Might vs May Correctly”

  1. I think that your description of may/might in relation to “Possibility” is confused. Both “may” and “might” express what is possibly factual with minimal nuances. They can be and are used interchangeably.
    e.g. “He may come but he may not.” is interchangeable with “He might come but he might not.” To a very experienced user of English “might” possibly contains a hint that the event is more related to a personal choice, but this distinction is so subtle that learners of English can ignore it.

    As for “might” being used to express what is counterfactual, I fail to see how this makes much sense. Both “may” and “might” always refer to events which are possibly factual, but not “counterfactual” (If I am wrong, I would be keen to see an example of how “might” could express something counterfactual.) Similarly I fail to see how “might” is more applicable to hypothetical situations than “may”.
    e.g. “It might rain on Saturday.” and “It may rain on Saturday” convey the same message in relation to a hypothetical event.
    As far as the “remotely possible” aspect is concerned, this is handled by voice tones rather than choosing between may and might..
    e.g. “She /may/ want to come” = “She /might/ want to come. Here, by emphasizing ‘may’ or ‘might’ the possible is converted to remotely possible.

    Looking now at your own example sentences, it is clear that “You may go home now, John.” is functionally identical with your example sentence for “Giving permission”, “Thank you. You may go now” and is not related to possibility as much as it is to permission. Similarly, your example sentence “I might be a few minutes late.” could easily be replaced by “I may be a few minutes late.” without any change of meaning. After using English for 70 years (many of them as a teacher), I can’t sense any significant difference.

    In summary, there is nothing in the examples you give which explain any significant difference between “may” and “might” in relation to possibility which is relevant to learners of English. Furthermore, use of terms such as “counterfactual” and “hypothetical” are, in this context and without good examples showing any relevance they might have, confusing to English learners.

    I have chosen the first usage “Possibility” to comment on. However, I must also say that some other distinctions between you make between the use of “may” and “might” are also debatable, with one exception. This is that when Giving Permission, it would certainly be wrong to say “Thank you. You might go now.” I would also suggest that while “Might I have the bill, please” is not as elegant as “May I have the bill, please?” it would not be noticed as an error at a table of native English speakers.


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