May and might
Modal auxiliaries are helping verbs that connect with normal/ordinary verbs to express a meaning, ask a question or negate. Modal auxiliaries are never used with the main auxiliaries; be, have and do, and do not make sense on their own, therefore, they must be connected with a normal verb in order to make sense. Modal verbs also never change form (they cannot be conjugated). Dictionary definition according to Merriam Webster: ”an auxiliary verb (such as can, must, might, may) that is characteristically used with a verb of predication and expresses a modal modification and that in English differs formally from other verbs in lacking -s and -ing forms”. Here, we are going to elaborate on two very similar modal auxiliaries may and might. (Note that modal auxiliaries are never followed by ‘to’ before the infinitive, except with, need to, ought to, and dare to).
(1) May and might are used to ask for permission. Generally speaking, it is considered very polite and one can use ‘can’ or ‘could’ to show less formality.
- May I leave the class, early sir?
- Might I come?
- I wonder if you might consider letting me use your headphones?
“Wonder if” is a very common English expression, that we use to sound more implicit when asking for permission or a favour.
(2) We use may and might when we want to send out our wishes and hopes, either to praise God or for real situations.
- May God be with you.
- May you both live in peace and harmony.
- May she rest in peace.
- May the new year bring you all happiness.
Note that may in this sense usually goes at the beginning of the sentence.
(3) May and might are used to make suggestions, requests, and criticisms.
- ”I can’t find the electric department anywhere”. Well, you might want to consider going to the fifth floor”.
- You might ask before taking my things, please.
- You may have mentioned that she was here, but I wouldn’t ever have believed you.
(4) We use may and might to express possibility or chance.
- It’s very likely that we may go to New York next week.
- I might get a new friend very soon!
- Jerome may well travel to Madrid next week.
Take note, that there is no past form of ‘may‘ and ‘might‘. We choose rather, to use the form ‘could/couldn’t’ to express the meanings of ‘may’ and ‘might’ in the past.
- I couldn’t ask for directions.
- I couldn’t travel to Madrid last week, something came up.
English Verbs – The Complete Guide
Lesson #8: May
- May as well as might are used to ask for permission. Generally speaking, though, using may and might to ask for permission is considered very polite and formal. Can and could are also used to ask for permission and are less formal.
- We use may and might when we want to send out our wishes and hopes, either for religious purposes or real-life situations. I.e., may God be with you. May 2020 be your year. May she rest in peace (when someone has passed/died).
- May and might are used to make criticisms, requests, and suggestions.
- We use may and might to express possibility or chance.
(At a restaurant)
- I’m looking forward to eating1. I’m so hungry2. What are you going to order, mum?3
- I think I’ll4 order the chicken soup. It seems tasty.5 What about you, Nicholas?6
- I’m thinking of ordering the potato salad.7
- Sounds nice.
- Good evening, may I take your order?8 (waitress speaking)
- Yes, may we have the chicken soup for myself, and the potato salad for my son, Nicholas?9
- Absolutely, no problem at all.
- Might I ask you how long it will take?10
- It shouldn’t take longer than thirty minutes to prepare your meal.
- Might I also ask you where the restroom is?11
- Yes, just go to the end of the hallway and take the first right. There you have the restroom.
- Don’t mention it.12
- I’m looking forward to eating. ‘Looking forward to’ is used very frequently, and it takes the sense of ‘waiting with excitement to do something’. The ‘to’ functions as a preposition and, if it’s followed by a verb, then the verb is always a gerund (verb + ing). I.e., we’re looking forward to seeing mum. James was looking forward to going to Cape Town. I’m really looking forward to spending time at home.
- I’m so hungry. The verb be in its contracted form (I‘m) is followed by the adjective hungry. Make sure to get into the habit of remembering to use the auxiliary verb be with adjectives.
- What are you going to order, mum? We use the form ‘be going to’ for intentions and the short-term future. In this example, an intention is being specified. Because, she has the intention to order something from the menu.
- I think I’ll order the chicken soup. The modal auxiliary verb will in its contracted form here (‘ll) is also used for instant, positive reactions. We also use will to talk about the future, predictions and promises. Later, we will elaborate further on will.
- It seems tasty. In English, we can also use other verbs, called ‘copular verbs’ with adjectives, such as: seem, appear, feel, sound, get, become, taste, look. I.e., You appear tired, are you ok? They’re becoming annoying. I’m getting sick of this. The food tastes great. Why are you looking strange? Tired, annoying, sick, great, and strange are all adjectives, and can go with copular verbs, not just the auxiliary verb be.
- What about you, Nicholas? Names in English are proper nouns and are always capitalised. I.e., Mary, James, Henry, Blake, Tyson, Maria etc. Every name must have a capital letter at the beginning.
- I’m thinking of ordering the potato salad. Generally speaking, prepositions (words like, of, in, to, before, after, up, etc.) when followed by a verb, take the gerund (verb + ing). I.e., I’m interested in playing American football. She’s looking forward to eating. Check the time before leaving, please. After speaking to your teacher, call me. The computer is for working on. In, to, before, after, and for are all prepositions in the above sentences, and therefore take the gerund (verb + ing).
- Good evening, may I take your order. May, is being used as a polite way of requesting.
- Yes, may we have the chicken soup for myself, and the potato salad for my son, Nicholas? May, in this sense is used to make a request. Remember, may is used for requesting things, but is considered very polite.
- Might I ask you how long it will take? Might, is used here to make a very polite request.
- Might I also ask you where the restroom is? Might, in this example is used to make a formal request.
- Don’t mention it. Remember, we use this expression as a more colloquial way of saying ‘you’re welcome’. I.e., Thanks so much for coming to my speech. Don’t mention it, Richard.
Lesson #9: Might
- Take note that may and might are generally the same with very few differences. We shall, nevertheless, elaborate on might.
- Might as well as may is used to ask for permission.
- May and might are used to send out our wishes and hopes. They could be used religiously also. I.e., May the lord be with you.
- To make suggestions, requests, and criticisms may and might are used.
- When we want to express either possibility or chance, may or might are used.
- Remember, there’s no past form of may and might. Rather, could/couldn’t is used to express the meanings of may and might in the past. I.e., present: I may go to the party. Past: I couldn’t go to the party.
- Happy birthday, Jane!
- Thanks so much!
- Don’t mention it. May the year bring you lots of love and joy.1
- Thanks, love.
- What are you planning on doing2 to celebrate this weekend?
- Well, I was thinking of going out3 to the centre with some friends.4 Might I ask you if you would like to join us?5
- Of course. I don’t think I have anything planned, and it would be a pleasure to go out with you guys. May I just call my boyfriend6 to check that I didn’t make any previous arrangements?
- Please, go ahead and call him.
- May the year bring you lots of love and joy. May, in this example is used to send out her wishes.
- What are you planning on doing…? The present continuous (be + verb + ing) is used here to talk about the near future. Also, the preposition on is followed by the gerund. Remember, prepositions, when followed by a verb, generally always take the gerund form. I.e., Katie is thinking of flying to Rome. I left home before saying anything.
- Well, I was thinking of going out… The phrasal verb go out has the sense of ‘leave for the night to meet with friends or go partying’.
- Well, I was thinking of going out to the centre with some friends. In English, it’s common to use determiners, such as, some, any before plural nouns to limit the quantity of the noun. I.e., do you have any plans? Yes, I’ve got some plans. The determiners any and some are used with the noun plans to limit its quantity.
- Might I ask you if you would like to join us? It should be noted, this is a very, very formal way of requesting. In a normal situation between friends, the usage of may and might normally wouldn’t be used.
- May I just call my boyfriend? Again, this usage of may is very polite in this particular context, and also, unusual. We do, however, use may and might for making requests, suggestions, and criticisms.
Modal auxiliary verbs:
- Articles (a/an, the, zero article)
- Pronouns: subject, object and possessive
- Question tags
- English conditionals
- Interrogatives in English
- Phrasal verbs
- Prefixes and suffixes
- Reported and direct speech
- Punctuation: apostrophes, colons, semi-colons, commas, dashes, full stops, question marks, exclamation marks, and quotation marks
- Numbers: cardinal, ordinal, and Roman numbers
- The verb: “get”
- ‘Get’ vs. ‘go’ and ‘got’ vs. ‘gotten’
- Copular verbs
- Cleft sentences
- Subjunctive in English
- Vulgar and taboo in English
- Split infinitive
- Emphasis with inversion
- Gerunds in English
- To + infinitive
- Bare infinitive
- British and American spelling