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.