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Modal Verbs MAY and MIGHT

Hi dear English learners! Here is another lesson about modal verbs so pay attention because in today’s lesson, we are going to learn how to use modal verbs may and might in English.

Why do we need to know modal verbs? 

Probably because sooner or later you will realize that communication without them is impossible. They are an inevitable part of the language. Not only that, but they are also useful. They help modify the meaning of other verbs thus enabling us to express our thoughts with much more ease and in fewer words. Moreover, you can choose the level of politeness in your speech or writing only by using modal verbs. 

Modal verbs MAY and MIGHT

Are modal verbs difficult to learn?

When you first begin to learn English, it is very easy to learn modal verbs such as can, must, and should. But as you keep learning, you realize that things are becoming more complicated, especially when it comes to expressing modal verbs in the past (it’s usually a challenging part of the English grammar for my students). All in all, they aren’t particularly difficult to learn; you just need to take one step at a time. 

Modal Verbs MAY & MIGHT

As you know, the form of modal verbs is always the same, we don’t conjugate them and we don’t add suffixes to them.

  • I might go to a party.
  • He mights go to a party.

The verb following modal verb is always bare infinitive (infinitive without to).

  • She may be right so we’d better listen to her.
  • The locals might show us the way.

We form negative sentences by adding NOT directly on may and might.

  • You may not (mayn’t) believe it, but I swear it’s the truth.
  • Going camping alone might not (mightn’t) be a very sensible thing to do.

We form questions by inversion with a subject.

  • May I ask for permission to speak?
  • Might it be possible to live forever someday?

Modal verbs MAY and MIGHT

When do we use modal verbs MAY & MIGHT

May and might are modal verbs we often use interchangeably. We use them to:

  • express possibility in the present or future, 
  • grant permission, 
  • make polite requests, 
  • express a wish.

MAY & MIGHT for expressing the possibility

When expressing possibility with may and might, we make assumptions and may and might here mean probably or perhaps. 

  • “Have you seen my car keys?” “They may be in your jacket”.
  • Now when Tom’s got a decent job, we might go on holiday to Thailand.
  • We should ask her because she might be better informed.
  • I may study chemistry, but I haven’t decided yet.

Modal verbs MAY and MIGHT

MAY & MIGHT for permission

We can use may and might to ask for or grant permission.

  • May I go out?” “You may not unless you’ve done your homework.”
  • You may take whichever you like, I don’t care.
  • Might I borrow your phone when you’ve finished, please?

Making polite requests with MAY & MIGHT

We can also use may and might to make polite requests. May is more polite than can and might is even more polite and formal than may.

  • May I speak to the manager, please? (very formal)
  • May I know when the plane is landing?
  • Might I ask for your age, madam?

Modal verbs MAY and MIGHT

Expressing WISHES with MAY

We can express a wish with may. Look at these example sentences.

  • May you live a long and prosperous life!
  • Happy birthday Oliver! May all your wishes come true!
  • May the force be with you!

MIGHT for reporting MAY

We normally use might as a past form of may in indirect speech.

  • “Our cat is sick. It may die.” “She said that their cat might die.”
  • May I leave now?” “She asked if she might leave.”

MAY and MIGHT in the past

We use may and might to speculate about past actions. In these sentences, we use the structure may/might + have + past participle.

Modal verbs MAY and MIGHT

  • “I can’t find my wallet? “You may have left it on the counter in the supermarket.”
  • We might have been late for the wedding because Mike forgot his camera so we had to go back home.

May be and Maybe

Don’t confuse may be and maybe. May be refers to the possibility of something to happen while maybe means perhaps. Besides, may be is a verb while maybe is an adverb. 

Look at the example sentences:

  • The house looks beautiful but it may be (might be) quite expensive. (it is possible that it is expensive))
  • Maybe we’ll buy that house. (perhaps we’ll buy it) 

May as well & might as well

Use these expressions to make suggestions, especially if you want to say your opinion about what is an easy and reasonable thing to do.

  • You may as well wish to travel by train because long bus journeys can be rather exhausting.
  • We might as well eat before we leave. You don’t want to get hungry in the middle of the performance, do you?

Modal verbs MAY and MIGHT

Proverbs and sayings with MAY & MIGHT

Many are proverbs as sayings with may and might, let me mention a few:

  • Never put off till tomorrow what may be done today
  • The wolf may lose his teeth, but never his nature
  • A fool may throw a stone into a well that a hundred wise men cannot pull out
  • He that has a tongue in his head may find his way anywhere
  • If wishes were horses, beggars might ride
  • A ragged coat might cover an honest man
  • He that falls today might be up again tomorrow

Modal verbs MAY and MIGHT
Modal verbs MAY and MIGHT

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