‘May Be' vs 'Maybe': What's the Difference Between the Two?

By Carly Forsaith, updated on February 3, 2023

'May be' vs 'maybe': which one should you use? These two terms not only sound the same and are spelled almost identically, but they also have very similar meanings. But there is a difference, so they're not interchangeable. Read on to find out more.

In short, 'may be' is a verb, and 'maybe' is an adverb. Both terms express possibility, but they should be used differently because they are different parts of speech.

What's the Difference Between 'May Be' vs 'Maybe'?

Only one space differentiates the spelling of these two terms, yet that space makes all the difference. 'Maybe' in one word is an adverb, and 'may be' in two words is a verb, and as you may know, those two parts of speech play different roles in a sentence.

Let's learn more about what they mean and how to use them.

What Does 'May Be' Mean?

'May be' is a compound verb, which means it's a verb made up of more than one word. 'May' is a modal verb, and 'be' is the primary or auxiliary verb.

To say that something 'may be' is to say there is a chance that it will happen or that it might be true, but it might not. For example:

He may be interested in helping; we'll have to ask.

'May be' can also be used in conjunction with 'but' to compare one situation with another that is better or worse. For example:

You may be correct, but I prefer to stand my ground.

An excellent way to know whether 'may be' is the correct choice is to replace it with 'might be.' If it works, your sentence is correct.

What Does 'Maybe' Mean?

'Maybe' is an adverb, so while it's also used to discuss possibilities, the usual adverb rules apply when using it.

As a reminder, adverbs modify verbs, nouns, other adverbs, or entire sentences. They can be placed at a sentence's beginning, middle, or end.

Maybe you should practice listening a bit more.

Yes, that could be true; or maybe he's just lonely.

It could be an Emperor Penguin, or a King, maybe.

'Maybe' can also stand alone as the answer to a question. For example:

Are you going to Rachel's party tomorrow?


An excellent way to know whether 'maybe' is the correct choice is to replace it with 'perhaps.' If it works, your sentence is correct.

Note that the use of 'maybe' tends to be relatively informal, not because it is incorrect but because it denotes uncertainty, which is always best left out of formal writing pieces. So it's best kept for conversational contexts.

Top Tip! Over time, 'maybe' has assumed an informal use as a noun in certain contexts. For example, "It's a maybe."

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce 'May Be' and 'Maybe'

Alright, now we know what they mean and how to use them; how do you pronounce them?

The good news is that they're both pronounced the same. The International Phonetics Alphabet spells them like this:

/ ˈmeɪ bi /

And when you say them aloud, they sound like this:

[ mey-bee ]

How to Use 'May Be' vs 'Maybe' (With Examples)

Let's take a look at some more examples using the terms 'may be' and 'maybe.' The more examples you see and the more practice you get, the more it'll become second nature to use them correctly.

We'll start with 'may be.'

Example Sentences Using 'May Be'

It may be showing at the theatre starting next month; they have yet to decide.

I may be impulsive, but at least I take risks from time to time.

Yes, that may be her; is she wearing a green T-Shirt?

It may be that we'll need to flip a coin to make this decision.

She may be right; I have noticed tension in the office lately.

Example Sentences Using 'Maybe'

Maybe we should talk this through over coffee.

Maybe she's born with it; maybe it's Maybelline.

Do you want to maybe join us for dinner tomorrow evening?

If I had known sooner, maybe I could have done something to help.

Maybe you shouldn't drive; you've had a lot to drink.

Concluding Thoughts on 'May Be' vs 'Maybe'

So there you have it. I hope the difference is more evident to you now. Just remember:

  • Both terms are used to express the possibility
  • 'May be' is a verb and can be replaced with 'might be'
  • 'Maybe' is an adverb and can be replaced with 'perhaps.'

Want to learn about more confusing words like these? Check out our blog.

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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