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

By Shanea Patterson, updated on November 29, 2022

Should you use the word ‘may’ or ‘might’? Some people find this pretty confusing because others use the terms interchangeably. But we can help clear things up and teach you how to use the word appropriately in a sentence.

But if you want the short answer, here it is:

‘May’ implies strong certainty about the potential for events to occur.

‘Might’ implies a lower degree of certainty.

 ‘May’ vs. ‘Might’ Explained: How to Use ‘May’ and ‘Might’ Properly

As briefly discussed above, the word ‘may’ indicates that there’s a strong possibility that something will happen. While on the other hand, the word ‘might’ implies that someone is on the verge of doing something (or something is on the verge of happening) but isn’t completely decided.

For example, if someone said they may go to the store, there’s a stronger chance than if they said they might go.

So, in essence, ‘may’ is stronger than ‘might.’

There are cases where the two words could be used interchangeably.

Now that we know the slight difference between the words let’s take it a step further and define both words.

Definition and Meaning of ‘May’

The Merriam-Webster definition of ‘may’ is: “used to indicate possibility or probability,” “sometimes used interchangeably with can,” “sometimes used where might would be expected,” “have permission to,” “be free to,” “used in auxiliary function to express purpose or expectation, contingency, concession, or choice,” “used in auxiliary function to express a wish or desire, especially in prayer, imprecation, or benediction,” and “shall, must, used in law where the sense, purpose, or policy requires this interpretation.”

It can also mean: “maiden,” “the fifth month of the Gregorian calendar,” “the early vigorous blooming part of human life: prime,” “the festivities of May Day,” “the green or flowering branches used for May Day decorations,” “a plant that yields may, such as Hawthorne,” and “a spring-flowering spirea.”

Phrases Containing May

  • Be That as it May
  • May I Just Say
  • May as well/Might as Well
  • If I May/Might Say So
  • Come What May
  • Wherever That May Be
  • Let the Chips Fall Where They May

Definition and Meaning of ‘Might’

The Merriam-Webster definition of ‘might’ is: “used to express permission, liberty, probability, or possibility in the past,” “used to say that something is possible,” “used to express a present condition contrary to fact,” “used as a polite alternative to may,” and “used as a polite alternative to ought or should.”

It’s also defined as: “the power, authority, or resources wielded (as by an individual or group),” “bodily strength,” “the power, energy, or intensity of which one is capable,” and “a great deal.”

Synonyms of the word include:

  • Energy
  • Horsepower
  • Potency
  • Sinew
  • Firepower
  • Muscle
  • Power
  • Strength
  • Force
  • Potence
  • Puissance
  • Vigor

Understanding Modal Verbs 

Both words are what are considered modal verbs.

You might be wondering, what is a modal verb?

A modal verb is a helping verb that connotes possibility, ability, and permission, among other things.

How to Use ‘May’ in a Sentence Correctly

Let’s take a look at some examples of how to use ‘may’ correctly in a sentence.

  • May I have the salt? It’s next to the salad.
  • Trudy may have to drop out of school. She just isn’t making the grades.
  • You may have to choose between two great schools.
  • My mother’s birthday is in May.
  • I may just be free to go out with you on Friday.

How to Use ‘Might’ in a Sentence Correctly

Now let’s see how to use ‘might’ correctly in a sentence. Here are a few examples:

  • You might get away with bad grammar at home, but not at school.
  • I might go to the store later. I’ve been craving ice cream.
  • I might have to hire someone in your absence. The show must go on!
  • We might get to go to the movies this weekend if we behave.
  • I might not be able to go to the holiday festival with you.

Concluding Thoughts on ‘May’ and ‘Might’ 

To recap, ‘may’ implies a strong possibility that something will happen, while ‘might’ implies a lower degree of possibility.

Wondering how you’re ever going to remember that? We’ve made it easy.

Bookmark this page and come back whenever you need a quick refresher. We’ve got a whole library of content dedicated to explaining confusing words. And we can also teach you how to write better.

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Written By:
Shanea Patterson
Shanea Patterson is a writer based in New York and loves writing for brands big and small. She has a master's degree in professional writing from New York University and a bachelor's degree in English from Mercy College.

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