A lot of times when I’m editing, I think to myself: Am I using this correctly? And while most of the time I simply research the answer then apply it to my writing, I’ve decided to share my findings with you all.
Like today…may versus might. I think the majority of people use these two modals (fancy word for a helping verb that tells you more about the mood of the action verb) interchangeably, but there actually is a rule. Both words show something is potential, however something that may happen is more likely than something that might happen.
Mignon Fogarty, host of Grammar Girl, puts it this way, “use might when something is a mighty stretch.”
So while I may do a load of laundry today (something I do almost every day), I might scrub the tile grout in the bathroom (something my husband claims I haven’t done in years).
As with most rules, there are a few exceptions:
- One should never use the word "may" in a negative hypothetical because it could be read as “one does not have permission.” For example, saying “I may not go to the party” could be misread as “I’m not allowed to go to the party.” In this case, “might” should be used.
- Might is the past tense of may. So regardless of the mood implication, if the event is in the past, you always use might. I might have done laundry today. I might have scrubbed the grout.
Have these two words troubled you in the past? What other words trip you up?