Checking in

Roger Burton West roger at firedrake.org
Sun Jan 25 20:28:59 EST 2004


On Sun, Jan 25, 2004 at 12:41:35PM +0000, minnow at belfry.org.uk wrote:

>>Does someone want to explain the may/might thing so I can explain why the
>>misuse is wrong to all the benighted souls I deal with?  That, like the use
>>of "whom," is one of those things for which I do not know the rules.
>I'm with Melissa, therefore: please, someone, I don't exactly want to pull
>intellectual rank, but I'd like to know the technicalities for my own
>satisfaction.

This seems not a bad introduction to the idea (from an American
perspective):

http://www.bartleby.com/64/C001/034.html

]may and might.  It may rain. It might rain. What's the difference?
]Just as could is the past tense of can, might is the past tense of
]may: We thought we might win the tournament. But might can also be
]used as a substitute for may to show diminished possibility. Thus,
]saying We might go to the movies means that the likelihood of going is
]somewhat less than if you say We may go to the movies. When used to
]express permission, might has a higher degree of politeness than may.
]Thus, Might I express my opinion conveys less insistence than May I
]express my opinion.

I'd go further and suggest that may, when used of past events, implies
something that is still uncertain.

"The state of wear of the tyres may have been a factor in the accident"
suggests that the tyres haven't yet been looked at. With "might", it
implies that they have been looked at and found lacking.

Roger
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