Checking in

minnow at minnow at
Mon Jan 26 06:18:58 EST 2004

Jacob Proffitt wrote:

>I'm relatively clear on the may/might thing, but can't think of anything
>that's regularly abused about it.  What do you mean?

The example I gave from the news on Radio 4, about the dead cricketer, is

"He was not wearing a safety helmet, which [may/might] have saved his life."

If the speaker says "might" in that bracket, then alas, if only he had been
wearing a safety helmet it is possible that this would have saved his life
but because he wasn't wearing one he is dead.  [This was what had happened,
so this was what ought to have been said.]

If the person says "may" in that bracket, then hurrah, it's a wonderful
thing, and a recommendation to all of us to wwear safety helmets: the fact
of wearing one is probably what saved his life when he could easily have
been killed.  [Since he was dead, that wasn't what ought to have been

The use of "may" where "might" would have been right is becoming frequent.
I don't think it happens the other way round; if it does, I haven't noticed
any examples.

But what the rule is that defines when the one or the other ought to be
used, I have no idea.


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