May vs Might in English Grammar
May and Might are modal auxiliary verbs that have to be understood very well in terms of their meanings and usage. May is used generally to talk about possibility as in the sentences:
1. We may be moving to Paris next year.
2. May I have some more rice?
In both the sentences given above you can see that the auxiliary verb ‘may’ is used expressive of possibility. In the first sentence it talks of the possibility of moving to Paris and in the second sentence it talks of the possibility of more rice being served.
The auxiliary verb ‘might’ on the other hand talks of limited possibility as in the sentences:
1. I think it might rain.
2. I wonder if I might ask you a favor.
In both the sentences given above you can see that the modal auxiliary verb ‘might’ is used expressive of limited possibility. In the first sentence it talks of a distant possibility of rain and in the second sentence it talks of the limited possibility of a favor being asked.
Although both may and might are used expressive of permission or to ask for permission, they are used differently. It is interesting to note that ‘might’ carries the idea of being tentative or hesitant of asking permission. On the other hand the auxiliary verb ‘may’ does not carry the idea of being tentative or hesitant of asking permission.
Observe the sentences:
1. May I put the television on?
2. Visitors may not feed the animals.
In the first sentence the verb ‘may’ is indicative of permission. The person seeks the permission to switch on the television. In the second sentence the officials in the zoo have not granted permission for the visitors to feed the animals. There is no element of hesitancy in the permission sought or granted for that matter.
Observe these sentences as well:
1. I wonder if I might have a little more cheese.
2. You might watch the television.
In the first sentence permission was sought with hesitation. In the second sentence permission was granted with hesitation. This is one of the main differences between the use of the two modal auxiliary verbs ‘may’ and ‘might’ when they indicated permission.
‘Might’ is more conditional in use as in the sentence ‘If you took some exercise you might not be so fat.’ Here ‘might’ is used in the conditional sense.