Twit-Tip: “I Wish They May, and I Wish I They Might…”

“I wish they may, and I wish they might…”

Is the above song lyric redundant?

I think so, but then again, I had to sing it a few times each day for something like  three months. Oh wait—we’re talking grammar, not theater. In that case, my answer is no. Despite what being forms of the same verb would imply, may and might  cannot always be used interchangeably. The difference may be nuanced, but it’s there nonetheless. It all comes down to likelihood.

These are the rules:

Use may when something is probable.

Example: I may go down on him.

Use might when something is a bit of a stretch. Sarcasm generally uses might.

Example: I might go down on all of his friends and put the video on YouTube. 

Always use might when speaking in the past tense.

Example: I may try on the shoes, but I won’t buy them. I might have maxed out my Neiman’s card.

Here’s where it gets tricky. 

Regardless of tense or likelihood, sometimes it’s better to use might so your audience doesn’t confuse possibility with permission.

Example: “I may let myself into his apartment,” she said. 

We don’t know if there’s a possibility she will do this or if she’s saying she has permission.  In this instance, one should always use might—even if the action in question is a foregone conclusion.

Have a grammar question you’d like to see covered in a future column?  Let sleepyvalentina know. You may reach her at val@sleepyvalentina.com or on twitter @sleepyvalentina. 

“Goodnight, My Someone” copyright 1957 by Meredith Berlin. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: