Posted by: Jack Henry | April 10, 2017

Editor’s Corner: May I or Might I?

Last Monday, I shared a story about asking my Aunt Ola for cookies. She educated me on the difference between the words can and may.

In that post, I pointed out that some writers have been using may (giving permission) when they should be using can (indicating ability). This was my example showing the incorrect usage: “You may run the programs in any order.” I assumed that the writers were being overly polite.

A wise Editor’s Corner subscriber, Jolie L., pointed out that part of the confusion could be that, along with asking for permission, the word may also implies possibility. Her excellent example is, “You may see a crazy man in a black hat on the way to work. Just ignore him."

Jolie is absolutely right. The word may can be used to ask for permission, and it also can be used to imply a possibility. And that brings us to another word pair that we should look at: may and might.

The thing to remember with these two words is that you use may to express what is possible, factual, or could be factual:

· I may go on vacation in June.

And you use might to express what is hypothetical, counterfactual, or remotely possible:

· If I win the lottery, I might retire the next day.

It’s a matter of degree. Things that may happen are more likely to happen than things that might happen. While it’s a subtle distinction, it’s good to know the difference—just in case there’s an Aunt Ola in your life.

Donna Bradley Burcher | Senior Technical Editor | Symitar®

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123 | Ph. 619.278.0432 | Extension: 765432

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