In this week’s section on English modal verbs we arrive at siblings ‘may’ and ‘might’. There’s the younger sis(ter) ‘may’ (like the English woman’s first name) and the older bro(ther) ‘might’, which both talk about ‘possibility’ in the present and future.
Present: “I haven’t seen him around before, he may/might be the new teacher.” or Future: “I’ve got an important meeting at work in the afternoon so I may/might be home late this evening.”
So where’s the difference, if any? Older bro ‘might’ is LESS certain in meaning than younger sis ‘may’. You could even go as far as to represent them in percentages – ‘may’ represents 60% and ‘might’ only 50%.
In the same way, “They may/might have been held up in the traffic.” Talk about a possible explanation for something in the PAST with younger sis ‘may’ is MORE certain than older bro ‘might’.
Last but not least, they are both used in questions to ask for permission, with both sounding formal and older bro ‘might’ even more formal (and less common) than younger sis ‘may’.
Here’s that aide-memoire again: Younger sis ‘may’ (60%) is MORE certain than older bro ‘might’ (50%) !
siblings (Geschwister), certain (sicher), to represent (darstellen), to be held up (aufgehalten werden), last but not least (zu gutter Letzt), permission (Erlaubnis), common (geläufig), aide-memoire (Eselsbrücke).
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