may and might: probability

  • Chances
    We use may and might to say that there is a chance of something: perhaps it is true, or perhaps it will happen.
      We may go climbing in the Alps next summer. (= Perhaps we’ll go.) ‘Where’s Emma?’ I don’t know. She maybe shopping, I suppose.’
      Peter might phone. If he does, could you ask him to ring again later?
      I might get a job soon. ‘ ‘Yes, and pigs might fly. ‘(= ‘It’s very unlikely.’)
  • Questions
      We do not use may in questions about probability.
      Do you think you’ll go camping this summer?
      (NOT May you go camping this summer?)
  • might
    Might is not the past of may. It is used to talk about a smaller chance than may. Compare:
      I may go to London tomorrow, (perhaps a 50 per cent chance.)
      Joe might come with me. (perhaps a 30 per cent chance.)
  • Conditional
      Might (but not may) can have a conditional use.
      If you went to bed for an hour you might feel better.
      (= . . . perhaps you would feel better.)
  • may/might have …
      We use a special structure to talk about the chance that something happened in the past.
      may/might have + past participle
      ‘Polly’s very late.’ ‘She may have missed her train.’
      ‘What was that noise?’ ‘It might have been a cat. ‘
      We can use the same structure (with might only) to say that something was possible, but did not happen.
      That was a bad place to go skiing. You might have broken your leg. (Could have … is used in the same way.