Ask the Editor
Jane Mairs, Director of English language Learning Publishing
Comparing may and might
Monday December 23rd 2013
What is the difference between may have been and might have been? —  Alfered, Australia

May have been and might have been mean the same thing in American English, and are nearly always interchangeable. These two sentences are equivalent, for example:

  • I may have been taking a shower when you called. 
  • might have been taking a shower when you called. 


The one-word forms may and might are also nearly always interchangeable. Both are most commonly used to say that something is possible or probable, as in these examples: 

  • You may/might be right. (=It is possible that you are right.)
  • As you  may or may not/might or might not  have heard, we won the race! (=It is possible that you have already heard that....)


May and might are also used to make polite suggestions, as in: 

  • You may/might want to rethink this decision. 


There are two differences you should be aware of between may and might.

1) Only may is used to communicate that something is permitted, as in this example: 

  • No one may enter without a ticket. (=No one is permitted to enter without a ticket.)

2) Only might is used to talk about an unreal condition or situation, as in this example:

  • If you were more experienced, you might have an easier time finding a job. (=If you had more experience than you actually have, it is possible that it would be easier for you to find a job.) 


 I hope this helps.