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Confusing words- Might, May, and Can

November 12, 2009

I’ve been told that the English language is full of mysteries waiting to be unravelled.
That’s all well and good, but does grammar have to be so damned difficult?
Who decided the puzzle should be so complicated that even most life-long English speakers and writers can’t make head nor tail of it?
So, I’m going to help out- or maybe confuse you more- by occasional posts about confusing words.
May and Might
Often may and might are used interchangeably.
I may go to the supermarket to buy groceries.
I might go to the supermarket to buy groceries.
There is a small difference but not usually enough to worry too much about in writing.
May suggests a possibility that an action will occur, while might suggests a slightly smaller possibility.
The problem occurs when something happens in the past, because the past tense of may is might.
She might have gone to the supermarket for groceries.
Not – She may have gone…
May and Can
The difference between may and can is wider.
May gives permission, while can shows ability.
I’ll bet your mother corrected you when you were a child, didn’t she?
Can I eat four of those hamburgers?
You probably can, but no, you certainly may not or you will be sick.
Although, these days, can is often used when may should have been because the rules seems a little old-fashioned.
What do you think?

Confused still?  Or is this slightly clearer?


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