The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

27 October 2007

Eventually it might be May

But here in October, we have weightier issues:

Commenters [on grammar blogs] seem to be using "may" and "might" interchangeably. Maybe that's perfectly acceptable practice now, or is just more colloquial than I was taught. Every time I see one of the uses I go bonkers trying to decide if it's correct or not.

Perhaps I'm just a dinosaur, but I could swear that I was taught way back in the day that there is a specific difference in these usages. And I am certain that I have used the distinction in copy editing, but I CAN'T REMEMBER HOW! I thought "may" was present and "might" was past. But I can't find a good example of this, and I've looked it up in a dozen references and teaching textbooks, and no one mentions it at all.

I think there may be a reasonable chance that I might have misused one or the other of these words somewhere along the way (including all those decades before the 11½ years I've been toiling in this particular virtual vineyard), alongside my other grievous "offenses against the language," such as the use of overwrought, overused, and overstated adjectives. I also manage to occasionally interchange "that" and "which", and to blithely split infinitives. (You'd think Star Trek might — not "may" — have made life easier for those of us who grapple for adverbs to stick in the middle of our verbs, but no.) All of this mangling of the mother tongue might be forgivable had I something resembling style. (Maybe.)

"Might," by the way, is still considered the past tense of "may," which would make that particular matter moot if anyone still paid attention to tense. (I suspect that by the time I die I will not have used the future perfect more than once.)

Posted at 8:50 AM to Almost Yogurt

You don't write about breathtaking scenery, exciting events and fabulous restaurants.

Posted by: Rachel at 12:40 PM on 27 October 2007

Long before I learned anything about the theories of grammar, I had learned that "might" was the word one used to imply a possibility or intention that, er, might not pan out.

"I might go and see that movie, if I have enough money left by the end of the week."

Maybe I'm a grammatical simpleton, but I don't see how that's past tense. It's almost certainly one of those participles or perfects or subjunctives I keep hearing about but couldn't explain to save my life.

(And isn't "could" supposedly the past tense of "can?")

If I were posting this comment at work, I'd need to finish it up before the boss came along and could me.

Posted by: McGehee at 1:19 PM on 27 October 2007