Understanding How Could Might and May Are Used to Express Possibility Could May and Might – They are not the same when speaking of possibilities. Every time I hear "may" used to express a possibility in news broadcasts the speaker always has reason to believe that something has a greater possibility of occurring based on the context and some sort of evidence within that context. More often,however, this is not the case, and it is why I think "might" for possibility gets more use than "may" for possibility. Consider that while both “may” and “might” can be used for a polite request, “may” is almost always chosen instead of “might”. Using “might” may be too remote or distant for a request. It is extremely polite. Using “might” for a polite request is possible, but it is very uncommon.Excerpt from The American Heritage Dictionary It may rain. It might rain. What’s the difference? Just as could is the past tense of can, might is the past tense of may: We thought we might win the tournament. But might can also be used as a substitute for may to show diminished possibility. Thus, saying We might go to the movies means that the likelihood of going is somewhat less than if yousay We may go to the movies. When used to express permission, might has a higher degree of politeness than may. Thus, Might I express my opinion conveys less insistence than May I express my opinion. http://www.bartleby.com/64/pages/page20.html The American Heritage® Book of English Usage. Copyright © 1996 by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
The movie Titanic ANDREWS: The pumps buyyou time...but minutes only. From this moment, no matter what we do, Titanic will flounder. SMITH: How much time? ANDREWS: An hour, two at most. SMITH: And how many aboard, Mr. Murdoch? MURDOCH: Two thousand two hundred souls aboard, sir. SMITH: I believe you may get your headlines, Mr. Ismay. http://www.angelfire.com/mi/peachypenguin/titanicquotes.html As we know, Mr. Ismay did get his headlines.We can see that “may” indicates a stronger possibility here. Captain Smith, I believe, is being somewhat sarcastic. He could easily have chosen to use “will”, but definitely not “might”.
The Movie The Temptations Melvin develops rheumatoid arthritis, and due to his constant pain relies heavily on pain pills and cortisone injections. The doctor says to Melvin, "If you keep doubling up onyour shots, arthritis may be the least of your problems." As it turned out, arthritis was the least of his problems. The cortisone injections led to other health complications. The possibility of Melvin having more problems with his health due to the cortisone injectiions was strong in the doctor’s view, and he, therefore, chose to use “may”.
X - Is that woman from Catalonia? Z - I think she maybe from Catalonia. X - How do you figure that? Z - Well, it's her name. I can usually figure it out by the name. Catalonian seems to be kind of a cross between Spanish and French. I believe I've been told that Catalonian is similar to Provençal. Anyway, it's her name. It seems kind of like Spanish and French together. I think she may be from Catalonia. Speaker Z has something in mind whichsupports the idea that the woman is from Catalonia. Therefore, speaker Z chooses to use "may" and not "might".
Z - Is she from Catalonia? Y - She might be. Why do you ask? Z - Well, I once spoke to someone from Catalonia who said that by comparison to other people from Spain, Catalonians seem to be quieter. Y - Yeah, she seems kind of quiet, but there's no way to know that for sure. What's her name? Z- I don't know....... ah.... I mean I can't remember...... Y - Well, she might be from Catalonia. Catalonians have last names that seem to be different from other Spanish last names. Ask one of the other people from Spain. One of them might know her name. Here, speaker Y doesn't feel strongly enough about the idea that the woman is from Catalonia. Therefore, speaker Y chooses to use "might"....