might 1 (mīt)
1. Great power or force, as of a nation or army.
Physical strength: Push with all your might!
See Synonyms at strength
might 2 (mīt)
aux.v. Past tense of may 1.
a. Used to indicate a condition or state contrary to fact: She might help if she knew the truth.
b. Used to express possibility or probability: It might snow tomorrow.
2. Used to express possibility or probability in the past: She thought she might be late, but she arrived on time.
3. Archaic Used to express permission in the past: The courtier was informed that he might enter the king's chambers.
4. Used to express a higher degree of deference or politeness than may, ought, or should: Might I express my opinion?
[Middle English, from Old English meahte, mihte
, first and third person sing. past tense of magan
, to be able
; see may1
Usage Note: May or might? In many situations, the choice between these two verbs can be clarified by remembering that might is the past tense form of may, and that in English, a past tense form is used to refer not just to events that occurred in the past (She left yesterday), but to hypothetical, counterfactual, or remotely possible situations (If you left now, you'd get there on time.) Thus, the past tense form might is appropriate in this sentence about a future event that is a remote possibility: If I won the lottery, I might buy a yacht, which contrasts with the present-tense version that indicates an open possibility: If I win the lottery, I may buy a yacht. When referring to a hypothetical or contrary-to-fact situation in the past, rather than an imagined future situation, the verbs are shifted to the remote past: won becomes had won, and might buy becomes might have bought: If I had won the lottery, I might have bought a yacht. Since about the 1960s, however, people have started using may have where might have would be expected (as in, If he hadn't tripped, he may have won the race). Although this usage is common in casual speech, it is considered unacceptable by the majority of the Usage Panel. In our 2012 survey, 97 percent of the Usage Panelists found the sentence If John Lennon had not been shot, the Beatles might have gotten back together acceptable. Only a third of the Panel (32 percent) approved of the same sentence with may have replacing might have. Using may have for a past counterfactual situation instead of might have is not only frowned upon by the Panel but can also lead to confusion, since may have is best suited for a different kind of situation: present uncertainty about a past situation. Keeping the two forms distinct reduces ambiguity. He may have drowned, for example, is best used to mean that it is unknown whether the man drowned, not that the man narrowly escaped drowning. · When may and might are used to indicate possibility or probability, as in He may lose his job or We might go on vacation next year, the two words are used almost interchangeably. It is sometimes said that might suggests a lower probability than may, perhaps because of its use in hypothetical statements that omit the conditional clause (You might get there on time can be thought of as short for If you hurried, you might get there on time). In practice, however, few people make this distinction.
Our Living Language In many Southern US varieties of English, might can be paired with other auxiliary verbs such as could, as in We might could park over there. Words like might and could are known as modals, since they express certain "moods" (for example, I might go indicates an uncertain mood on the part of the speaker). Combinations such as might could, might would, and might can are known as double modals. Other less common combinations include may can, may will, and might should. Since double modals typically begin with may or might, they lessen the degree of conviction or certainty (much like the word possibly) more than a single modal does. Double modals are used, for example, to minimize the force of what one is saying, as when asking someone for a favor or when indicating displeasure. · Although double modals may sound odd outside of the South, they carry little if any social stigma within the South and are used by speakers of all social classes and educational levels—even in formal instances like political addresses. Like many features of Southern varieties of English, the use of double modals is probably due to the fact that many of the first English speakers in the South were Scotch-Irish, whose speech made use of double modals.
American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
making the past tense or subjunctive mood of may1
: he might have come last night
(often foll by well
) expressing theoretical possibility: he might well come
. In this sense might
looks to the future and functions as a weak form of may
. See may12
1. power, force, or vigour, esp of a great or supreme kind
2. physical strength
3. (with) might and main
[Old English miht; compare Old High German maht, Dutch macht]
Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014 © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2014
auxiliary v., pres. sing. and pl. might; past might.
pt. of may 1
: I asked if we might borrow their car.
2. (used to express tentative possibility): She might have called while you were out.
3. (used to express an unrealized possibility): He might have been killed!
4. (used to express advisability or offer a suggestion): They might at least have tried.
5. (used to express contingency, esp. in clauses indicating condition, concession, result, etc.): difficult as it might be.
6. (used in polite requests for permission): Might I speak to you for a moment?
1. physical strength: He swung with all his might.
2. superior power or strength; force: the theory that might makes right.
3. power or ability to be effective: the might of the ballot box.
[before 900; Middle English myghte,
Old English miht, meaht;
c. Old Frisian mecht, macht, Old Saxon, Old High German maht, Old Norse māttr, Gothic mahts;
n. derivative from Germanic base of may1
; compare main
Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary, © 2010 K Dictionaries Ltd. Copyright 2005, 1997, 1991 by Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.
Might and may are used mainly to talk about possibility. They can also be used to make a request, to ask permission, or to make a suggestion. When might and may are used with the same meaning, may is more formal than might. Might and may are called modals.
In conversation, the negative form mightn't is often used instead of 'might not'. The form mayn't is much less common. People usually use the full form may not.
He mightn't have time to see you.
It may not be as hard as you think.
1. possibility: the present and the future
You can use might or may to say that it is possible that something is true or that something will happen in the future.
I might see you at the party.
This may be why she enjoys her work.
You can use could in a similar way, but only in positive sentences.
Don't eat it. It could be poisonous.
You can use might well or may well to show that it is fairly likely that something is true.
You might well be right.
I think that may well be the last time we see him.
You use might not or may not to say that it is possible that something is not true.
He might not like spicy food.
That may not be the reason she left.
Don't use 'might not' or 'may not' to say that it is impossible that something is true. Instead you use could not, cannot, or can't.
She could not have known what happened unless she was there.
He cannot be younger than me.
You can't talk to the dead.
Don't use 'may' when you are asking if something is possible. Don't say, for example, 'May he be right?' Say 'Might he be right?' or, more usually, 'Could he be right?'
Might we have got the date wrong?
Could this be true?
Don't say 'What may happen?' You usually say 'What is likely to happen?'
What are likely to be the effects of these changes?
2. possibility: the past
You use might or may with have to say that it is possible that something happened in the past, but you do not know whether it happened or not.
Jorge didn't play well. He might have been feeling tired.
I may have been a little unfair to you.
Could have can be used in a similar way.
It could have been one of the staff that stole the money.
However, if something did not happen and you want to say that there was a possibility of it happening, you can only use might have or could have. Don't use 'may have'. For example, you say 'If he hadn't fallen, he might have won the race'. Don't say 'If he hadn't hurt his ankle, he may have won the race'.
A lot of men died who might have been saved.
You use might not or may not with have to say that it is possible that something did not happen or was not true.
They might not have got your message.
Her parents may not have realized what she was doing.
Don't use 'might not have' or 'may not have' to say that it is impossible that something happened or was true. Instead you use could not have or, in British English, cannot have.
They could not have guessed what was going to happen.
The measurement can't have been wrong.
3. requests and permission
In formal English, may and might are sometimes used for making a request, or asking or giving permission.
Might I ask a question?
You may leave the table.
Might is often used in polite suggestions.
You might like to read this and see what you think.
I think it might be better to switch off your phones.
Collins COBUILD English Usage © HarperCollins Publishers 1992, 2004, 2011, 2012