Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Modal Verb May


The Forms, Meanings and Use of the Modal Verb MAY (MIGHT).

May and might are modal auxiliary verb, like for example must , can  and ought. These verbs have no infinitives or participles (to may, mighted, maying do not exist), question and negatives are made without do (may I?, not Do I may?). Like other modal verbs, 'may' has no –s on the third person singular (he may, not he mays); 'may' and 'might' are followed by infinitives without to.  

Patterns. Read and memorize! 
Affirmative Interrogative Negative
I may attend lectures at the University. May I attend lectures at the University? I may not attend lectures at the University.
He may attend lectures at the University.May he attend lectures at the University? He may not attend lectures at the University.
She may attend lectures at the University.May she attend lectures at the University? She may not attend lectures at the University.
It may go.May it go? It may not go.
We may attend lectures at the University.May we attend lectures at the University? We may not attend lectures at the University.
You may attend lectures at the University.May you attend lectures at the University? You may not attend lectures at the University.
They may attend lectures at the University.May they attend lectures at the University? They may not attend lectures at the University.
Note 1: - The modal verb 'may' has two forms – may in the present and might in the past. The missing tense is supplied by the future of to be allowed to.
E. g. : I shall be allowed to attend lectures at the University.
          He was allowed to come later.

Note 2: - Contracted negative forms exist: mightn’t is common, but mayn’t is very unusual.


► Might does not normally have a past sense, but it can be used as the past tense of 'may' in 'indirect speech' to report the giving of permission.
  • 'What are you doing here?' – 'The manager said that I might look round.'
  • He said that we might take his car. 

Meanings of May and Might

The commonest use of may and might are to ask for (and give) permission and to talk about possibility (supposition).

May (might) denotes:

1). to give permission ('may', but not 'might')

 Key examples:
  1. Drivers may go at 30 miles an hour.
  2. Passer-by may walk only along the pavement.
  3. Pupils may attend matenée shows. 
  4. May I come in?– Yes, you may.

2). prohibition (may not)

Key examples:
  1. Readers may not borrow more than 2 books at a time. 
  2. Students may not stay out after midnight without written permission.
Note: - May not and must not (used to forbid) often have similar meanings. "Must not" is more emphatic.
E. g.: Visitors may not (or must not) feed the animals.

3) to ask for permission, request (in interrogative sentences)

 Key examples:
  1. May I take your umbrella? It is going to rain. 
  2. May I take your history book for 2 days? 
  3. May I take part in the rehearsal? 
  4. May I have a ticket for the concert? 
  5. May Tom come to your party? 
  6. I wonder if I might ask you a favour?
Note 1: - In conversational English 'can' is often used instead of 'may' to express request and permission.
E. g. : Jim: Can I go for a swim, Mother?
          Mother: Yes, of course, you can.

4). supposition
May and might are used to talk about one kind of possibility: the possibility ('chance') that something will happen, or is happening. 'Might' is not the past of 'may'; it suggest a smaller (present or future) probability than 'may'.

may + Indefinite (or Continuous) Infinitive

  1.  It may rain today. You’d better take an umbrella. 
  2. Jake may be looking for you. He wants to speak to you. 
  3. 'I wonder where Tom is.' -  'He may be with Emma, I suppose.'
  4. Tom might (1) fail in the exam. He has missed many lessons. 
  5. Lucy might fall (2) ill. She got wet yesterday.
  6. 'I might get a job soon.' – 'Yes, and pigs might fly.'
(1), (2) The form 'might' in these cases is the Subjunctive Mood of the verb 'may'. It denotes more uncertainty on the part of the speaker than the form 'may'.

Note: - May/might + Indefinite (or Continuous) Infinitive refers the action to the present or future.

may + Perfect Infinitive

Both may and might can be used with perfect infinitives to talk about the possibility that past events happened.
  1. Mary may have left for London. She does not attend classes.
  2. Mary may have taken the notes with her. I can’t find them at her place. 
  3. It might have been Mary who warned our teacher. Or perhaps it was Ann who warned her.
Note 1. May/Might + Perfect Infinitive refers the action to the past.

Note 2. - Might can also be used in structure to say that a past event was possible, but didn’t happen.
E.g.: You were stupid to try climbing up there. You might have killed yourself.

Note 3.Might + Perfect Infinitive may also denote reproach.
E. g. : You might have told me the truth. Why didn’t you?

***

►As it is said before, 'may' and 'might' are used to ask for permission and to talk about possibility. 'Might' carries the idea of being tentative or hesitant.
  • May I take your pen? 
  • I wonder if I might have a little more cheese? 

 ► 'Might' can have a conditional use:
  • If you took some exercise, you might not be so fat. (= … you possibly would not be so fat; supposition) 
  • He might have come if we had invited him.