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could versus might

English translation: could versus might

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02:51 Mar 30, 2004
English to English translations [Non-PRO]
Social Sciences - Linguistics / usage
English term or phrase: could versus might
Sometimes, could and might are used to indicate possibility. I want to know whether these are interchangeable or is there any subtle difference in their usage in this context. For example:


Be careful, it could harm you.

Be careful, it might harm you.

Whether we can use any of these in the above context? Thanks a lot in advance.
Geeta
English translation:could versus might
Explanation:
Could implies a slightly higher degree of likeliness than might, but the two are virtually interchangeable. Both sentences you mentioned are correct.
Selected response from:

ntext
United States
Local time: 13:45
Grading comment
Graded automatically based on peer agreement.
4 KudoZ points were awarded for this answer

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Summary of answers provided
4 +8could versus mightntext
4 +8see comment
Hacene
5 +3No difference in meaning in these examples
Kim Metzger
4 +3more examplesRHELLER


  

Answers


5 mins   confidence: Answerer confidence 4/5Answerer confidence 4/5 peer agreement (net): +8
could versus might


Explanation:
Could implies a slightly higher degree of likeliness than might, but the two are virtually interchangeable. Both sentences you mentioned are correct.

ntext
United States
Local time: 13:45
Works in field
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish, Native in GermanGerman
PRO pts in category: 20
Grading comment
Graded automatically based on peer agreement.

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  swisstell
18 mins

agree  EKM: Yes. "May" is by far the most popular word in the AE texts I translate.
54 mins

agree  Gayle Wallimann
2 hrs

agree  Refugio: Yes, a slightly higher degree of likelihood with could, at least in current usage.
3 hrs

agree  Huijer
3 hrs

agree  cologne
8 hrs

agree  Nado2002
19 hrs

agree  Vicky Papaprodromou
1 day5 hrs
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9 mins   confidence: Answerer confidence 5/5 peer agreement (net): +3
No difference in meaning in these examples


Explanation:
May, might and could
'Could is often used in similar ways to 'may' and 'might', to talk about the chance of something happening or being true.
War could break out any day. (or War might ...)

"We use may or might to say that something is a possibility. Usually you can use may or might, so you can say:
It may be true. It might be true.
Sometimes 'could' has a similar meaning to 'may' or 'might.'
The phone's ringing. It could be Tim. (= it may/might be Tim)

Be careful, it could harm you.
Be careful, it might harm you. No difference in meaning.

Michael Swan, Practical English Usage


Kim Metzger
Mexico
Local time: 13:45
Works in field
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish
PRO pts in category: 187

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  Gayle Wallimann
2 hrs

agree  Armorel Young: no difference, both are fine
6 hrs

agree  claudia bagnardi: No difference in these examples
17 hrs
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2 hrs   confidence: Answerer confidence 4/5Answerer confidence 4/5 peer agreement (net): +3
more examples


Explanation:
examples where they are not interchangeable:

I could see her petticoat as she swirled around. (past tense)
I might not be here when you return.

Could that be his secret?
Could you please mail this letter for me?

We couldn't do such a thing.

RHELLER
United States
Local time: 12:45
Works in field
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish
PRO pts in category: 59

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  Krisztina Lelik
6 hrs

agree  Christine Andersen: In all these examples 'could' implies some kind of capability - even with the secret 'is it believable that ...?' Though I would accept 'Might that be his secret?' too.
7 hrs

agree  Vicky Papaprodromou
1 day3 hrs
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3 hrs   confidence: Answerer confidence 4/5Answerer confidence 4/5 peer agreement (net): +8
see comment


Explanation:
Could and can derive from a word meaning to be able to, relating to inner ability. it could harm you means that it (whatever it refers to) has the innate possibility to be harmful

Might derives from a word which means power given from outside (divine). It might harm you means that it has been given this potential to harm you.

In so far as inanimate objects are concerned, the two uses are equivalent. When using might and could for animates, there is a clear cut distinction between potential (might = if god permits) and abilities (could= it was in my power)

Hacene
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:45
Native speaker of: Native in FrenchFrench
PRO pts in category: 16

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  elenus
3 hrs
  -> cheers

agree  PCovs: Yes. Depending on what you wish to express, all answers are correct. I prefer this, though, as it clarifies the subtle difference worth noticing.
4 hrs
  -> cheers

agree  Krisztina Lelik
6 hrs
  -> cheers

agree  NancyLynn
8 hrs
  -> cheers Nancy

agree  perke: Fine
13 hrs
  -> cheers

agree  Vicky Papaprodromou
1 day3 hrs
  -> cheers Vicky

agree  Joanna Kwiatowska
1 day8 hrs
  -> cheers

agree  Luiza M. Charles de Oliveira
9 days
  -> cheers
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