Login or register (free and only takes a few minutes) to participate in this question.
You will also have access to many other tools and opportunities designed for those who have language-related jobs
(or are passionate about them). Participation is free and the site has a strict confidentiality policy.
|English to English translations [Non-PRO]|
/ Language Usage
|English term or phrase: may, might, can, could|
|I have already bothered you scholars for suggesting me the usage of will, shall, would. I am deeply moved by the overwhelming response because as many as 8 linguists chose to reply such an elementary question like that.|
Now, it is the turn of may, might, can and could. I sincerely hope that you won't mind discussing such trivial matter. I shall be grateful if you could provide to me each and every shade of usage of the abovementioned four words. For example, if could can be used as past tense of can, it can also be used to make a polite request.
Hope that you would have got my point. Sorry to disturb you, as perhaps you will be quite busy in celebrations of Christmas.
Merry Christmas to all of you Great Linguists and good wishes also for the ensuing New Year.
Thanks in anticipation.
|English translation:May vs. might|
I’ll do an essay on may/might- and may I say, it’s a far from trivial question! I’m writing as a native British speaker, and not as a teacher of English, so my explanations are based on feeling rather than explicit rules (reality rather than theory?).
Can vs. may
I think here there is a difference in US/UK usage. I would say:
Can I come and see you next week when I’m in London?
The “May I” version I would regard as very formal and unnatural. However, I suspect that the US usage is a bit different, and the “Can I” version is regarded as somewhat uneducated. However, the difference may be due to “armchair grammarians” who talk about what they think ought to be the language rather than what is (you know, the ones who try to tell you “It is I” is correct and who would not countenance “Me and George went out for a drink last night.”).
May vs. might
“I may visit them if I have time,” is correct, but I’d be unhappy about saying “I might visit them if I have time” because the sequence of tenses sounds wrong, and “I might visit them if I had time” sounds a bit confused (I’m not sure if it’s past or future). I could also say “I may/might visit them next week” and in this case they feel equivalent to me in both register and meaning.
In the past (unfulfilled condition) this becomes: “I might have visited them if I had had time.” There is a tendency here to replace “might” by “may” and to say “I may have visited them if I had time” but I’d never use this myself and I’d regard it as possibly uneducated or possibly language in transition.
I could say “I may have visited them once when I was young, but I can’t remember,” and this is a different meaning of “may” expressing uncertainty of occurrence.
Selected response from:
Local time: 14:13
4 KudoZ points were awarded for this answer
7 mins confidence: peer agreement (net): +9