Difference Between Might and Can

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: May 31, 2023

       

Difference Between Might and Can

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​​​​​​​Introduction

Certain speculative conditions, such as advice, capacity, or request, are expressed using modal verbs. They are employed with the main verb to alter its meaning somewhat. They cannot always be employed on their own because they are auxiliary verbs. Only use a modal verb by itself if the main verb is obvious from the context.

For example,

  • I go jogging every day.
  • I might go jogging every day.

The first example is a basic factual statement. Every day, the speaker goes for a jogging session.

The modal verb might is used in the second case. It's easy to note how the meaning shifts gradually. The speaker does not jog every day; they are implying that there is a possibility of doing so. It's a speculative situation.

Thus, the verb used to determine the mood or attitude of the speaker is called a "modal verb" or "modal auxiliary."

The most frequently used modal verbs are "can" and "might."

Might vs Can

When somebody has the capability to accomplish something or is permitted to do something, the word 'can' is employed.

On the other hand, the word 'might' is employed to talk about future possibilities or events. It's also used when someone needs to grant permission to someone or something.

Difference between ‘Might’ and ‘Can’ in Tabular Form

PointersCanMight
MeaningRefers to the capability of someone in performing something.Refers to the possibility or permissibility of something.
ContextGenerally formal.Generally informal.
PossibilitySometimes.
Ex: She could be her spouse.
Always.
Ex: You may fall.
PermissionAlways.
Ex: You can enter now.
Sometimes.
Ex: You might come.
PurposeSometimes.
Ex: She stopped by so that she can drop the mail.
Always.
Ex: She came so that she might see me.
PrayerNever.Always.
Ex: May you live long!
ProhibitionAlways.
Ex: You cannot enter.
Sometimes.
Ex: You may not keep that diary.

The best way to distinguish between 'might' and 'can' is to consider the context in which they are used, such as whether we are requesting or giving permission, demonstrating possibility, or determining a person's capacity. The word 'can' is used to indicate the ability of a person to do something. On the other hand, 'may' is used to request permission.

Might

Most of the time, the modal verb ‘might’ is employed to convey an unlikely or ambiguous option. ‘Might’ is also used as the past-tense version of ‘may’ when asking permission in reported speech, and it is used to beg for permission extremely professionally or nicely. It can also be used to recommend a course of action or to introduce two options.

Uses of ‘Might’

Here are some uses of ‘Might’:-

Possibility

The tense is used to express the possibility of a happening.

Example: It may/might rain.

Permission

The verb is used to seek permission.

Example: May I come in?

Remote possibility

Both 'may' and 'might' are commonly used to convey present and future possibilities. When the reporting verb is in the past, however, 'might' is used.

Example:

He might be sleeping now.

It might rain.

Prayer or Wish

Might is used to express a wish or prayer.

Example: May God bless you!

Purpose

It is used to describe the motive behind a phenomenon.

Example: She works hard so that she may pass.

Use of ‘May/Might+Have

They are used to convey relative desirability in the context of a previous action.

Example: He may/might have left yesterday. (There is possibility that he already left)

Can

In English, the modal verb ‘can’ is frequently employed. It's used to express things like likeability, opportunity, a request, granting permission, and demonstrating possibility or impossibility. This huge number of functions, combined with the fact that when can is used to describe future or past time, it is frequently replaced by other modals, leads to a variety of problems.

Uses of ‘Can’

Here are some uses of ‘Can’:-

Permission

It is used to provide permission or order to someone.

Example: Yes, You can go.

Polite Request

Example: Could you please lend me some money?

Ability

To express a quality that someone is a master of.

Example: She can dance very well.

Possibility

It refers to the possibility of something that is true or false.

Example: She could be sixteen or maybe more.

Prohibition

Used to order someone to refrain from something to do.

Example: No, you cannot play now.

Offer

Used to offer something to someone.

Example: Can I help you?

Use of a Can/Could+Have

This form is used for past ability while pointing out that the action never happened.

Example: You could have borrowed money. (But the money was never borrowed)

Etymology

'May' is the older verb, dating back to the eighth century. It was originally used to describe someone who has strength or force, but it evolved into a term for someone who possessed ability. Although this meaning is no longer in use, we can find a late example of it in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales from 1395: "We may not be able to overtake it because it slid away so quickly." May also acquired a connotation that refers to potential, which we are still acquainted with today, as well as the sense of permission. Before 1000 AD, all four of these meanings were in use.

'Can' arrived on the scene around the same time. It was initially a verb meaning "to know," then "to know how to do something," and finally "to be able to perform something." This was the first overlap between 'can' and 'may', which first appeared around 1300. By 1500, both 'can' and 'may' were being used to refer to capability and possibility.

It didn't take long for instructors and grammarians of the time to decree that the words 'can' and 'may' should only be used in the context of ability and permission, respectively. In Charles Lurie's 1926 book 'How to Say It: Helpful Hints on English', the rule is written out precisely (along with a hypothetical student-teacher conversation). The rule exists because 'may' has been used to signify "to give permission" for longer than 'can'. Despite this, the rule continues to exist.

Conclusion

In order to ask a question, the distinction between ‘can’ and ‘may’ relies on the situation. It is appreciated to utilize ‘may’ when asking permission in a highly formal letter where courtesy and cordiality are the major concerns. Overall, utilize ‘may’ to demonstrate respect, politeness, and courtesy. When these things aren't as important in the situation, use ‘can’ instead.


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"Difference Between Might and Can." Diffzy.com, 2024. Tue. 09 Apr. 2024. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-might-and-can-1217>.



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