Unit 7.1

Modals May and Might in the Past

Introduction

The verbs may/might belong to the group of modal auxiliary verbs.

When a situation had the possibility to happen in the past, we use may and might.

Form

May and might have the same structure.

{See May: Modals of Possibility, A2 level}

  • May structure, in the affirmative form, is:
    Subject + May + Have + Past Participle +…
  • Might structure, in the affirmative form, is:
    Subject + Might + Have + Past Participle + …

Example

  1. Uncertainty/Possibility
    • He may have told her, since he had talked about wanting to text her.
    • This plant is quite dry, John might have forgotten to water it.
  2. Might have in the third conditional
    • I might have gone to Asia if there hadn’t been an earthquake.
      (I may have gone to Asia if there hadn’t been an earthquake.)
    • She might have received a grant if she hadn’t had low grades.
  3. Might as the past form of may (reported speech)
    • She asked if she might borrow the book.
    • They asked if they might take a second to think, before their final decision.

Use

We use may and might in the past forms to talk about possible events that could have happened in the past but we are not sure if they happened or not.

  1. We use them to express uncertainty/possibility (their use is mostly interchangeable):

    • We use may have when something was more possible and likely to happen;
    • We use might have when something had a remote possibility to happen.
  2. We can only use might have in the third conditional, in the main clause (may have should not be used here).
  3. We use might as the past tense of may in reported speech when talking about requests.

Summary

We rarely use may and might in the past, however if we do, we use them to talk about possible events that could have happened in the past but we are not sure whether they happened or not. May is used when there is a higher possibility for something to happen.

The structures in the affirmative form are:

  • May: We start with the subject followed by may have and a past participle of a verb.
  • Might: We start with the subject followed by might have and a past participle of a verb.

For example:
“She is still sick, she might have forgotten to take her medicine.” = We are not sure whether she took the tablet or not.
“It is 21:30. They may have arrived an hour ago.” = It is possible that they arrived, but we don’t know.
“I might have bought a rabbit if my mom had let me.” / “I may have bought a rabbit if my mom had let me.” = May cannot refer to past situations in conditional sentences.

Let’s revise this content within the {Form} section. Take a look at the {Example} section that shows its use within a context.


License

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