This is a excerpt from Le Morte d'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory, and I want to know the exact meaning of might regarding the context. Some say by might we mean:

being allowed to

and some say it means:

being able to

Of course we are all aware of the first meaning but relating to the later one, I couldn't find anything related. Here is the excerpt:

And thereupon Isoud fell down in a swoon, and so lay a great while And when she might speak she said: My lord Sir Tristram, blessed be God ye have your life, and now I am sure ye shall be discovered by this little brachet, for she will never leave you.

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    i think the meaning is being able to, but i couldn't find anything either.
    – Oracle
    Aug 12, 2013 at 10:53
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    A Google search for "when he might speak, he" returns very few relevant hits, mainly archaic. Two are: "...anon Sir Bors lost his countenance, and for kindness and pity he might not speak, but wept tenderly a great while. And then when he might speak he said thus: ..." // "Thereat in his turn Ralph fell a laughing, and when he might speak he said: “What needeth the lord of all these spears to beg off his service to the poor wandering knight?” Aug 12, 2013 at 11:14
  • There seems to be an intermediate sense of the modal: 'not be constrained not to by considerations of propriety'. If Sir Bors above hadn't been incapacitated by his weeping, he would probably still have maintained a respectful silence for some time: and for kindness and pity he might not speak for a great while. And then when he might speak he said thus: Aug 12, 2013 at 11:37
  • Oh, and another example: who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, ... - New American Standard Version (1995) Aug 12, 2013 at 11:46
  • If she was "in a swoon", she was, presumably, unable to speak initially, which tends to suggest the meaning "And when she was able to speak she said:".
    – TrevorD
    Aug 12, 2013 at 12:43

2 Answers 2


The etymology clearly points at "being able to" or "have the strength to"

might (v.)

Old English mihte, meahte, originally the past tense of may (Old English magen "to be able"), thus "*may-ed." See may (v.). The first record of might-have-been is from 1848.

might (n.)

Old English miht, earlier mæht "might, bodily strength, power, authority, ability," from Proto-Germanic *makhti- (cf. Old Norse mattr, Old Frisian, Middle Dutch, Dutch macht, Old High German maht, German Macht, Gothic mahts), Germanic suffixed form of PIE root *magh- (1) "be able, have power" (see may (v.)).

In Danish we have "at magte" where "Jeg magter det ikke" means I do not have the strength or capability to do it

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    The Danish verb is derived from the noun magt (might, power), though, and is not directly comparable. The Icelandic verb mega (an exact cognate to Old English magen mentioned in the etymology above), however, still retains the meaning of ‘be able to’ in some contexts—one of which is indeed a translation of the Danish phrase: Ég má mín ekki við það means ‘I can’t handle it’ or ‘I can’t manage it’. Aug 12, 2013 at 13:41

Unfortunately, I do not know the book, and therefore cannot give you a conclusive answer.

It is possible that might is used as 'being able to,' as she might have recovered from the shock.

But it is also possible, that she is only now being allowed to speak, and thus changing the meaning to 'being allowed to.'

I hope that this answer was helpful

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