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On an average Sunday, you might find yourself

In the sentence above, the possibility of the person reading finding themselves doing what it says is pretty high. It's almost certain. Should I use may instead? Might still sounds better when the sentence is read.

I often find sentences where may might be more appropriate but might sounds better. Even in this previous sentence I used might even though what I'm describing is much more likely than not.

marked as duplicate by Drew, user140086, ab2, vickyace, tchrist May 12 '16 at 1:38

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  • If "the possibility of the person reading finding themselves doing what it says is ... almost certain", I wouldn't use might or may. – TrevorD Aug 26 '13 at 23:25
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    Zen, even if grammar books still recognize some difference between 'might' and 'may', it is a fact that in modern English you can use them interchangeably without any difference in meaning and nuance. The same is for 'can' and 'could'. Also 'shall" is no longer in use. And it is better to not say of 'ought'. Summarizing, in concrete, you have only these modals: do, can, should, will and must. Stop. – user19148 Aug 27 '13 at 0:12
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The OED has this to say

Traditionalists insist that one should distinguish between may (present tense) and might (past tense) in expressing possibility: I may have some dessert if I’m still hungry; she might have known her killer. However, this distinction is rarely observed today, and may and might are generally acceptable in either case: she may have visited yesterday; I might go and have a cup of tea.On the difference in use between may and can, see can1 (usage).

the upshot is, do what you like.

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May versus might in a sentence?

Ia. Some people follow the rule that may can be considered a greater possibility than might.

“They both indicate that something is possible, but something that may happen is more likely than something that might happen.” Quick and Dirty Tips

“’May’ simply states the possibility or likelihood, while ‘might’ emphasizes the conditional nature of the possibility, introducing a greater level of uncertainty.” After Deadline NYT

Ib. However, in practice most people use may and might interchangeably in most cases.

“Often we read that might suggests a smaller possibility that may, there is in fact little difference and might is more usual than may in spoken English.” English Grammar secrets

IIa. May can be considered permission

Example: “Mother may I visit my friend?
"You may.”

II b. It is recommended to prefer might not over may not for clarity because may can be considered "permission"

According to Garner’s Modern American Usage (a bible for all grammar nuts like me), you should never use “may” in a negative hypothetical because the reader could read it to mean the person “does not have permission.” For example, saying “I may not go to the store” could be misread as “I am not allowed to go to the store.” In this case, you always use “might”: I might not go to the store.
Writer's Digest

III. It is recommended to prefer might have over may have for a hypothetical that didn’t happen

Example: when using “may have” and “might have” you can use either if the truth of a situation is still unknown (i.e. "I think your comment may have / might have offended some people"), but if the truth of the situation is known and you are speaking about a hypothetical alternative that did not occur, it’s clearer and more common to use “might have” (i.e. "If Brazil’s best player hadn’t been hurt, they might have won the World Cup").

IVa. Historically different tenses:

In historical practice for the usage of these words some people used “may” exclusively for present tense and “might” exclusively for past tense Oxford Dictionaries

IVb. Modal usage most commmon today

Today the words may and might are used as modals like would, should and could, meaning that they are generally used without regard to their historical tense and the modal used should reflect a slightly different meaning.

IVc. Even today, especially for some situations involving past tense, many people feel might is still not always interchangeable with may in normal usage.

For instance, because it sounds awkward to mix past tense and present tense, many people including myself would probably prefer “after I read that book, I knew I might visit London one day” to using 'may' (but if someone did use 'may' I could live with it, just wouldn't prefer it).

On the other hand, I find “Last night the weatherman said it may rain today” acceptable, especially because whether it will rain is something that is still an unknown.

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