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I have noted that when something unprecedented is coming, the phrase we might be seeing something is frequently used. E.g.

We might be seeing yet another crisis soon.

Is there any difference between this form and the simple we might see?

During my short research it seemed to me that both are used for simple future with a degree of probability.

  • One of your versions uses a progressive aspect construction ("be seeing") and involves the future. And so, you might be interested in the topic of the progressive futurate. (One possible difference between your two examples is that the progressive version tends to be used for the relatively near future.) – F.E. Feb 25 '14 at 19:59
  • Also, another possible difference is that, for me, the version with the progressive ("be seeing") is sorta emphasizing the aspectuality of a possible future situation, with an interpretation like: We might soon be in the middle of another crisis. While the other version is providing more of a perfective interpretation of a possible future situation, and is not really concerned with the internal states or progression within that situation: Soon another crisis might come (and then go). – F.E. Feb 25 '14 at 21:40
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For many contexts, the two terms seem interchangeable, but my sense is that we prefer to use them under slightly different circumstances.

I take we might see to ideally express the possibility of using the faculty of sight to apprehend the object at some point in the future.

We might see lions on the safari.

To word the point simply, the lions are already there and the question is whether we will see it.

I take we might be seeing to reflect that the occurrence has not yet happened and this is why we are speaking in terms of probabilities:

We might be seeing a recession in the future.

The question is not whether or not we can see the recession if it is there. Instead, it is whether or not we will have a recession which we would then see. So we could say this means roughly the same as Were a recession to occur we would witness its consequences

But again we could definitely say:

We might see a recession in the next five years due to the tax policies of X.

and this would function with the same meaning as the above example.

I think adding the progressive modal expresses a lower degree of probability than the active modal statement and/or that the active modal relates to the successful use of the verb that follows in a more direct sense.

Thus,

We might be seeing lions on the safari

sounds like one is hinting at something more than the direct modal.

  • I think this is a great answer, but leaves out one possible usage for "we might be seeing". You could also use it to speculate about a trend or change that is unclear, such as: "We might be seeing the beginning of a recession." – michelle Feb 25 '14 at 20:00
  • Could you explain more about what "the passive modal" is in the OP's examples? – F.E. Feb 25 '14 at 20:03
  • @F.E. passive modal = we might be seeing (might = modal / be seeing = passive progressive) – virmaior Feb 25 '14 at 20:07
  • So you consider "be seeing" as a passive progressive? But isn't that actually in active voice? – F.E. Feb 25 '14 at 20:14
  • I realized while I was out that you are correct -- that's not a passive tense. – virmaior Feb 26 '14 at 2:59

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