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I found many information online on "might" and "may" and it sounds like most of the time we can use both of them, interchangeably.

However in this quiz, it seems like if only one of the two is correct and I cannot figure out why:

http://www.usingenglish.com/quizzes/answers.php?quiz_id=407

Here are three of the questions:

I was just wondering whether you ____ be able to help me.

may
might CORRECT

Q2 - ____ God have mercy on your soul.

May CORRECT
Might

Q3 - You ____ well be right.

may CORRECT
might

Can someone tell me why the ones that are considered correct are correct?

  • 2
    Use may in the fifth month of the year, might all other times. – Matt Gutting Jun 3 '15 at 17:14
  • 8
    Quit taking online grammar quizzes. They are stupid and can make you stupid. There's very little difference between may and might, except in certain idioms. In politeness formulas, either is fine, but might is slightly more polite. There is a magical use of may in May God have mercy or May this house be safe from tigers that might does not share; but it's rare and formulaic. For more on may, see May We Come In? – John Lawler Jun 3 '15 at 17:39
0

You can use either word, correctly. The answer was dictated by the author of that quiz.

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There are specific patterns that are more common for certain uses than others, and choosing the wrong verb would sound a bit off to a native speaker.

Example 1: When using "I was just wondering," you start off in the past tense, so might, which is historically the past tense of may, "sounds better" here. It is sequence of tenses. Also, you're asking for a favor; and might is just a little more polite. Additionally, using may can be taken for "possibility in the future" rather than "willingness to fulfill a request."

Example 2: When used in this kind of a sentence, may expresses an indirect imperative, or a wish on the part of the speaker. It shares some semantic overlap with let: May the force be with you; Let the games begin.

Example 3: Here, there is a lot of overlap between may and ** might**, as an expression of possibility, but You may well be right is a set expression, with over 20 times the frequency in 2000 as You might well be right. The key element to making it a set expression is the word well. Take it out, and may still outperforms might, but only by about 2 to 1 rather than 20 to 1.

All that being said, I would hesitate to say that the other choice is egregiously wrong in Examples 1 or 3. In Example 2, you pretty much must use may.

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