Do the following sentences have the same meaning?

a) You need to discuss with them how they may help you.

b) You need to discuss with them how they might help you.

1 Answer 1


It would take a hard-core stickler to recommend one over the other.

Yes, the two words mean different things. That's why there are two of them. But in this case, both examples would be understood the same way.

There are subtleties. May could suggest that they need permission to help you. May they? Let's hope so.

Might leans toward a question of probability. Strictly speaking, you don't want to find out how they might help. You want to find out how they will help.

But that's splitting frog hairs. For purposes of ordinary conversation, either one will do just fine.

  • 1
    It's not really that they mean different things -- they're both just basic possibility modals -- as much as it is that they're used in different idioms and constructions, their epistemic and deontic senses don't work the same ways, and they contract differently (mightn't but not *mayn't). For example. There are lots of differences; they're two different verbs now, with different lives. Mar 26, 2020 at 20:50
  • @JohnLawler So, from what you seem to say, qualifying a research for differences between those two verbs as an "exercice in splitting frog hairs" wouldn't be very proper?
    – LPH
    Mar 26, 2020 at 22:15
  • No, it could go on forever. There are so many differences, in so many contexts, and interactions with so many other words, that it would be an exercise in classifying beetles Mar 26, 2020 at 22:29
  • In the original sentence, what is the difference between "how they 'will' help you" and "how they 'might' help you"?
    – Mr. X
    Mar 27, 2020 at 13:52

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