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“May” & “Might”: What's the right context?
May, might confusion

I can not understand this sentence and how it differ from may sound.

OK, well, the shack - not as horrible as it might sound. I was actually born in the city, and yeah, grew up on the edge of the city of Glasgow, and my parents ...

Can any one explain it?


2 Answers 2


Modal verbs are very difficult in English. I have found very little literature that deals succinctly with them.

I don't think there is a direct answer to your question, for the use of such verbs in English seems to be inherited from the subjunctive (case of doubtful assertion) and optative (case of even more doubtful assertion) of both Latin and Greek, and adapted to Germanic use in English. These cases defy definition, however, and are swamped in idiomatic uses.

Might is the past subjunctive of may. Both phrases are addressing hypothetical situations, but differ in the relationship of the 'sounding' to the comparison.

"As it might sound": Within that hypothetical situation might (past tense) suggests something along the lines of, 'after it has been sounded you will know how horrible it is.' In this usage, the hypothetical sounding has already happened, and suggests such a sounding can be imagined.

"As it may sound": Within this same hypothetical scenario the may (present tense) suggests something like, 'as it is sounded you will know how horrible it is'. The sounding being present with the comparison, the implication is perhaps that you can only hypothesise what the sounding is like.

The second suggests a pure hypothetical, the first a perceivable hypothetical.

'not as horrible as it might sound'

Both may and might indicate that it could sound horrible. However, might is "milder" if you like.

Might says that it could, possibly sound horrible to the reader.

May says that is will, possibly, sound horrible to the reader.

In the end it is just a matter of using one word or the other, because they both, in this case, have pretty much the same meaning.

It has different meanings in different contexts: Eg.

"I might go to the movies.", indicates that I probably not end up going, while "I may go to the movies.", indicates that I actually will end up going.

I hope that is the kind of explanation you are after. Because, there's really not much more to it in this case.

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