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I'm Italian and live in Italy, where books on English are often odd, grammatically speaking....
For instance, in those books you can find a rule about the negative forms of "may" and "can" saying that "cannot" indicates something sure (you cannot swim = you are not able or not allowed to swim at all), while "may not" just indicates something negative as possible (you may not swim = it's not necessary you swim).

Yesterday I found another book saying the opposite, however. "Use "may not"/"must not"/"cannot" for prohibition. Examples: a) Unauthorized personnel may not enter. b) He must not forget. c) You cannot go yet".

Now, I'd understand the sentence a) as meaning that perhaps unauthorized personnel doesn't enter but may enter too....

For prohibition, I'd put: "Unauthorized personnel is not allowed/is not permitted/must not/cannot enter".

Am I wrong?
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Comments  (Page 3) 
Here I am againg just to thank "Just The Truth" and tell him I learnt something new other Italian people don't know... In many Italian books on English you can read that might is the conditional irregular form of may.... such as could is of can (I hope this still is true at least...)!!!!!!!!!
Hello Fortiter

Lexicographers tend to agree that 'might' is historically the past tense of 'may'.

It's true that with modal verbs the functions of each form tend to differ from each other more than e.g. the present and past forms of 'say'.

But may and might are nonetheless forms of the same verb.

MrP
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Fortitier:

Here I am againg just to thank "Just The Truth" and tell him I learnt something new other Italian people don't know... In many Italian books on English you can read that might is the conditional irregular form of may.... such as could is of can (I hope this still is true at least...)!!!!!!!!!

JT: No, it isn't true, Fortiter. In modern English both retain their individual meanings, meaning a lower certainty than . Because of the "historically based relationship [there are] still ... some semantic implications". {The Grammar Book: An ESL/EFL Teacher's Course}

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MrP: Lexicographers tend to agree that 'might' is historically the past tense of 'may'.

But may and might are nonetheless forms of the same verb.

JT: What was "historically", Mr P, doesn't mean that there is the same connection to this day. Changes to language are, changes to language.

What "same verb" would may and might be forms of? Funny that you haven't mentioned it, Mr P.
From American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language:

MAY:

AUXILIARY VERB: Inflected forms: Past tense might
1. To be allowed or permitted to: May I take a swim? Yes, you may. 2. Used to indicate a certain measure of likelihood or possibility: It may rain this afternoon. 3. Used to express a desire or fervent wish: Long may he live! 4. Used to express contingency, purpose, or result in clauses introduced by that or so that: expressing ideas so that the average person may understand. 5. To be obliged; must. Used in statutes, deeds, and other legal documents. See Usage Note at can1.
ETYMOLOGY: Middle English, to be able, from Old English mæg, first and third person sing. of magan, to be strong, be able

MIGHT:

Middle English, from Old English meahte, mihte, first and third person sing. past tense of magan, to be able.

I'm not quite sure what your point is, JT; unless you're querying the meaning of 'same'.

MrP
In those cases, an Italian psychologist would start his interview with the patient telling him: "Non credi che potresti pure NON seguire questa agitazione?" (="Don't you think you might / not follow (look at the slash: not "might not / follow") that excitement?" literally translating).

You ask interesting questions, Fortiter. (Do Italian psychologists indeed say credi/potresti to their patients?)

I wonder if I can speak for the BrE psychoanalyst:

1. 'Do you mind if we leave that feeling where it is, for the moment, and perhaps...etc.'
2. 'Shall we follow a different path for a moment...'
3. 'Do you think perhaps we should not follow that feeling, just for the moment...'
4. 'That's an interesting emotion, and one we must come back to; but first, shall we...'

(You didn't specify a good psychologist, Fortiter.)

'Don't you think', by the way, is often associated with 'negative' questions:

5. 'Don't you think you're a little too old to be wearing something like that?'
6. 'Don't you think you should ask, before putting up a bookshelf in my bedroom?'
7. 'Don't you think MrP is looking rather old, these days? Don't you think his hair is growing thin?'

The implication is of slight wonderment at the possibility that the listener might not think the same.

Also, members of the medical profession in BrE are very likely to address you as 'we':

8. 'How are we feeling today, MrP?'

To which the traditional reply is: 'oh, not too bad'; which may seem strange, in the circumstances.

MrP
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Same source, Mr P.

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may and might. It may rain. It might rain. What’s the difference? ... might can also be used as a substitute for may to show diminished possibility. Thus, saying We might go to the movies means that the likelihood of going is somewhat less than if you say We may go to the movies. When used to express permission, might has a higher degree of politeness than may. Thus, Might I express my opinion conveys less insistence than May I express my opinion.

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I ask again. What same verb might you be referring to? There is no verb common to may and might because they have different meanings, which is duly noted above.
It's an interesting argument, and one I might/may well use myself elsewhere, if the mood took/takes me.

But you might as well compare:

1. If that were JTT, he would be wearing a pink hat.
2. If that was JTT, why wasn't he wearing his pink hat?

and say that 'were' and 'was' are different verbs, because one is subjunctive, and one indicative.

The 'were' in #1 shows 'diminished possibility'; the 'was' in #2 shows fact.

On a more practical level, I'm happy to err with all the dictionaries in the world.

MrP
You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink.

Mr P can't provide an answer for his statement for the very simple reason that his statement was false.

May and might are different modal verbs with different modal meanings. One is not present tense and one past tense. They are, like all modals in modern English, tenseless.

Every modal verb in English can operate in past, present and future situations. Modals carry modal meaning into sentences, they do not carry tense.

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Mr P: ... , I'm happy to err with all the dictionaries in the world.

JT: It's perplexing indeed, why anyone would want to make this their guiding principle.
Students: Are you brave enough to let our tutors analyse your pronunciation?
We might go to the movies means that the likelihood of going is somewhat less than if you say We may go to the movies. When used to express permission, might has a higher degree of politeness than may. Thus, Might I express my opinion conveys less insistence than May I express my opinion.


Are we sure? I think we've had this factoid drilled into us so long by prescriptive grammarians that we have ended up believing it. Leaving out the "We are permitted" interpretation of "We may", to me "We might go ..." and "We may go ..." do not differ at all in certainty. "may" just belongs to a slightly higher register in this context. Similarly, "May I express ..." and "Might I express ..." also mean the same thing to me. In this case, it is the "might" which belongs to a slightly higher register.

I think a more interesting discussion might / may involve an attempt to understand why this change of relative register works as it does. Is it because one is a statement and the other a question?

CJ
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