+0
Dearly beloved Emotion: smile

I'm wondering about the following sentence:
1. Tom might burn his hands
2. The parrot might not live very long
3. The bottle of wine might break into pieces
4. The dog might bite Tom’s leg
5. The glass might fall on the floor
In my class, I have to explain the difference between could, may, and might. In all sentences, you can also use may, but I'm not sure about could. Especially in numer 2: the parrot couldn't live very long. This changes the whole meaning of the sentence, doesn't it?
Could (not may/might) you help me, please?
Comments  
Hello, Vince,
Here's my opinion before you get the real thing from a teacher:
"may" expresses an eventuality, "might" a yet stronger (or thinner) eventuality: may or may not; you can relate it to "maybe"
"can"/"could" express a logical possibility: given all we know about the situation, it is possible that..., or an ability.
eg
1. the parrot may/might not live very long: it's living in a cage instead of in its home jungle, so maybe he'll die, but on the other hand, if it's a very adaptable parrot, maybe it'll survive.
2. this parrot cannot live very long: it's very sick, it's bad, it's bound to die in a few days/weeks...
Dearly beloved Emotion: smile

JTT: We are gathered here today to pass judgement on these sentences.Emotion: wink But we shouldn't because it's homework.

I'm wondering about the following sentenceS:
1. Tom might burn his hands

also could and may

2. The parrot might not live very long

is also okay. could be too, with a different verb; "The parrot could die soon", where the meaning is virtually the same.

3. The bottle of wine might break into pieces

may and could are both okay.

4. The dog might bite Tom’s leg

may and could are both okay.

5. The glass might fall on the floor

may and could are both okay.

Vince:
In my class, I have to explain the difference between could, may, and might.

JTT: and express a a range of certainty. For beginners it's helpful to put it on a scale from 1 to 99.9%. Might and may occupy the lower range of the scale, might from 1 to ABOUT 25% and may ABOUT from 26 to 50%.

These numbers are not exact, of course, nor is the dividing line, but they do reflect and illustrate the difference between might and may, with might expressing a weaker degree of certainty than may.



Vince:
In all sentences, you can also use may, but I'm not sure about could. Especially in numer 2: the parrot couldn't live very long. This changes the whole meaning of the sentence, doesn't it?

JTT: does NOT express to us a particular range of certainty. All says is "It is possible" and says "It's not possible". We can show a stronger or weaker with changes in intonation.

"That cooooould happen" illustrates a weaker while "That COULD happen" indicates a stronger one.

V: Could (not may/might) you help me, please?

JTT: "Might you help me?" is certainly possible here, Vince but it's not that common as it is REALLY deferential.
Students: We have free audio pronunciation exercises.
Wow! I'm quite amazed at all your corrective work Emotion: smile
Thank you TTJ!
Vince,

The reason that the 'parrot' sentence works differently is that it contains the negation "not".

For 'may' and 'might', 'not' negates the proposition, not the modality.
For 'can' and 'could', 'not' negates the modality, not the proposition.

Hence:

The parrot [may / might], i.e. It is possible that the parrot will :

........ live very long.
........ not live very long.

But:

The parrot [could / could not]

........ live very long.

Likewise, where P is the 'possibility operator', ~ signifies 'not', and x = 'you are right':

You [may / might]

........ be right. P[x]
........ not be right. P[~x]

But:

You [could / could not] P[x] / ~P[x]

........ be right.

Note that with "you might not be right" P[~x], being right is still an option for you. With "you could not be right" ~P[x], being right is not an option for you.

CJ
Hello Teachers and JTT
JTT: and express a a range of certainty.
My grammar book [Alexander :"Longman English Grammar: (rather for BrE)] says certainty/possibility typically decreases in the order, though the order between and can vary depending on the context.
1) You are right.
2) You be right.
3) You be right.
4) You be right.
5) You be right.
6) You be right
7) You be right
8) You be right
9) You be right
10) You be right

As the book is saying, the certainty order will depend on the situation where those modals are used. But do you think the order is almost right? I'm especially interested in the relative positions between and . Do you feel, in general, are higher in certainty than ?

paco
Site Hint: Check out our list of pronunciation videos.
Hello CJ
The parrot [could / could not]
........ live very long.
Likewise, where P is the 'possibility operator', ~ signifies 'not', and x = 'you are right':
You [may / might]
........ be right. P[x]
........ not be right. P[~x]
But:
You [could / could not] P[x] / ~P[x]
........ be right.
Note that with "you might not be right" P[~x], being right is still an option for you. With "you could not be right" ~P[x], being right is not an option for you.


I like this way of explaining. Thank you a lot.

paco

[PS] 'Explaining' was erroneously written as 'explanations' in the original post, which was pointed out kindly by CJ. Thank you CJ.
You're welcome, Paco.

I should probably add the complication that the explanation I gave for "may" was for the meaning "it is possible" and NOT for "may" in the meaning "is permitted". "may" for permission works like "can" and "could":

You [may / may not]

........ sit in that chair! (I [allow you / forbid you] to sit in that chair!)

Where P is a 'permission operator', these are P[x] and ~P[x]. Some of the symbolism breaks down a bit, though. We have to take ~P not as "I don't give permission", but as "I deny permission".

(The negative "may not" does not mean "I permit you not to sit in that chair". That would be P[~x])

CJ

By the way, it's "this way of explaining" or "this way of giving an explanation". Emotion: smile