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http://webster.commnet.edu/grammar/auxiliary.htm#may
Unless otherwise indicated, all written material on this Web site is the property of Professor Charles Darling and the Capital Community College Foundation and is published here for free use by the college's students and staff and for the general online community.



{I find it easier to discuss each point one at a time so I'll mark off all my comments with a double pound sign at the start and another set of double pound signs at the end,
[like this: ## ...##]. Everything else is Professor Darling's quoted from the link, above.

==

Uses of May and Might

Professor Darling's Point #1

Two of the more troublesome modal auxiliaries are may and might. When used in the context of granting or seeking permission, might is the past tense of may. Might is considerably more tentative than may.

1. May I leave class early?
2. If I've finished all my work and I'm really quiet, might I leave early?

## I agree with Professor Darling that "[M]ight is considerably more tentative than may". That's about all I agree with. His example sentence, [which I've marked as 2. for ease of discussion], completely refutes his contention made just a few sentences before, to wit;

"When used in the context of granting or seeking permission, might is the past tense of may."

It's readily apparent even to a child, {I've asked some.} that sentence 2. is not a past meaning, nor is it a past tense. The only reason that 'may & might' are troublesome is that the good professor, and many others, are operating from a false premise.

FALSE PREMISE: Might is the past tense of may.

I pointed this error out some time ago, a year or more, and someone said they wrote to Professor Darling. This person stated that Mr Darling agreed there was a problem and that he would get around to rectifying it. If that person actually did write {I should have requested a copy of the email}, we see that there has been no change.

Of course, Mr Darling could never create a new example to illustrate his point because his point is flat out wrong!! ##

-------------------------------------------------

Professor Darling's Point 2

In the context of expressing possibility, may and might are interchangeable present and future forms and might + have + past participle is the past form:

a. She might be my advisor next semester.
b. She may be my advisor next semester.
c. She might have advised me not to take biology.

## Once you start with a false premise, the contortions needed to defend it just get sillier and sillier.

Of course, sentence c. could have a 'may' rather than a 'might'.

c1. She MAY have advised me not to take biology, but that was 5 years ago. How am I supposed to remember way back then?

The specific phrase, "she may have advised", not an extremely common collocation, got 32 hits.

More common collocations:

"she may have been" - 122,000 hits

"she may have seen" - 4,150 hits

"he may have seen" - 10,040 hits

"he may have been" - 338,000 hits

Just these five examples prove that Professor Darling is wrong when he misleads people [and himself] into thinking that tenseless 'may' cannot operate in the past time.

If we follow Professor Darling's convoluted logic, that, and I quote, "might + have + past participle is the past form", then when we apply it to sentence b.,

b. She may be my advisor next semester. , we get the nonsensical "past tense" of this as,

b. *She might have been my advisor next semester.*

{I've marked it ungrammatical for this meaning, which it CLEARLY is!!}

Why on earth don't these silly rules ever work out in REAL language? ##

-------------------------------------------------------------

Professor Darling's Point 3

Avoid confusing the sense of possibility in may with the implication of might, that a hypothetical situation has not in fact occurred. For instance, let's say there's been a helicopter crash at the airport. In his initial report, before all the facts are gathered, a newscaster could say that the pilot "may have been injured." After we discover that the pilot is in fact all right, the newscaster can now say that the pilot "might have been injured" because it is a hypothetical situation that has not occurred. Another example: a body had been identified after much work by a detective. It was reported that "without this painstaking work, the body may have remained unidentified." Since the body was, in fact, identified, might is clearly called for.

## This is for another day. I believe this was Casi's point that this, above, is the belief of a certain "dialect" of English. Maybe Casi could have a go at this one. Casi, if you would be so kind. ##
1 2
Comments  
I don't know who Professor Darling is, but 'she might have been my advisor next semester' sounds fairly 'past' to me:


{In the junior common room at English Forums. Casi addresses Just The Truth:}

'Did you hear about MrP?'
'No, what happened?'
'He turned descriptivist.'
'No! Impossible!'
'Seems he'd been that way for some time. You know the kind of thing – mixing his conditionals, quoting lengthy passages from the CGEL, using inappropriate Scotticisms...'
'How upsetting.'
'I should say so. They had to take him away, of course.'
'Of course.'
'Not that the linguisticians hold out much hope. They say he'll be a Chomskyan for the rest of his natural life.'
'How tragic...And he might have been my tutor next semester...'

{Curtain}


***. Time of conversation
***. MrP is taken away
***. Next semester starts
***. Potential tutordom ends

This demonstrates that MrP's potential tutordom (the period during which there was a possibility that he would be JTT's tutor) ended at point 4., when he was taken away.

This was the period during which it was possible to say: 'MrP may be my tutor next semester'. So in retrospect, he 'might have been' JTT's tutor.

The tutordom itself would have started at point 3. But the potentiality existed before that.

Point 4 is before point 1 (the time of speaking). The potentiality is therefore 'past' in relation to the time of the conversation.

MrP
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riiiiiiiii ---------------------------------------------------------------pp

1.Very helpful 2.OK 3.A bit prescriptivistic X4.Unintelligible
Site Hint: Check out our list of pronunciation videos.
I don't quite know how to tell you this, JT...but repeating someone else's punchline isn't quite the same as making a joke of your own.

But 10 out of 10 for effort.

MrP
On the contrary, I find your comments completely intelligible, Mr. P.
Are we in some kind of warp, speaking a different language from JT?

I think the "past tense" modals might more easily be seen as "conditional tense" modals. (I use "conditional tense" in the manner of the Romance languages, i.e., the "would" tense.)

Just as "would", though a "past tense", can be 'borrowed' into the present with conditional meaning, so too can "could", "might", and "should". But the versatility of such words does not mean they can never be used as markers of the speaker's sense of speaking from a past point of view, most particularly in subordinate clauses.

CJ
CJ:
On the contrary, I find your comments completely intelligible, Mr. P.

JTT: That's telling!Emotion: wink

CJ:
Are we in some kind of warp, speaking a different language from JT?

JTT: No, Jim, you're simply a couple of old prescriptivists who are having a devil of a time shedding long held canards.

CJ:
I think the "past tense" modals might more easily be seen as "conditional tense" modals. (I use "conditional tense" in the manner of the Romance languages, i.e., the "would" tense.)

JTT: In one post, you want to call them one thing then in another, you seek another new term. Obviously, your world has been rocked and you're rushing hither and yon trying to make some sense of it. It's hard to admit that you've been teaching the wrong stuff for, ... forever. But there's no time like the present to start teaching the truth.Emotion: smile

CJ:
Just as "would", though a "HISTORICAL past tense", can be 'borrowed' into the present with conditional meaning, so too can "could", "might", and "should".

JTT: And the historical present tense modals "can be 'borrowed' into the past' with conditional meaning. HENCE ----->>>> they are tenseless.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

CGEL:

And should is not used at all with past time meaning.

<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<


CJ:
But the versatility of such words does not mean they can never be used as markers of the speaker's sense of speaking from a past point of view, most particularly in subordinate clauses.

JTT: And again, the historical present tense modals do the same thing. You and Mr P are still clinging to the discredited prescriptivist notion called "sequence of tenses OR concord of tenses". That's the mistake that Professor Darling has made in Point 3. You are operating under the same misconception.

Bad rules leave you up the creek without a paddle. (a)
Students: We have free audio pronunciation exercises.
CGEL:

And should is not used at all with past time meaning.


Introduction to the Grammar of English - one of the series "Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics" - by Rodney Huddleston:

The past tense of shall is should, and this occurs as the counterpart of shall in the backshifting and unreal condition constructions: I realised I should soon have nothing left; If I continued to spend at this rate I should soon have nothing left. (In I should like to thank you for your hospitality, the conditional element is at best implicit: should like is semi-formulaic here.)
In addition should has several uses that are not explicable in terms of the combination of shall plus past tense - and some analysts accordingly recognise a distinct lexeme should for these cases: certainly it requires separate lexical description. One of these uses expresses a type of epistemic modality and another a type of deontic modality ...


JT,

Your insistence on "all-or-nothing" interpretations of the 'modals' is leading you to make some very strange and unbelievable statements.
I think it's quite clear that there are past-tense uses and there are modal uses of the verbs we've been discussing.

By the way, my suggestion that we take a look at the conditional element within "might" or "should" does not count as rocking my world, I can assure you!

CJ
shedding long held canards

A startling image.

MrP
You and Mr P are still clinging to the discredited prescriptivist notion called "sequence of tenses OR concord of tenses


1. 'Can you swim?' 'Yes, I can swim.'

Twenty years later, after an unpleasant altercation with a bunch of discredited prescriptivists:
2. 'Can you swim?' 'When I had the use of my legs, I could swim. But now I can't.'

If 'could' isn't the past tense of 'can', JT, how do you explain 'could' in #2?

MrP
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