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Consider this sentence, please:

1) The world may never eradicate coronavirus, but it could get it under control.

2) The world may never eradicate coronavirus, but it might get it under control.

What is the difference between 1) and 2)?

In general, What's the difference between "might" and "could" when it comes to talking about a possibility?

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Comments  (Page 2) 
Rizan MalikAre "might" and "could" interchangeable in 2) and 3) or do they suggest different possibilities?

I don't think 'could' sounds right in 2), so I don't think the idea of interchanging 'could' and 'might' really enters into it, but you can have

I could travel in July if my exams are finished in time.

In this one you can say 'might' instead of 'could' without any problems.


Sometimes I have no idea what points you are trying to clarify.

CJ

CalifJim
Rizan MalikAre "might" and "could" interchangeable in 2) and 3) or do they suggest different possibilities?

I don't think 'could' sounds right in 2), so I don't think the idea of interchanging 'could' and 'might' really enters into it, but you can have

I could travel in July if my exams are finished in time.

In this one you can say 'might' instead of 'could' without any problems.

CJ

OK. So,

I could travel in July if my exams are finished in time = It will/would be possible for me to travel in July if my exams are finished in time. (talking about "possibility" or "ability")

I might travel in July if my exams are finished in time = Maybe I will travel in July if my exams are finished in time. (talking about my "willingness" at the time)

Am I right?

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Rizan Malik

OK. So,

I could travel in July if my exams are finished in time = It will/would be possible for me to travel in July if my exams are finished in time. (talking about "possibility" or "ability")

I might travel in July if my exams are finished in time = Maybe I will travel in July if my exams are finished in time. (talking about my "willingness" at the time)

Before we go too far on this, realize that the primary meaning of 'can' and 'could' has to do with ability, physical or mental. On the other hand, 'may' and 'might' carry (logical) possibility as their primary meaning. However, 'could' is borrowed into this possibility grouping from time to time. Occasionally 'might' is even borrowed into the ability grouping. So in any case, this stuff is not easy.


In the first example above, I would stick with It would be possible in the paraphrase because It will be possible suggests 'can' more readily than it suggests 'could'. Other than that, I think your characterization is right when you say "possibility" or "ability". You can think of it either way.

In the second example, I think your paraphrase is exactly right. I wouldn't have thought of 'willingness', but I suppose that's part of it. I think you mean something like 'however the mood strikes me when it's time to decide' when you write 'willingness'.


Because of the influence of the if-clause, I have to say that even though the words 'could' and 'might' can be interchanged in this example, the meanings don't follow. The if makes 'could' have that conditional meaning (would) that it doesn't have when it's just a borrowing into the 'may'/'might' possibility group, as in Don't touch that snake. It [may/might/could] be poisonous. (Obviously, we're not saying that the snake has the ability to be poisonous, in the sense "if it wants to".)

I hope that's covered the points you were asking about.

CJ

CalifJim

Because of the influence of the if-clause, I have to say that even though the words 'could' and 'might' can be interchanged in this example, the meanings don't follow. The if makes 'could' have that conditional meaning (would) that it doesn't have when it's just a borrowing into the 'may'/'might' possibility group, as in Don't touch that snake. It [may/might/could] be poisonous. (Obviously, we're not saying that the snake has the ability to be poisonous, in the sense "if it wants to".)

I hope that's covered the points you were asking about.

CJ

So, I think "could" is often used in two ways when it suggests a possibility:

1) when it's just a borrowing into the 'may'/'might' possibility group.

2) when "could" has a conditional meaning (would). ( "could"="would be able to/it would be possible for..."; with this meaning I think "could" is used in the result-clauses of conditional sentences whose conditional clauses are either explicitly stated, or implicit, or vague/ambiguous)


I also came to know that "might" is normally used with meaning 1) of "could" above. (logical possibility)

Question: Do we use "might" with conditional meaning (would)? I mean, do we express or paraphrase "might" with any form of "would" as we do in the case of "could"?


To understand the question better, let's consider some example sentences:

a) Your child might do better with a different teacher.

b) He is the type of person who might appear in a fashion magazine.

c) The experience was, you might say, a glimpse into the future.

d) As you might expect, I did not take Mr Farraday's suggestion at all seriously that afternoon, regarding it as just another instance.....

e) You might try calling the help desk.


All the "might"s in the examples above suggest some kind of possibility. Does "might" in the examples above suggest logical possibilities/"maybe" possibilities Or Does it have conditional meanings (would)?

Rizan MalikQuestion: Do we use "might" with conditional meaning (would)? I mean, do we express or paraphrase "might" with any form of "would" as we do in the case of "could"?

Yes, but you might have to add "maybe", "likely", "probably", or some such phrasing.

Rizan Malika) Your child might do better with a different teacher.

'with a different teacher' is the implicit if-clause (if your child had a different teacher).
Maybe your child would do better with a different teacher.

Rizan Malikb) He is the type of person who might appear in a fashion magazine.

I don't sense 'would' very strongly in this one.

He is the type of person who would be likely to appear in a fashion magazine.

'maybe' doesn't fit well in the syntax here, so I paraphrased more loosely with 'likely'.

Rizan Malikc) The experience was, you might say, a glimpse into the future.

A clumsy paraphrase with 'would':

Maybe [you/we/a person] would (be able to) say that the experience was a glimpse into the future.

Personally, I think this one falls flat.

Rizan Malikd) As you might expect, I did not take Mr Farraday's suggestion at all seriously that afternoon, regarding it as just another instance.....

I suppose the initial phrase could be paraphrased as

Maybe you (would?) already expect this, but (I did not ...)

Rizan Malike) You might try calling the help desk.

This is practically the same as "You can always try calling the help desk".

Rizan MalikAll the "might"s in the examples above suggest some kind of possibility. Does "might" in the examples above suggest logical possibilities/"maybe" possibilities Or Does it have conditional meanings (would)?

In my opinion only the first example is clearly conditional in nature. I've been able to come up with some paraphrases that contain 'would', but they are not as convincing as that first one.


Are you getting anything out of this discussion? I ask because I feel we may be going in circles on split hairs to some extent. Emotion: sad

CJ

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CalifJim
Rizan MalikAll the "might"s in the examples above suggest some kind of possibility. Does "might" in the examples above suggest logical possibilities/"maybe" possibilities Or Does it have conditional meanings (would)?

In my opinion only the first example is clearly conditional in nature. I've been able to come up with some paraphrases that contain 'would', but they are not as convincing as that first one.

CJ

The fact that a native-speaker and teacher like you was struggling to paraphrase "might" with a form of "would" only shows how difficult it is to paraphrase the word "might". Anyway, thank you very much for your effort. In this last question I won't be asking you to paraphrase "might" or "could" but I'll ask you a slightly different question.

Before I start this question, I would just like to make an observation about the words "could" and "might". While paraphrasing the word "could", many native speakers, including you, sometimes use "is/are able to", other times "will be able to" and yet other times "would be able to". For example:

I could travel in July if my exams are finished in time = I'm able to travel... or I'll be able to travel... or I would be able to travel...

They don't use "I/you/he would be able to" paraphrase consistently and this confuses me because I don't understand whether I should consider "could" as having conditional meaning (i.e, the result of some conditional sentence) or something that does not have any conditional meaning at all. Similar is the problem with paraphrasing "might" (maybe will or maybe would). This leads to the following problem for me:

We know the modal verbs "would", "could" and "might" are the preterite forms of the verbs "will", "can" and "may", and they are used in the past tense to indicate past activity or in conditional sentences. Now, it is agreed that "would" is/should be only used in type 2 or second conditionals, but native speakers don't always follow this "rule". For example:

1) If you want this example to be a second conditional, you would need "wanted" in the conditional clause. (a type of mixed first/second conditional, not preferred by prescriptivists but used by native speakers)

2) If you wanted this example to be a mixed conditional, you would need "want" in the conditional clause. (a pure second conditional, preferred by prescriptivists)

That is, when we use "would" in the result clause, it is either a pure second conditional or a mixed 1st/2nd conditional.

Question: What about the preterite forms "could" and "might"? Do we use them like "would", in pure second conditionals or mixed 1st/2nd conditionals Or do we also use them in pure first conditionals?

Consider these conditional sentences, please:

a) If you lean over the rail, you might fall. (Is it a pure first conditional or a mixed 1st/2nd conditional ??)

b) I might go to the beach if the sun is shining. (Is it a pure first conditional or a mixed 1st/2nd conditional ??)

c) Your child might/could do better if she gets a different teacher. (Is it a pure first conditional or a mixed 1st/2nd conditional ??)

d) Your child might/could do better if she got/had a different teacher. (Is it a pure second conditional ??)

Note: "a mixed 1st/2nd conditional" implies a conditional sentence having a conditional clause that resembles that of a first conditional and a result clause that resembles that of a second conditional.

Rizan MalikNow, it is agreed that "would" is/should be only used in type 2 or second conditionals, but native speakers don't always follow this "rule".

I know. Those pesky native speakers. We just don't pay enough attention to the grammar books. Emotion: smile

Rizan MalikConsider these conditional sentences

I imagine there are a lot of differences of opinion in the grammar books about this topic.

Where 'might' and 'should' are concerned, I'd be inclined to say that they depict non-past times in modern English, regardless of the fact that they evolved from preterits.

(There is only one exception that I know of, and that's in indirect speech. We say She asked if she might go, and not She asked if she may go. Thus the preterit might matches the tense of asked. However, as we are dealing with conditional, and not indirect speech, this exception need not concern us here.)

Where 'could' and 'would' are concerned, I'd say that these preterit forms are in transition. They are quite often borrowed into present-time clauses. In if-clauses, however, 'could' contains a 'would' component, so both 'would' and 'could' usually operate the same way in conditionals.

So, in short, the exact classification of conditionals more or less falls apart when modals other than 'would' or 'could' are used. It's all up for grabs as far as I can see. I can't give you any official pronouncement on how these should be classified (first, second, third, mixed conditionals). I can only give you my opinions.

Now let's look at the examples.

Rizan Malik

a) If you lean over the rail, you might fall. (Is it a pure first conditional or a mixed 1st/2nd conditional ??)

b) I might go to the beach if the sun is shining. (Is it a pure first conditional or a mixed 1st/2nd conditional ??)

Because I consider 'might' a non-past modal (present or future time), I see these as pure first conditionals. In fact, 'may' can replace 'might' without any change of meaning in these sentences, and 'may' is certainly not a preterit form.

Rizan Malik

c) Your child might do better if she gets a different teacher. (Is it a pure first conditional or a mixed 1st/2nd conditional ??)

d) Your child might do better if she got/had a different teacher. (Is it a pure second conditional ??)

With might.

For me c) is a pure first conditional, and d) is indeterminate. It's possibly a mixed conditional, but possibly a pure second conditional.

If we do a bit of "algebraic transformation" to paraphrase d), we can factor the 'might' out of the first clause completely.

It is possible that
your child [will? or would?] do better if she got/had a different teacher
.

So from the point of view that 'might' always applies to present time in modern English, the surface appearance of the word 'might' leads me to say the whole sentence is a mixed conditional.

But when I read the transformed paraphrase, my instinct is to use 'would', and not 'will' where those question marks appear (above). From that point of view, it's a pure second conditional.

It seems to me that this illustrates that it is futile to try to place sentences into predefined boxes where they will never fit. It amounts to saying we must put the number 0 (zero) either into the box of negative integers or into the box of positive integers.

Rizan Malik

c) Your child could do better if she gets a different teacher. (Is it a pure first conditional or a mixed 1st/2nd conditional ??)

d) Your child could do better if she got/had a different teacher. (Is it a pure second conditional ??)

With could.

For me, c) is a mixed conditional (would be able to do better), and d) is a pure second conditional.

CJ

CalifJim
Rizan Malik

a) If you lean over the rail, you might fall. (Is it a pure first conditional or a mixed 1st/2nd conditional ??)

b) I might go to the beach if the sun is shining. (Is it a pure first conditional or a mixed 1st/2nd conditional ??)

Because I consider 'might' a non-past modal (present or future time), I see these as pure first conditionals. In fact, 'may' can replace 'might' without any change of meaning in these sentences, and 'may' is certainly not a preterit form.

If I used "could" in place of "might" in a) and b) above, would you consider them as mixed 1st/2nd conditional?

a) If you lean over the rail, you could fall. ("could" here sounds like it falls into the 'may'/'might' possibility group.)

b) I could go to the beach if the sun is shining.

Rizan Malik

c) Your child might do better if she gets a different teacher. (Is it a pure first conditional or a mixed 1st/2nd conditional ??)

d) Your child might do better if she got/had a different teacher. (Is it a pure second conditional ??)

With might.

For me c) is a pure first conditional, and d) is indeterminate. It's possibly a mixed conditional, but possibly a pure second conditional.


So from the point of view that 'might' always applies to present time in modern English, the surface appearance of the word 'might' leads me to say the whole sentence is a mixed conditional.

Because of the reason that is underlined above, would you use "may" in sentence d) above?

d) Your child may do better if she got/had a different teacher.

It amounts to saying we must put the number 0 (zero) either into the box of negative integers or into the box of positive integers.

CJ

You seem to have some interest in "Numbers" or the subject Mathematics itself. That sounds interesting!

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Rizan Malik

If I used "could" in place of "might" in a) and b) above, would you consider them as mixed 1st/2nd conditional?

a) If you lean over the rail, you could fall. ("could" here sounds like it falls into the 'may'/'might' possibility group.)

b) I could go to the beach if the sun is shining.

a) I agree that 'could' falls into the "M-possibility" group. That makes it a non-past-time modal (what I've called a borrowing from preterit to present) in this sentence. Under that interpretation a) is a pure first conditional, just as it is with 'might'.

b) I hear 'could' as 'would be able to', and I don't hear either the 'could' or its paraphrase with 'would' as a borrowing, so I'd call this one a mixed conditional — not that more than maybe five people on the planet care what it's called. Emotion: wink

Rizan Malik

So from the point of view that 'might' always applies to present time in modern English, the surface appearance of the word 'might' leads me to say the whole sentence is a mixed conditional.

Because of the reason that is underlined above, would you use "may" in sentence d) above?

d) Your child may do better if she got/had a different teacher.

No. It sounds wrong to my ear. (I'd call it a mixed conditional.)

Rizan MalikYou seem to have some interest in "Numbers" or the subject Mathematics itself. That sounds interesting!

As a matter of fact, I came across some YouTube videos recently on that subject, and I thought I'd review some of the math that I learned at university about a million years ago. I think some of those videos were still lingering in my brain at the time I wrote that post. Emotion: smile

CJ

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