May vs. Might

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Feles in silva
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May vs. Might

Post by Feles in silva » Thu Dec 22, 2005 1:18 am

The following sentences, which are clauses of purpose, are translated by my book this way:

Pugno ut nautam superem.
I fight in order that I may overcome the sailor.

Pugnabam ut nautam superarem.
I was fighting in order that I might overcome the sailor.

I understand the explanation my book gave me, regarding "primary" and "secondary" sequences, but I was wondering what the difference is between the English may and might? Why not just use may over might or vice versa? My book seems to make a distinction, which I am following.

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Post by fierywrath » Thu Dec 22, 2005 3:26 am

because you cant say I FIGHT IN ORDER THAT I MIGHT OVERCOME THE SAILOR or I WAS FIGHTING IN ORDER THAT I MAY OVERCOME THE SAILOR. i would tell you to ask your english teacher why but that would be futile :lol:

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Re: May vs. Might

Post by edonnelly » Thu Dec 22, 2005 3:30 am

Feles in silva wrote:what the difference is between the English may and might?
may = present tense
might = past tense

It is similar to can/could, shall/should, will/would (present/past)
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Post by Kip » Thu Dec 22, 2005 4:48 am

might = past tense
Couldn't it also be future tense?

Like "Might he do it" which to me is a form of a questionable future event.

"Might have done it" would seem to be past tense. Like the event is already in the past.

Just wondering.... :?:

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Post by mraig » Thu Dec 22, 2005 6:54 am

In a certain way of looking at it, English doesn't have a future tense, just present tense, past tense, and a whole bunch of modal verbs and paraphrastic constructions. By this way of thinking, the word "will" is a present tense modal verb, used in combination with another verb in the infinitive (without the usual English infinitive marker "to") to show futurity. The past tense of this verb is "would".

Likewise, the verb "may" (past tense "might"), is present tense; but its meaning has to do with the future. So if I say "I may take a bath today," the "action" of the verb 'may' is taking place in the present - I'm 'maying' right here and now - but the meaning points to the future (it shows a potential that I have right now to do an action in the future).

However, the reality is that the past tenses of these modal verbs (could, would, should, might) have come in modern English to be used not only as the past tense versions of the verbs, but as less definite forms of the present. I could just as well say "I might take a bath today" with very little difference in meaning from "I may take a bath today." Because of this change in English usage, the old rule of "I fight so I may"/"I fought so I might" is sort of silly; in fact, I suspect that it was never more than a bit of pedantry forced on schoolboys by proscriptive grammarians.

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Re: May vs. Might

Post by Democritus » Fri Dec 23, 2005 8:54 am

mraig wrote:Because of this change in English usage, the old rule of "I fight so I may"/"I fought so I might" is sort of silly; in fact, I suspect that it was never more than a bit of pedantry forced on schoolboys by proscriptive grammarians.
You might be right. We used to use this construction in Latin class, in order to render subjunctives in English. But this practise is not a guide to writing good English (at least, not American English). I would never write the English sentence "I fight in order that I may overcome the sailor," unless I was trying to imitate some (possibly imaginary) sort of English from some other place or time. We just don't use the word "may" in this way. Instead I would write something like this:
  • I fight in order to overcome the sailor
    I fight so that I can overcome the sailor.
    I fight to overcome the sailor.
    That sailor is toast. :)
If I were translating Latin sentences as part of an elementary Latin class, I still might use the construction in Feles' examples, just to find some way of rendering the precise Latin sequence of tenses. But only in that case. ... mmar16.htm ... mightormay ... 82409.html ... v162.shtml ... e=20000710 ... t-may.html ... c=features

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Post by Lucus Eques » Fri Dec 23, 2005 12:12 pm

I'd have to go with the present/past subjunctive explanation. It makes much more sense in light of Latin:

Canit ut numm?s accipere possit.
He sings in order that he may receive coins.

Canēbat ut numm?s accipere posset.
He was singing in order than he might receive coins.

When may/might are used outside of these present/past limits, it doesn't sound right to my ear.
L. Amadeus Ranierius


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