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Understanding and Using Modal Verbs (#6), by Dennis Oliver

 
 

Modal Verbs #6:
Individual Modal Verbs

 

The English modal verbs are often challenging for learners
of English. This happens for many reasons, including both
grammar and meaning.

In the previous Hint, we looked at one use for might. In this
Hint, we'll take a look at two others.


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Might #2:
Asking Permission and Making Requests
(very polite)

 

We have already seen that the modal auxiliary might is used
to show
possibility in present or future time. Two other uses
are in asking very politely for
permission and in making very
polite
requests. (In both of these uses, may is also possible,
but
might is "softer," more formal, more deferential, and
less direct than
may.)


Examples:


Might
I help you?

(The meaning is the same as "May I help you?," but "softer,"
more formal, and less direct.)


Might
we leave the room, sir?

(Again, the meaning is the same as "May we leave the room?,"
but the use of
might makes this request less direct, more formal,
and more deferential.)


Might
I have a little more of that delicious cake, Mrs. Chávez?

(The speaker is using very polite language in his/her request.)


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Special Notes:

1.

This use of might is not past.

When someone uses might to ask for permission or
make a request, the time is
present or future, not past:

Might I have some more cake?

(The request is to do something now (have more cake),
not something in the past.)

Might we leave the room?

(The request is to do something now (leave the room),
not something in the past.)

Might I help you?

(The request is to do something now (help someone),
not something in the past.)

     
2. Might is used in asking permission and making
requests only in very formal situations--situations
in which the speaker is using his or her most polite
language. If
might is used to ask permission or
make requests in situations which are "average"
and not highly formal,
might will probably be
considered
too polite.


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Next: more on modal verbs
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