Lauren Krueger & Matthew David Brozik

Might and/or might not

In Definally on October 3, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Each of us has been rebuked at one time or another about the proper respective uses of “may” and “can,” and Definally. isn’t going to repeat the conventional wisdom here. Definally. happens to prefer that “may” not be used to mean anything besides “is permitted to,” and specifically not when the meaning “perhaps will” is wanted—that’s what “might” is for. But even that’s not the thrust of this entry. Rather, just bear in mind that “might” is different from both “may” and “can” in that “can” and “can not” (and, likewise, “may” and “may not”) can not coexist simultaneously. They are, as we say, mutually exclusive. (And there’s no such thing as “Schrödinger’s can.” Get it?)

On the other hand, “might” and “might not” by definition always coexist simultaneously, and therefore a clause in the general form of “he might do this, or he might not [do this]” (or, “she might do that, but she might also not [do that]”) is just plain wrong. Because it isn’t or that’s called for, it’s and. That is: Anyone always might do something and might not do it. That’s what “might” means! “Might” encompasses both possibilities. But: The flip side of the same token is that “He might do something, and he might not [do it]” is redundant.

To summarize:

INCORRECT: They might be giants, or/but they might (also) not be giants.

INCORRECT: They might be giants, and they might not be giants.

CORRECT: They might be giants.

  1. TMBG!! i love that band. (oh, sorry, i might or may be digressing.)

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