Unit 16: What's the weather like?
Using 'may', 'might' and 'could'
Select a unit
- 1 Nice to meet you!
- 2 What to wear
- 3 Like this, like that
- 4 The daily grind
- 5 Christmas every day
- 6 Great achievers
- 7 The Titanic
- 8 Travel
- 9 The big wedding
- 10 Sunny's job hunt
- 11 The bucket list
- 12 Moving and migration
- 13 Welcome to BBC Broadcasting House
- 14 New Year, New Project
- 15 From Handel to Hendrix
- 16 What's the weather like?
- 17 The Digital Revolution
- 18 A detective story
- 19 A place to live
- 20 The Cult of Celebrity
- 21 Welcome to your new job
- 22 Beyond the planets
- 23 Great expectations!
- 24 Eco-tourism
- 25 Moving house
- 26 It must be love
- 27 Job hunting success... and failure
- 28 Speeding into the future
- 29 Lost arts
- 30 Tales of survival
Meet the weather supercomputer. Scientists hope it will make future weather predictions more accurate - but we will still need the words may, might and could. In this Session we'll show you how to use them.
Decisions, decisions! Catherine doesn't know what to have for dinner tonight. She might have a curry or she may have a steak. Listen to 6 Minute Grammar to find out what she decides to have - and learn more about using the words may, might and could along the way. Tuck in!
Listen to the audio
Welcome to 6 Minute Grammar with me, Sophie.
And with me, Neil. Hello.
Today’s programme is all about the words may, might and could.
Yes, we’ll look at how to use these three little words to talk about present and future
We’ll tell you what to watch out for…
We’ll give you a top tip to make your spoken English sound really natural…
… and we’ll finish with a quiz.
So listen carefully! Now the first thing to say about may, might and could is that they are
often followed by an infinitive verb without to. And here’s Catherine… Hello!
…to bring us our first example. Catherine, what are you having for dinner tonight?
Well, I may make chicken curry.
…Or I might have steak…
…Or I could get a takeaway.
Not very healthy - but very convenient.
So, tonight Catherine may have chicken; she might have steak: she could get a
takeaway. May, might and could with an infinitive show all three options are future
Good. Now those examples were about future possibilities – Catherine’s dinner tonight – but we can also use may, might and could with an infinitive to talk about present possibilities, like this:
I think Jackie likes chicken - but she might prefer fish.
I don’t know where Shaheen is. He could be at work.
The agency may have the information you want.
Right, so that's present and future possibilities. Now, we can also… (someone knocks at the door) …er, hello?
Oops, sorry – wrong studio!
Who was that?
I’m not sure. She may be from IT.
Or, she might be the new presenter.
She could be the studio manager.
We’re all guessing …
Yes, well, anyway, as I was about to say, we often use may, might and could to make guesses.
And we’re talking about may, might and could. Now, for negatives, we use might not or
or may not. So we can say:
I might not cook chicken curry.
I think that woman is the new studio manager – but she may not be.
The short form of might not is mightn’t, but this is not so usual.
…and some people shorten may not to mayn’t, but that’s unusual too.
Now, we promised you a word of warning…
… and here it is. The negative of could is couldn’t, but be very careful with couldn't when you’re talking about future possibility or future uncertainty. Neil, give us an example situation.
Yes. Imagine you’re in an airport. Your plane is due to take off in an hour from now, but
the weather is getting worse – you’re getting worried. You might say this:
If the weather gets worse, our plane could take off late. We might not take off at all!
Now that’s all fine, but if you say: We couldn’t take off – you’re talking about an
impossible situation in the past, not an uncertain situation in the future. So you can’t use
couldn’t in our airport example.
So watch out for couldn’t.
Yes. Stick with might not or may not if you want to play it safe here.
Now, for questions, you can use might, may and could, but a top tip to make your English sound more natural is to use the phrase Do you think…?
So you can say Might Catherine have chicken curry for dinner? But it sounds more natural to say Do you think Catherine might have chicken curry for dinner?
So it’s Do you think, then a subject, then might, may or could plus infinitive.
Sophie, I think we could be ready for our quiz. Number one. Which is the correct answer to the question: Where are you going on holiday? Is it a) I may to go to Spain or b) I may go to Spain.
It’s b) I may go to Spain.
That’s right. Number two. Which is correct? The traffic is getting worse, so a) I may not be home on time or b) I could not be home on time.
It’s a) The traffic is getting worse, so I may not be home on time.
And the last one. Which sounds more natural? a) Might we have to go now or b) Do you
think we might have to go now?
It’s b) Do you think we might have to go now?
Well done if you got those right and yes, we do have to go now. There’s more about this on our website at bbclearningenglish.com. Join us again for more 6 Minute Grammar.
End of Session 2
We've reached the end of Session 2. Hopefully you're feeling confident about talking about possible future situations but you might want some practice? Join us in Session 3 when you can do just that and talk about climate change.
Might, may, could
We use might / may / could + infinitive without ‘to’ or might not / mightn’t / may not + infinitive without ‘to’.
They are warning that storms could hit most of the country later today.
There might be some delays on the railways as a result.
Many people may not be able to get to work at all.
It mightn’t affect us as badly as they say.
It is possible to ask questions with Might/May/Could + subject + infinitive without ‘to’, but it sounds more natural in spoken English to say Do you think + subject + might/may/could + infinitive without ‘to’.
Do you think he might/may/could be in Ukraine by now?
(Might/May/Could he be in Ukraine by now?)
A note about couldn’t
We don’t use couldn’t in the same way as might not / mightn’t / may not. ‘Couldn’t’means that something is impossible.
WRONG: I think there couldn’t be any trains today, so I’m going by bus.
CORRECT: I think there mightn’t be any trains today, so I’m going by bus.
But remember if something is definitely going to happen we use words like 'will'.
When I get home, I will call you.