Date: Tue, 19 Mar 1996 09:05:27 -0800 From: Peter McGraw Subject: Re: may/might distinction On Tue, 19 Mar 1996, Ronald Butters wrote: > I have collected over the past twenty years numerous print > examples from well-educated people of sentences like, > "If he didn't have to run against Anderson as well as Nixon, Hubert > Humphrey may have been elected president of the United States." Despite > my years of sensitivity training as a linguist who knows that "barbaric" > is not an appropriate term to use to characterize linguistic change in > progress, and not withstanding my realization that all sorts of > supereducated folks make > no may/might distinction, such sentences still strike me as ludicrous and > solecistic. > > I'm wondering if there is anyone else left on the planet (or at least on > this mailing list) who shares my linguistic prejudice--or even > understands the semantic difference between MAY and MIGHT in the example > given above. > YES, ME!!! I've become aware of this phenomenon only in the last year or so. I heard an instance just this morning on NPR, and although I, too, grit my teeth and remind myself of the inevitability of language change and the already well-advanced decay of both our modal verb system and the subjunctive system in English . . . it still drives me CRAZY! And others to whom I've pointed it out have expressed surprise and consternation, never having noticed it themselves. To me, "may" and "might" have always been very distinct and could never be used interchangeably in a conditional context such as those you cite. (They would be interchangeable in a context such as "You may/might want to read this book - it's interesting." But there would still be a difference, perhaps in my degree of conviction in my own suggestion.) Peter McGraw Linfield College McMinnville, OR