Hello and welcome to Ask a Teacher! In today’s program, we compare two things that sound and look the same but are used a little differently. Listen to our reader’s request:
I want to know the uses of “maybe” and “may be.” These two words really drive me crazy. -[Name not provided]
Hi and thanks for writing to us! Maybe the words drive you crazy but I may be the right person to help.
We use both “maybe” and “may be” to talk about possibility. The main difference is that they are different parts of speech.
As one word, “maybe” is an adverb – a word that describes a verb, an adjective, another adverb or a sentence. As an adverb, “maybe” has the same meaning as “possibly.”
We use it to talk about a future possible action or happening:
Maybe I’ll go for a swim tomorrow morning.
We also use it to say that something is possibly correct or true:
There are maybe three more people coming.
We can also use it to respond to a request or suggestion:
Do you want to go for a swim tomorrow?
Maybe. I have to check my plans, thanks.
Now let’s talk about “may be” – which is two words. As separate words, “may be” acts as a verb phrase and means “might be” or “could be.”
For this usage, the word “may” is a modal verb. And “be” can act as either a main verb or part of a continuous verb tense.
Here it is with “be” as the main verb:
There may be another chance to take the exam.
“May be” is also sometimes used to make a polite suggestion, as in the next example. The verb “be” here acts as the main verb:
It may be a good idea to start saving money.
Next is an example with “be” as part of the present continuous (or be + -ing) verb tense:
We may be coming to your place later today.
And that’s Ask a Teacher.
I’m Alice Bryant.
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Now, you try it!
Read the sentences below and decide if each uses "maybe" and "may be" correctly. Write your answers in the comments area.
Right or wrong?
- May be it will be warm and sunny again today!
- I maybe able to help with the kids on Saturday.
- This subject may be easy for you to understand.
- English maybe your second or third language.
- Maybe you should bring your passport.
- She maybe going to Canada for the festival.
Words in This Story
part of speech – n. a class of words (such as adjectives, adverbs, nouns, verbs, etc.) that are identified by the kinds of ideas they express and the way they work in a sentence
phrase – n. a group of two or more words that express a single idea but do not usually form a complete sentence
modal verb – n. a verb (such as can, could, may and might) that is used with another verb to express possibility, necessity or permission
tense – n. a form of a verb that is used to show when an action happened
polite – adj. having or showing good manners or respect for other people