How To Use the Auxiliary Verbs ‘Might’ and ‘May’ in Spanish
Surprisingly, “might” and “may” in Spanish don’t exist! These two auxiliary verbs have several jobs in English, making them hard to translate directly. Luckily, there are still plenty of other ways to re-create their many meanings into Spanish!
What are Auxiliary Verbs?
Auxiliary verbs, or verbos auxiliares, sound fancy but you use them everyday without even thinking about it! Auxiliary verbs like “might” and “may” create the tenses, moods, and voices of other verbs. They can also describe who is doing the action or when it is being done. You may have learned these words as helping verbs! Auxiliary verbs themselves don’t usually have meaning, rather, they add meaning to the main verb.
Take a Look at This Example:
I might finish my homework.
The auxiliary verb “might” is describing the verb “finish”. In this example, “might” is expressing possibility. In other words, the action could happen, but it could also not happen. I might finish my homework, I might not. The word “might” demonstrates that either action is possible!
Auxiliary Verbs in Spanish Versus English
Just like in English, auxiliary verbs like “might” and “may” in Spanish provide additional information about the main verb. However, Spanish uses a lot less auxiliary verbs than English. This is because in Spanish, verb conjugation is used to demonstrate how the action is done and who does it. English does not have these same conjugations, so it has to use auxiliary verbs to describe these tenses.
I will study.
I did study.
In these examples, the English sentences use the auxiliary verbs “will” and “did” to describe the tense of the main verb “study”. However, the Spanish versions simply conjugated the main verb estudiar to express its tense.
As you can see in the examples, auxiliary verbs in English don’t usually have a direct Spanish translation. Instead, you might use Spanish conjugation to recreate the same meaning.
You need a little bit of creativity and flexibility when translating languages. These indirect translations are what make languages so unique. Think about how boring it would be if every language sounded exactly the same! Rather, each language has its own rules, grammar, and structure creating not only unique vocabulary, but also entirely different ways of communicating.
Saying ‘Might’ and ‘May’ in Spanish
There are no auxiliary verbs to directly replace “might” and “may” in Spanish. But you can still use similar phrases to get your message across! Break down the ways that these words are used in English to understand how to best replicate “might” and “may” in Spanish.
In English, you often use “might” and “may” to suggest possibilities. Possibilities are essentially a way to express that a thing or event could occur. The English word “maybe” is also used to express possibility.
Leo has work on Friday, but he might come to the birthday party afterwards.
Dominic might fail the class since he never does his homework.
In Spanish, there are several ways to suggest something might happen. The most common way to show probability is to use keywords or phrases that suggest possibility. These words and phrases can be followed by either the indicative or the subjunctive mood, depending on which phrase you choose. Brush up on your subjunctive here — Spanish Subjunctive.
Spanish Words and Phrases to Show Possibility:
Used with Subjunctive
Puede ser que
It could be that
Es posible que
It’s possible that
Used with Indicative
A lo mejor
Used with Both
Tal vez vaya mañana.
I might go tomorrow.
Es posible que llueva.
It might rain.
Es probable que Roberto sepa la respuesta.
It ‘s probable that Roberto knows the answer.
Posiblemente mamá compre golosinas para los niños.
Mom might buy candy for the children.
Probablemente Lucía cocine un pastel.
Lucía will probably cook a cake.
Posiblemente, eso es común entre todos los jóvenes.
This might be common among all young people.
A lo mejor se quedan en casa porque tienen que cuidar a los niños.
They might stay at home because they have to watch the kids.
Probablemente iré a Costa Rica.
I will probably go to Costa Rica.
Acaso no es verdad lo que dicen.
Perhaps what they say is not true.
Quizás estoy un poco nervioso.
I may be a bit nervous.
Asking for Permission
In English, the word “may” is a polite way to ask for permission. However, there is no direct translation for the auxiliary verb “may” in Spanish. Instead, when asking for permission in Spanish you can use the verbs poder or permitir.
Can I …?
¿Puedo abrir la ventana?
Can I open the window?
¿Me permite/s ir al baño?
May I go to the bathroom?
¿Podría usar este lápiz?
Could I use this pencil?
Might as Well
“Might” can also be used to express annoyance or express the idea that there is no reason not to do something. In English, you use the phrase “might as well” or “might as well have”.
In Spanish, the phrase yo también podría is used to demonstrate that there is no reason not to do something. This phrase more literally translates as “I could also”. However to use “might as well” in a way to express annoyance you want to add the word haber.
How to Say it in Spanish:
Yo también podría…
I might as well…
Yo también podría haber…
I might as well have…
Yo también podría haber apretado el botón.
I might as well have pushed the button myself.
También podría ir contigo ya que no tengo planes hoy.
I might as well go with you since I don’t have plans today.
Make a Suggestion
In English, you use “might” and “may” to make suggestions. Once again, you have to get creative to re-create “might” or “may” in Spanish.
To make a suggestion, simply start your sentence with mejor que followed by your verb in the subjunctive tense. Mejor essentially means better. This indicates that you are suggesting a better way to do something.
Mejor que vayamos en autobús.
We might want to go by bus.
Mejor que le preguntes al profesor.
You might want to ask the professor.
In English, “may” is sometimes used to wish or express purpose. To use this type of “may” in Spanish, start your sentence with que followed by the subjunctive.
¡Que tengas una vida larga!
May you have a long life!
¡Que sean muy felices!
May you both be very happy!
Que haya una cosecha abundante.
May there be an abundant harvest.
Que Dios te bendiga.
May God bless you.
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