You May Be Wrong, You May Be Right

Typebars in a 1920s typewriter

Language Lessons. … (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I apologize for my prolonged neglect of Language Lessons—I’ve been focusing my time and attention on things such as Mormonism, creation vs. evolution, the fight over same-sex marriage, and the end of my first serialized novel, but class is now back in session.

What I’m going to teach you today maybe the most important Language Lesson yet.

Wait. That’s not true. Let me try again.

What I’m going to teach you today may be the most important Language Lesson yet.

Okay, so I’m sliiiiiightly exaggerating the impact and importance of this little column, but at least my second stab at that sentence was more accurate than the first. May be and maybe, with the exception of a slight pause in the former, sound identical, and have the same meaning, but they are not interchangeable.

Whenever you’re talking about whether you or someone else will be doing such-and-such, the correct form is may be:

Thomas may be going to the movies Friday night.

We may be out of town next weekend.

I may be going back to school next fall.

Maybe, on the other hand, is used mostly as an answer to a question … :

Sam: Do you want to go out for ice cream later?

Jerry: Maybe.

… and occasionally in awkward constructions (these are usually spoken, not written):

I’m thinking I’ll maybe go to the fair next weekend.

And that’s the story of maybe vs. may be. Class dismissed. =)

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. lbtk
    May 15, 2012 @ 15:17:50

    Another one of my pet peeves revealed. Thanks for the lesson. Sandy

    Reply

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