Word Confusion: May Be versus Maybe

Posted August 18, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

It may be that I’m being particularly picky, or it may be that…sigh…this is the English language, lol. To be fair, this confusion is, um, confusing. Your best bet is to remember that may be conveys the idea of possible while maybe is a perhaps. It also may be that I’m overly obsessed, aaannnd maybe I’m not.

The simple trick to check if may be is correct is to try possible or could be or would be or might be in place of may be. If it makes sense, the usage is correct. For example, “Driving a car may be easier than riding a bike.” Change the words to “Driving a car could be easier than riding a bike”, and it does make sense.

As for maybe, try perhaps.

May Be Maybe
…and may be a plumber.

Sounds like someone’s wondering if this person is a plumber.

…and maybe a plumber.

This version sounds like they might need a plumber.

I may be going out tonight

I’m not sure if I’m going out; it’s a possibility.

Maybe I will go out tonight.

Perhaps I’ll go out tonight.

She may be running late.

She might be running late.

Maybe she’s running late.

It’s possible that she’s late because of…

Don’t worry, your book may be here tomorrow.

It’s possible that your book might be here tomorrow.

I thought my new book would have arrived by today. Maybe it will be here tomorrow.

Perhaps it will be here tomorrow.

It may be that the snow will stop tomorrow.

The snow might stop tomorrow.

Maybe it will stop snowing by tomorrow.

Perhaps it will stop snowing by tomorrow.

It may be that all we can do is hope for the best.

Possibly we can only hope…

Or, it might be the best we can do.

Maybe we can hope

I dunno, but perhaps there’s a chance.

Another trick is to speak it out loud. If a pause feels natural, if it sounds right for the words to be separate, then I separate them.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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May Be Maybe
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Burckmyer, 113; Grammar Monster; Difference Between.net

Image courtesy of Office for Emergency Management. Office of War Information. Domestic Operations Branch. Bureau of Special Services. (03/09/1943 – 09/15/1945)

Image by U.S. Air Force [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

No maybe about it, it’s a Thanksgiving Day parade so we’ll see Santa.

Part of Grammar:
Verb phrase

may be
modal verb verb to be
Adverb; Noun

Compound word

Possibility *

Might be

Could be

Could happen

Would be



A mere possibility or probability


* There is a conflict over possibility. One argument states that may be can be defined as while maybe is strictly perhaps while another argument says that maybe is more about choice and yet another argument has maybe hogging both possible and perhaps.
Glasses may be the better choice.

It may be that I don’t know what I’m doing.

We may be able to visit the king.

Maybe this was the wrong job to accept.

Maybe I won’t go back.

Maybe she’d been wrong to accept this job.

Maybe we can visit the king.

No ifs, ands, or maybes.

History of the Word:
Late Middle English

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?

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