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While commenting on a few sentences, someone says:

1) might say one of these sentences, depending on the context.

2) could say one of these sentences, depending on the context.

What is the difference between 1) and 2)?

Hi, Language learner—The two sentences are very close in meaning, but there is a difference. Sentence (1) means that it is possible (in the natural course of things) that the speaker would say one of the sentences, depending on the context, whereas (2) indicates that the speaker feels that he would be able (if he so desired) to say one of the sentence, depending on the context.

P.S. Coincidentally, somebody named NAL123 at a different forum asked exactly the same question yesterday, and I see that he or she has supplemented the question with follow-up questions desiring a thorough treatment of "might" and "could." Before you do the same thing here, please be advised that my comments relate to the specific context in (1) and (2).

Last edited by David, Moderator

Hi, Language learner—The two sentences are very close in meaning, but there is a difference. Sentence (1) means that it is possible (in the natural course of things) that the speaker would say one of the sentences, depending on the context, whereas (2) indicates that the speaker feels that he would be able (if he so desired) to say one of the sentence, depending on the context.

 

Q1) I think the phrase "depending on the context" is just an extra thing. What if I remove it? Would their meanings still remain the same?

3) might say one of these sentences.

4) I could say one of these sentences.

Q2) Are sentences 1) and 2) in the OP some kind of suggestion?

Q1) I think the phrase "depending on the context" is just an extra thing. What if I remove it? Would their meanings still remain the same?

3) might say one of these sentences.

4) I could say one of these sentences.

Q2) Are sentences 1) and 2) in the OP some kind of suggestion?

I don't know what you mean by "just an extra thing" or what you have in mind by interpreting (1) and (2) as "some kind of suggestion." I told you what the sentences would naturally be used to mean. If you understand what I told you, that's good. Either you accept it or you don't.

Perhaps it would help you to transpose "might" and "could" to their related modals, "may" and "can." "I may say one of these sentences" is a stronger version of "I might say one of these things": both sentences have to do with actual possibility.

"I can say one of these sentences," like "I could say one of these things," has to do with what one is able or would be able to say. I recently wrote a small book on "used to." In exploring the dialectal possibility of "used to could" for some speakers, my advisor (who comes from Texas) said, "I can say that."

Last edited by David, Moderator

 "I may say one of these sentences" is a stronger version of "I might say one of these things": both sentences have to do with actual possibility.

You say above that "I might say..." relates to actual (real) possibility. But in your original answer, you commented on it like this: "Sentence (1) means that it is possible (in the natural course of things) that the speaker would say one of the sentences, depending on the context."

You paraphrased it with "would", which is normally used to refer to hypothetical situations.

My question: Considering the fact that "would" is hypothetical, how does "I might say..." refer to real possibility?

You say above that "I might say..." relates to actual (real) possibility. But in your original answer, you commented on it like this: "Sentence (1) means that it is possible (in the natural course of things) that the speaker would say one of the sentences, depending on the context."

You paraphrased it with "would", which is normally used to refer to hypothetical situations.

My question: Considering the fact that "would" is hypothetical, how does "I might say..." refer to real possibility?

Whether one says "If he says X, I may say Y" or "If he says X, I might say Y," one's sentence concerns something that may or might actually happen. The real possibility is represented in a stronger way with "may" than it is with "might."

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