How To Translate the Auxiliary Verbs ‘Might’ and ‘May’ to Spanish

Verbs often convey idea of ‘maybe’

several Spanish-language books
Quizás yo lea un libro. (I might read a book.).

Nacho / Creative Commons.

Translating the English auxiliary verbs "might" and "may" to Spanish can't be done directly because Spanish doesn't have auxiliary verbs with those meanings. Instead, expressing those concepts in Spanish requires translating for meaning, and both of those auxiliary verbs, whose meanings overlap, have multiple meanings.

In other words, you can't take a simple sentence such as "I might leave" and stick a word between yo (the pronoun for "I") and salir (the verb for "leave") to say what you want. In this case, you need to figure out that the sentence means something like "Maybe I will leave" and then translate that.

When ‘May’ or ‘Might’ Suggests Possibility

Often, "maybe" and "might" can be used more or less interchangeably to suggest that maybe something will happen. In these cases you can provide the meaning of "maybe" using words such as quizás (sometimes quizá), posiblemente, acaso, or talvez (sometimes tal vez); or phrases such as puede ser que, es posible que, or a lo mejor. The words and phrases are sometimes used with a verb in the subjunctive mood.

  • Tal vez (yo) lea un libro. (I might read a book. I may read a book.)
  • Posiblemente vamos a necesitar hogares temporales. (We may need temporary homes. We might need temporary homes.)
  • Hoy posiblemente vaya a comprar mi celular. (Today I might buy my cellphone. Today I may buy my cellphone.)
  • Acaso nieve en la segunda mitad del mes. (It might rain in the second half of the month. It may rain in the second half of the month.)
  • Tal vez la luz sea un poco más intensa. (The light might be a little more intense. The light may be a little more intense.)
  • A lo mejor, resulta bien. (It may turn out fine. It might turn out fine.)
  • Creo que es posible que Considerando lo anterior podríamos concluir que la justicia es imposible. (Considering what just happened, we might as well conclude that justice is impossible.)en 10 años haya humanos en Marte. (I believe that in 10 years there may be humans on Mars. I believe that in 10 years there might be humans on Mars.)
  • Es posible que lo leyera. (She may have read it. She might have read it.)
  • Tal vez sea verdad. (It may be true. It might be true.)
  • Es posible que se haya perdido. (He might have got lost.)

When ‘May’ Is Used for Asking Permission

"May" (and, less commonly, "might") is sometimes used to ask for approval or permission. Common ways of asking for permission are to use poder or permitir, although other ways are possible.

  • Podría asistir a la escuela? Puedo asistir a la escuela? (May I attend the school?)
  • ¿Me permites ver a tus padres hoy? (May I see your parents today?)
  • ¿Podría beber una cerveza? ¿Puedo beber una cerveza? (May I drink a beer?)
  • Se prohibe fumar aquí. (You may not smoke here.)
  • Pidió permiso para comer. (He asked if he might eat.)

You can translate "might" similarly when it is being used to offer a suggestion:

  • Podrías tomar una pastilla de dormir. (You might take a sleeping pill.
  • Podrías pensar en una mejor opción. (You might think of a better option.)
  • Podríamos caminar a la playa. (We might walk to the beach. Note that the English sentence standing alone is ambiguous. If the person is using "might" to suggest possibility, a different translation would be used.)

Translating ‘May’ in Wishes

Sentences beginning with "may" to express desires or wishes can be translated by starting a sentence with que and using the subjunctive mood.

¡Que Dios te bendiga! (May God bless you!)

Que todo el mundo vaya a votar. (May everyone go to vote.)

Que encuentres felicidad en todo lo que hagas. (May you find happiness in everything you do.)

Translating ‘Might As Well’

There's no single translation that always works for "might as well" or the less common "may as well." Check the context to see what nuance of meaning might work best.

  • Me convendría estudiar. (I might as well study. Literally, it would suit me fine to study.)
  • Sería mejor si vinieras conmigo. (You might as well come with me. Literally, it would be better if you came with me.)
  • Considerando lo anterior podríamos concluir que la justicia es imposible. (Considering what just happened, we might as well conclude that justice is impossible. Literally, considering the previous, we could conclude that justice is impossible.)

Key Takeaways

  • Spanish does not have any auxiliary verbs that are the equivalent of "may" or "might."
  • When "may" or "might" suggest possibility, you can translate using words or phrases that mean "maybe."
  • Verbs of permission can be used for translating "may" or "might" when they are being used for seeking approval.