May Be vs. Maybe And How To Get It Right Every Time

Maybe or May Be

When do you use maybe or may be?

These two parts of speech often cause confusion, but it’s quite easy to get them right.

The key is to remember that maybe is an adverb and may be is a verb phrase. It uses a modal verb plus a verb.

As long as you know when you are using an adverb instead of a verb phrase, you can be confident about your writing.

How to check may be vs. maybe

When you are not sure, think about replacing may be with could be, might be, or should be. If you can, then you are using the verb.

If you use the adverb maybe, can you replace it with perhaps, possibly, or potentially?

Of course, the confusion arises because the two expressions are homonyms, so they sound exactly the same.

The origin of maybe is late Middle English from the phrase it may be (that). So, in essence, both words mean the same. However, over time, they became two different parts of speech.

When you are proofreading, all you need to do is think about how you could replace the words to try to get them correct.

The other way is to think that an adverb can be placed at the start of a sentence, after a verb, or later in a sentence.

For a verb, it is always tied to the subject.

Here are some examples to help you.

 

Maybe adverb examples

When you use an adverb, make sure you don’t place it next to the subject.

Maybe you could help me with my essay.

I was wondering if you were coming to the dance, maybe.

Dan said that maybe he would come.

If you ask me nicely, maybe I’ll agree to help you.

Dan said that may be he would come. Incorrect

If you ask me nicely, may be I’ll agree to help you. Incorrect

 

Maybe as a noun

You can also use the noun form.

There are no ifs, buts, or maybes about it.

So, that’s a maybe then?

Can I count you in as a maybe for the conference?

Can I count you in as a may be for the conference? Incorrect

 

May be as a verb phrase

All you need to do is make sure that your verb phrase placement is with the subject of the sentence.

They are late. So I guess they may be stuck in traffic.

She may be applying for the position, but she’s not sure.

There may be a limitation on the number of attendees.

I’ll check. Tom may be outside waiting for us.

There maybe a limitation on the number of attendees. Incorrect

I’ll check. Tom maybe outside waiting for us. Incorrect

The easiest way to check is to replace may with another modal verb to check.

They are late. So I guess they could be stuck in traffic.

She might be applying for the position, but she’s not sure.

 

Proofread carefully

It’s so easy to get these two wrong when you are hurriedly writing.

But when it comes time for you to proofread your draft, take your time and check that you are using each one correctly.

As with all parts of speech in the English language, your knowledge will always help write better.

If you are not sure, maybe it’s time to brush up on your grammar.

Derek Haines

A Cambridge CELTA English teacher and author with a passion for writing and all forms of publishing. My days are spent teaching English and writing, as well as testing and taming new technology.

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