Maybe or May be – What is the difference?

Common Mistakes in English

When do you use maybe and when do you use may be?

This is a common mistake for students learning English (and sometimes native speakers too!).

The simplest explanation is:
Maybe = perhaps
May be = is possibly

  • Our boss was sick yesterday so he may be absent from work today. Maybe our meeting will be postponed until he comes back.
  • He may be creative or maybe he is just crazy.

A bit more detail…

MAYBE

Maybe is an adverb that means perhaps.

  • Maybe it will stop raining soon. = Perhaps it will stop raining soon.
  • A: I thought Suzy would be here by now. B: Maybe she forgot.

MAY BE

May is a modal verb which indicates possibility.

  • He may be lost = It is possible that he is lost
  • This may be the best website = This is possibly the best website

After may be we usually have an adjective, a noun or a verb (in ING form)

  • He may be crazy. (may be + adjective)
  • He may be a genius. (may be + article + noun)
  • He may be trying too hard. (may be + verb ING form)

Remember that May is similar to Might

  • He may be late = He might be late

Maybe you have a better explanation than this. :)
 

 

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11 Responses to “Maybe or May be – What is the difference?”

  1. Navin 15 March, 2012 at 4:21 am #

    Thank you so much. This is as simple as it gets.

  2. Shawne 19 March, 2012 at 10:04 am #

    Good day,

    Which is the correct way to write may be for part of this sentence:

    “Although changes maybe risky and not widely accepted”

    “Although changes may be risky and not widely accepted”

    • woodward 22 March, 2012 at 3:23 pm #

      Hi,
      The second sentence is correct.
      “Although changes may be risky and not widely accepted”
      Do you (or anyone) know why?

      • sweetangieb 14 June, 2012 at 1:00 pm #

        The first sentence would not make sense if you put the the maybe first.

        “Although maybe changes risky and not widely accepted.”

        This shows that may be in this case is the verb and not the adverb.

        You couldn’t really put maybe into this sentence as it just does not go in the middle and even first because there is that “although” there. Try replacing it with perhaps top test where it should be.

        “Perhaps. Although changes could be risky and not widely accepted… (also this sentence is not complete and since it is started with “although” there needs to be a follow up)…they are necessary.”

        • woodward 28 June, 2012 at 5:06 pm #

          Exactly and you are right, it needs a comma then something else such as the “they are necessary.” that you mention.

  3. Donald McLachlan 9 April, 2013 at 3:05 pm #

    Based on the above text I would suggest when in doubt as to whether to use “maybe” or “may be”, try inserting “may possibly be”. If it parses correctly use “may be”, otherwise use maybe.

    correct?

    • woodward 10 April, 2013 at 10:48 am #

      Yes, that is another way to do it if you still have a doubt.
      Thanks Donald.

      • Ibbi 6 December, 2013 at 10:23 am #

        But that would still make no sense as the phrase “may perhaps be” would also fit into there.

  4. Josh 15 June, 2013 at 2:59 am #

    This still is not clear to me

    Maybe = perhaps
    May be = is possibly

    Perhaps according to Webster means possibly but not certainly

    So it still not clear can you eleborate

  5. Muhammad Ahmad Bilal 21 August, 2013 at 3:29 pm #

    It was really very helpful. Thanks A lot

  6. luis 17 January, 2014 at 9:55 am #

    hey josh! hi… maybe and may be …for me “maybe” express a possibility whether something is or not and “may be” wants to say that something probably is!
    if you want to know wich one to use just ask you what is the action in your sentence (the verb) maybe needs a verb and may be has already a verb (“to be”) examples
    A.-she may be (if you put a verb now, it must go in the ing form) eating now *(as I said before, that sentence means that the person is probably eating)
    B.- she IS (here you have the verb to be again) maybe eating *(now the sentence means that she could be eating but could be not eating also… it’s something uncertainly said)
    well, that’s what I tell to my self at the moment of choosing which one to use

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