English usage | Sunday Observer

English usage

7 May, 2023

This is a guide to help learners to communicate easily in both speech and writing through a better understanding of the English language.
May / might
‘May’ is an auxiliary verb which is used to express possibility, probability or permission.
I may be able to meet you on Friday. (possibility or probability)
May I go to the cinema tonight? (permission))
Do not confuse ‘may’ with ‘can’ which implies ability or power to do something, although in speech ‘can’ is frequently substituted for ‘may’ in the sense of permission.
Can I use your phone?
‘May’ is not used in questions about possible events or situations. Use ‘might’ instead.
Might there be problems?
‘Might’ is the past tense of ‘may’ and is used with the same meaning.
Sama said she might be able to work on Sunday.
Sena asked if he might go to the theatre.
When ‘may’ is used in the past tense with a perfect infinitive, it implies that there is still a possibility of something been so.
The escaped prisoners may have been recaptured.
Maybe / may be
‘Maybe’ is used to say that something may happen or may be true but you are not certain.
Maybe it’s all just a misunderstanding.
Maybe you are right, but maybe not.
When used as a verb ‘may be’ should be written as two words.
It may be that I’ll have to stay late.
Me / I
The use of ‘me’ instead of ‘I’ in such expressions as ‘It’s me’ and ‘It was me’ now appears to have been accepted by grammarians. However, ‘It’s I’ is used by educated speakers.
It was I who discovered that the lock was broken.
‘Me’ is used by the person speaking or writing to refer to himself or herself.
“You are hurting me,” the patient screamed.
You’re two years older than me.
That’s me standing on the left.
‘Me too’ is used to tell someone that you feel the same way as they do.
A: I’m hungry.
B: Me too.
The word ‘means’ means ‘a way of doing or achieving something.’
For most people the train is still their main means of transport. The window was their only means of escape.
The word ‘means’ also means ‘the money or income that you have.’
I don’t have the means of supporting a family.
Try to live within your means.
‘By all means’ is used in speech to mean ‘of course.’
A: Can I bring my children to the party?
B: By all means.
‘By any means’ means ‘not at all.’
Yasoda is not a bad girl, by any means.
‘Meant’ is the past tense and past participle of ‘mean.’
That’s not what I meant.
Meantime / meanwhile
‘Meantime’ means ‘in the period of time between now and a future event or between two events in the past.’
The doctor will be here soon. In the meantime try to relax.
‘Meanwhile’ means ‘while something else is happening.’
The flight will be announced soon. Meanwhile please remain seated.
‘Meanwhile’ is also used to compare two things, especially if they are completely different and are happening at the same time.
The income of male workers has gone up. Meanwhile female workers’ income has been reduced.
Medieval / mediaeval
Both words mean ‘connected with the Middle Ages (the period between about 1100 and 1500 AD).
These spices were first brought to Europe from the east in medieval times.
Today most people use the word ‘medieval’ not ‘mediaeval.’
Medium / mediums / media
When ‘medium’ is used to mean a person through whom some supernatural agency is manifested the plural is ‘mediums.’ In other senses either ‘mediums’ or ‘media’ are acceptable but ‘media’ seems to be gaining ground as a vogue word.
As an adjective, ‘medium’ means ‘of middle size, level or amount.’
Barbara is of medium height.
Jack runs a medium-sized business (not small but not large either).
Meet / meet with
To ‘meet’ generally means ‘to come into contact with, to encounter or become acquainted with.’
I met Sumali at the railway station. To ‘meet with’ has the sense of ‘to undergo, experience or be subject to.’
Sonali met with an accident.