Grammar Monster
Grammar Monster

maybe and may be - the difference

The Quick Answer
Maybe means perhaps.
May be means might be.

There is often confusion over maybe and may be.


Maybe (one word) can be substituted with perhaps or possibly. (Maybe is an adverb.) Try substituting the maybe in these examples with perhaps:
  • Maybe this world is another planet's hell. (Aldous Huxley)
  • Courage is saying, "Maybe what I'm doing isn't working; maybe I should try something else." (Anna Lappe)
  • Maybe you have to know darkness before you can appreciate the light. (Madeleine L'engle)
  • There are a lot of people who can't write and maybe shouldn't write. (Sarah Hepola)

May Be

May be (two words) is similar to might be, could be, or would be. (The word may in may be is an auxiliary verb.)

  • Conscience is the inner voice that warns us somebody may be looking. (H. L. Mencken)
  • If two men agree on everything, you may be sure that one of them is doing the thinking. (Lyndon B. Johnson)
  • The ability to delude yourself may be an important survival tool. (Jane Wagner)
Interactive Test
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Top Tip

Use Maybe If Perhaps Works

Like maybe, the word perhaps is an adverb. If it works perfectly in your sentence, then you should be using maybe. If perhaps does not work well (i.e., you feel there is a word missing), then you should be using may be. For example:
  • If you trust Google more than your doctor, then maybe it's time to switch doctors.
  • ("..then perhaps it's time" — works perfectly. Therefore, maybe is okay.)
  • Listening, not imitation, may be the sincerest form of flattery. (Dr. Joyce Brothers )
  • ("Listening, not imitation, perhaps the sincerest form..." — sounds wrong. Therefore, may be is okay. Maybe would be wrong.)