May Be or Maybe?

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Difference between "May Be" and "Maybe"?

"May be" and "may be" are easy to confuse because they both express the idea of possibility. However, they are different.
  • "Maybe" means perhaps or possibly.
    • Maybe it's true.
  • "May be" means might be or could be.
    • I may be at the meeting.
maybe or may be?


"Maybe" (one word) can be substituted with "perhaps" or "possibly." ("Maybe" is an adverb.) Try substituting the "maybe" in the examples below with "perhaps."

Example sentences with "maybe":
  • Maybe this world is another planet's hell. (Writer Aldous Huxley)
  • Courage is saying, "Maybe what I'm doing isn't working; maybe I should try something else." (Author Anna Lappe)
  • Maybe you have to know darkness before you can appreciate the light. (Author Madeleine L'engle)
  • There are a lot of people who can't write and maybe shouldn't write. (Author 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 a modal auxiliary verb.) Try substituting the "may be" in the examples below with "might be."

Example sentences with "may be":
  • Conscience is the inner voice that warns us somebody may be looking. (Journalist H. L. Mencken)
  • If two men agree on everything, you may be sure that one of them is doing the thinking. (President Lyndon B. Johnson)
  • The ability to delude yourself may be an important survival tool. (Author Jane Wagner)

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.
  • (The clause "then perhaps it's time to switch doctors" works 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 of flattery" sounds wrong. Therefore, "may be" is okay. "Maybe" would be wrong.)

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See Also

adverse or averse? affect or effect? appraise or apprise? avenge or revenge? bare or bear? complement or compliment? dependant or dependent? discreet or discrete? disinterested or uninterested? e.g. or i.e.? envy or jealousy? imply or infer? its or it's? material or materiel? poisonous or venomous? practice or practise? principal or principle? tenant or tenet? who's or whose? Glossary of easily confused words Glossary of common errors Glossary of grammatical terms

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