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Happy back-from-Labor-Day Day! I had the good fortune to spend the long weekend in Houston with my best friend from college. We ate, we drank, we had a slight Netflix binge, and we were very merry. She’s finishing up her PhD in neuroscience at UT-Houston, and she accepted a postdoc at Vanderbilt, so she’ll be moving to Nashville in a couple of months. She may be one of the smartest people I know.

I know this because she knows the difference between may be and maybe.

yes, no, or maybe

Yes, No, or Maybe? Photo by Sean MacEntee

Maybe vs. May Be

The most obvious difference between maybe and may be is that maybe is an adverb, which means that it’s modifying a verb/adjective/another adverb, and it means “perhaps” or “potentially”. May be is a verb phrase that implies that something is possible.

The biggest difference is in the part of speech of the phrase. May be will always modify a noun, while maybe modifies a verb, adjective, or other adverb.

The meanings of “Charlie may be an idiot” and “Maybe Charlie is an idiot” are similar, but the two phrases are used as different parts of speech, and they need to be distinguished.

So there you have it. Now you’ll never confuse the two again!

Need more grammar help? My favorite tool that helps find grammar problems and even generates reports to help improve my writing is ProWritingAid. Works with Word, Scrivener, Google Docs, and web browsers. Also, be sure to use my coupon code to get 25 percent off: WritePractice25

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Write for fifteen minutes about the possibility of something that happens at a Labor Day cookout. Use may be and maybe appropriately as often as you can. Post your practice in the comments and leave notes for your fellow writers.

Liz Bureman
Liz Bureman
Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.
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