Is it maybe? May be? Or maybe it’s both?!
If you’re wondering when to use maybe vs. maybe, don’t worry. You’re in the right place. See my simple trick to always get may be vs. maybe right below.
If you’re in a hurry, he’s the quick rule for maybe vs. may be:
The Simple Trick to Maybe vs. May Be
If you can replace it with “potentially,” use maybe. If you can replace it with “might be,” use may be.
If you’re interested in knowing WHY this is true, read on!
The Difference Between Maybe and May Be: The 9 Parts of Speech
There is one main difference between these two: they are two different parts of speech. As you may remember from elementary school, there are nine different parts of speech:
Need a refresher on these? Check out our full parts of speech guide here.
Which do maybe and may be fall under, though?
Maybe Is an Adverb
Maybe and may be both are about the potential of something happening or being true.
The main difference between them, though, is that maybe is an adverb, which means it needs to modify a verb. Most adverbs end in “ly”—which is why you can replace maybe with potentially.
May Be Are Both Verbs
On the other hand, “may” and “be” are both verbs, which means they express a state of being.
As verbs, the phrase “may be” will always modify a noun, e.g. “John may be at the dance tonight.”
Examples of Maybe vs. May Be
The tricky thing is that they have similar meanings, which makes it more difficult to distinguish. So with that in mind, let’s look at the difference between these two words in context:
Maybe Deon will be interested in going swing dancing next week.
Deon may be interested in going swing dancing tonight.
The first sentence is correct because “maybe” is modifying the verb, “will be.” If you replaced it with “potentially” it would mean the same thing, but if you replaced “may” with “might” it wouldn’t make sense. “Might be Deon” just sounds weird, right?
The second sentence is correct because “may be” is referring to the proper noun, “Deon.” If you replaced “may” with “might” it would sound normal, “Deon might be interested….” Sounds good, right? But if you replaced it with “potentially,” it would be weird. “Deon potentially interested….” Unless you’re a caveman, that doesn’t sound right.
Let’s look at some incorrect examples:
May be Shirley will go to tango night with us.
Shirley maybe going to tango night with us.
For the first sentence, again try replacing “may be” with “might be” and you’ll find it sounds more like Yoda-speak than normal English.
For the second sentence, replacing “maybe” with “potentially” feels weirdly clipped. You’d have to say, “Shirley potentially will be going…,” to make it work, and even then, “may be” is much smoother.
Let’s look at a few other examples:
Vardy says he may be doing a cha cha performance next week.
Vardy says he is thinking about maybe doing a cha cha performance next week.
If Tina goes dancing tomorrow, she may be showing off her new swingout skills.
If Tina goes dancing tomorrow, maybe she can show off her new swingout skills.
The Trick to Never Confuse Maybe and May Be Again
Again, the easiest way to make sure you’re using these correctly is to replay “maybe” with “potentially” and “may be” with “might be.” If the sentence is still correct, you’re good. If it’s not, then you know you need to change it.
So there you have it. Now you’ll never confuse the two again! But just to be sure, let’s practice the two with a creative writing exercise.
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To practice using maybe and may be correctly, use the following writing prompt:
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.