In a comment to a previous post I was asked to write about the difference between the words: “maybe” and “may be.” That is what I am going to do today!
To begin with let’s talk about the different parts of speech that these two words represent: “maybe” (one word) is an adverb and “may be” (two words) is a verb phrase.
The word “maybe” has the same meaning as the word “perhaps” or “possibly.” These three words are synonyms. Therefore “perhaps” and “possibly” are words that can easily be substituted for the word “maybe” in a sentence.
Here are some example sentences using the word “maybe” and explanations:
Maybe we are all going the wrong direction. = Perhaps we are all going the wrong direction.
Maybe, I’m not sure yet. = Probably, I don’t know yet.
The words “may be” represent a verb phrase in which the modal verb ‘may’ expresses possibility and sometimes suggests permission.
Jaime may be here. = It is possible that Jaime is here.
This may be the best ESL blog ever. = This is possibly the best ESL blog ever.
You may be allowed to enter. = You may have permission to go in.
In a sentence after the verb phrase “may be” you will usually find an adjective, a noun, or a verb ending in -ing.
She may be German. (may be + adjective)
She may be a magician. (may be + article + noun)
She may be working too much. (may be + verb ending in -ing)
So, how are you going to remember the difference between these words. Here are some tricks:
“Maybe” and the word “adverb” are each one word, so they go together.
“May be” and “verb phrase” and each two words, so they go together.
Also, if you are unsure if you should use the word “maybe” or the phrase “may be,” in a sentences you can see if the word “perhaps” fits in the sentence instead. If you can put the word “perhaps” into a sentence and it still makes sense than you should be using the word “maybe” in that same sentence.
Maybe you have some other hints or ideas about how to tell these two words apart, if so please share them with us all in the comments on this post.