Using Maybe vs May Be

Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature. He has taught college English for 5+ years.

Is it proper to write 'maybe' as one word or 'may be' as two words? Well it turns out both are correct, as they do different jobs in a sentence. This lesson will walk you through how to use each one.

Maybe vs. May Be

The word 'maybe' and 'may be' present a unique homonym problem. Most homonyms are words that sound alike but are spelled differently and have different meanings, like 'to', 'too', and 'two'. But with 'may be' and 'maybe', we have a two words that often appear together and a word that happens to be made up of those two words.

Many people think 'maybe' and 'may be' can be used interchangeably, and others think that 'may be' is the proper usage, and you should always use it this way. Are they right? Maybe.

Actually, that's not a maybe. They are definitely wrong. 'Maybe' and 'may be' do different jobs in a sentence, which is known as their _part of speech. 'Maybe' is an adverb, or a word that modifies verbs, adjectives, and groups of words. 'May be', meanwhile is a phrase, or group of words, that contains two verbs, or action words.

The proper usage of each one depends on the construction of your sentence. So let's take a closer look at each one and how they are used in a sentence.

Maybe Examples

As mentioned above, 'maybe' is an adverb, and it typically, though not always, modifies a verb. It means 'perhaps' and typically modifies a verb to indicate that the action may or may not happen. Let's take a look at some examples:

  • Maybe I won't go to the dance tonight.
  • Maybe you should study so you don't fail the test this time.
  • Maybe I should dye my hair purple.
  • But maybe you shouldn't be so quick to judge other people.

Maybe you should study so you do not fail the test this time.

As you can see, 'maybe' often appears at the beginning of the sentence, before the noun and the verb. And as we mentioned, it means the same as 'perhaps', so a good test of whether to use 'maybe' or 'may be' is to replace it with 'perhaps' and see if it still makes sense.

May Be Examples

So 'maybe' modifies a verb, while 'may be' is actually made up of two verbs. 'Be' is the main verb and 'may' is what is known as a modal verb, which is an auxiliary verb that expresses possibility. 'May be' are often the only verbs used in a sentence, appearing after the noun, as verbs typically do:

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