Here’s a conversation I had with a friend at dinner tonight:
Have you ever heard someone say, “I might could have… done something or another?”
~Sure I have said that myself.
Do you think there’s anything wrong with it?
~Well, I guess it speaks a little of procrastination, but that’s not always the case.
No, I mean, do you think the grammar is incorrect?
~Why would it be?
Well we were talking about it the other day, and someone (not from around here) said they thought it sounded ridiculous.
~What’s wrong with it?
Apparently other parts of the country don’t use that expression, and they think it sounds funny when they hear the expression, “I might could have done so and so…”
~Yeah, like, “I’m fixing to…”
Exactly. I don’t think there’s a thing wrong with either one. Of course I grew up hearing them both, so they make sense to me.
~OK, so if it is bad grammar, what makes it bad?
Well I guess “might” and “could” are both verbs, and you can’t use them together.
I don’t know. Seems like you might could. It’s OK to use helping verbs, so maybe it’s a helping verb. Let’s Google it.
Here we go. This site says: It’s not correct standard English grammar; it’s a local colloquialism. Might and could are both verbs, so strictly speaking, you can’t use them side by side like that. It’s perfectly fine in informal speech, but you’d better not put it in any formal exam papers! Dialects and colloquial phrases are interesting and make the world a more colorful place, People, shouldn’t be corrected on everything they say. However, in writing, one should always use proper grammar because it makes the meaning clearer to readers. So it sounds like we can go on saying it, but we better not write it down.
~Hmmmm. So when you say, “I might could have,” might is a verb, right?
Yes, it is.
~But it means maybe, like “Maybe I could have done that,” right?
~Is maybe a verb?
No, you can’t maybe. But it isn’t a noun, and it’s not an adjective or a preposition.
~I think it’s an adverb. Look that up.
OK. Yes, you are right. It says here, maybe is an adverb.
~So, is it OK to say “I maybe could have eaten lobster tonight”?
Yum! I know what you mean, but that doesn’t even sound right to me. I looked up something else. It says that might is a “modal verb.”
~What in the world is that?
This site says: Modals (verbs like “may” and “can”) express intent. They are used with the infinitive of other verbs to show the intent directed at that verb. Infinitives are always placed directly after the modal. Modals (want to, can, may, shall, must) are never used together with other modals…
~Oh, Lord. I never heard of that. We didn’t learn about modal verbs in school.
No, we didn’t either.
~Wonder what they called them back then? Helping verbs?
No, because then you might could put might and could together.
~Yes, that’s true. Oh well, I will continue to say “might could have” if it comes to mind.
I will too. And I might could have never asked this question in the first place.
~”Might could have never” can’t be right either.