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may be, maybe

(A similar topic is discussed in French in the article PEUT-ÊTRE/PEUT ÊTRE.)

The word maybe and the phrase may be sound alike, but they have different meanings and functions.

Two words

May be is a verb phrase made up of the auxiliary verb may and the linking verb be:

  • My in-laws may be visiting us next week.

One word

Maybe functions as an adverb and means perhaps:

  • Maybe the storm will pass quickly.

Note: Maybe can also be used as a noun:

  • When I asked to use the car, I was hoping for a yes, but I got a maybe instead.


To decide whether you should use the one-word or the two-word spelling, try the following substitutions.

  • If you can substitute might be, then write may be (two words):
    • I may be (= might be) going to Vancouver Island in July.
  • If you can substitute perhaps, then write maybe (one word):
    • Maybe (= Perhaps) we’ll tour Vancouver Island.