Grammar 101

English grammar can be very tricky business, because we tend to base the way we write on the way that we speak. Certain errors are more acceptable when spoken, but they become glaringly obvious when written. That’s why you have to be particularly mindful of similar sounding words, especially if they sound exactly the same.

A common error that I see a lot of people make is mistaking maybe (one word) with may be (two words). Naturally, they sound exactly the same, use exactly the same letters, and come from the same kind of word origin. However, their meanings are not interchangeable, so you need to know which to use and when.

Maybe is an Adverb

The word “maybe” has basically the same meaning as the word “perhaps.” It can be placed at the beginning, middle or end of a sentence effectively to indicate that something is neither for certain nor definitely not going to happen.

If you’re unsure whether “maybe” (one word) is what you should be using, try substituting it in the sentence with “perhaps.” If the resulting sentence still makes sense, you should have it right.

Maybe, I’ll go to the mall later. >> Perhaps, I’ll go to the mall later.

May Be is a Verb

The differentiation between “maybe” (one word) and “may be” (two words) is not a matter of writing style. There is a distinct difference between the two, because they are different parts of speech.

“May be” (two words) takes on a similar function in sentences as “could be” or “would be.” Alternatively, you can think of “may be” as working the same way as “may go” or “may live.” You have to realize that the construction of this term is much the same. If you’re unsure, as before, try substituting “may be” with “perhaps.” If it doesn’t make sense, then “may be” is the way to go.

Jay may be stronger than Jim. >> Jay perhaps stronger than Jim.
Another test: Jay could be stronger than Jim.

By doing simple checks like these along the way, your grammar can be greatly improved. With a little practice, these checkpoints won’t even impede on your ability to write more quickly, because maybe you’ll start doing these little tests subconsciously. You may be better than you thought.