Grammar 101 with Michael Kwan

In my experience, many of the mistakes that people make with spelling and grammar are caused by the great divide between spoken and written language. Many common phrases are spoken far more often than they are found in everyday print. That’s why people come to write about how to “make due” or that time they hit the “mother load.” When I was a kid, I misheard “might as well” to be “minus well” and it was years before I learned the error of my ways.

“Might as well” (which is functionally identical to “may as well” in casual speech) is a phrase used to indicate that given the circumstances, taking a certain action is in your best interest. You will be better off if you take this action than if you do not. There are currently no better alternatives. In other words, an opportunity would be wasted if you don’t take this action. This is perhaps best illustrated with a few examples.

  • Since you’re only $5 short of the minimum, you may as well buy something else to qualify for free shipping.
  • This is going to take a while. You might as well take a seat.
  • We may as well go to the airport early. We have nothing else to do.
  • Reggie said he’s going to be late, so we might as well start eating without him.

In each of these situations, not taking the suggested action presumably results in a less desirable outcome. You’ll end up paying for shipping, tiring your feet, waiting around needlessly, and getting hungry unnecessarily. Taking the suggested action avoids these undesirable possibilities.

That’s the most common usage, but the phrase can also be used in more of a humorous or ironic way to equate the actual situation with a hypothetical alternative (usually for the purposes of comedy).

  • Why do skydivers wear helmets? Will those really protect them in a fall? You might as well wear a bonnet.
  • Attending that advanced physics lecture was pretty pointless. The instructor may as well have been speaking Greek.

If you’re going to take the time to write something (especially if you’re going to publish it online for all to see), you might as well use the correct spelling. If you get caught writing “minus well” or “mind as well” instead, it could be like walking out of the restroom with toilet paper stuck to your shoe. People will notice.