Middle English Dictionary Entry

mouen v.(3)
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Entry Info

Definitions (Senses and Subsenses)

(a) To be strong, have power, avail, prevail; avail (sb.), help; be worthy [quot.: Cursor (Trin-C)]; ~ ayen(es, prevail against (sth.), overcome; ~ over, have power over (sb.), prevail over; ~ to, be helpful to (sb.), avail (sb.), be useful for (sth.); ~ with, be effective against (sth.); (b) to endure, fare; (c) ppl. might as adj.: mighty.
To be able (to do sth.), be able (to endure, undergo, or have sth.); of things: be capable of (doing sth., producing an effect): (a) present forms with pr. or fut. meaning; (b) in negative clauses [in which sense 2a. is most readily distinguished from sense 3.]; (c) past forms with past meaning [cp. sense 4.]; (d) in neg. clauses; (e) present or past forms in passive constructions.
With certain verbs: (a) ~ do (idon), don ~, to be able to do (sth.), can do, can accomplish; what he best don mighte, what were best for him to do; (b) in proverbs; (c) ~ ben, ~ worthen, can be or become (sth.); (d) ~ spenden, to be able to spend (so much), have (a certain) income.
In weakened varieties of sense 2., in which the ability or potentiality becomes mere possibility, or is made contingent upon something else: to perhaps be able (to do or have sth., etc.), might be able; may, might; thou mightest haven ben, you might have been; thou might him with maken the saughtnes, you can perhaps be reconciled with him, you might make peace with him; that thei ~ sen, in order that they may see; if þou might haven, if you might have, if you might get; hou he mighten him helpen out, how they might be able to help him out; -- used to express doubt, uncertainty, contrariness to fact, a wish, a purpose, etc.; -- often used in if, hou, or that clause: (a) present forms; (b) past forms with past meaning [cp. sense 4.]; (c) in passive constructions.
Past tense forms with present or future meaning: (a) to be able (to do sth., be sth., etc.); hou mightest thou gon, how would it be possible for you to go, how can (could) you go; that we al mighten underyeten, that we all may (might) be able to understand; (b) to perhaps be able (to do sth.); that mighte so fallen, that may happen; mighte i riden, if I may (might) ride; þou mightest bettre meten mist, you may as well measure the mist; (c) in wishes and requests: ai mighte he liven, may he live forever!; crist him mighte blessen, may Christ bless him!
With implied infinitive or predicate drawn from the context, usually from the preceding clause: (a) to be able to (do or make or be sth., etc.); beyete se the mai, let him get who can (get); thei beten him..and mouen no more, they beat him..and cannot (beat him) any more; in prov.: on dai bringeth that al yer ne mai, one day brings what all the year cannot (bring); -- present forms; (b) al that thou might, as muchel as thou might, in al that thou mai (might), in as muche as thou might, as much as you are able (to do, make, get, abate, draw, injure), all that you can; in (al) that he mai, so muche so he mai, as much as he is able (to honor, etc.), all that he can; al that he mai, all that she can, as much as she can [quot.: Orm. 6199]; (c) to be able (to do, be, take, plunder, etc.); the while that he mighten, while they were able (to make amends); to helpen what he mighte, help as far as he was able (to help); -- past forms with past meaning, also with present or future meaning.
With implied inf. or pred. from context: to perhaps be able [often difficult to distinguish from 5a.]: (a) present forms; (b) past forms.
With implied verb of motion, action, being, etc., not drawn from the immediate context: (a) with implied gon: to be able to go; ~ over, over ~, climb upon (sb.); fig. get the better of (sb.), subdue; i ne mai nought ther-to, I cannot attain to it, I cannot comprehend it; what he mighte, as fast as he could go; (b) with implied don: to be able to do, be able to do (sth.); and he mai as he mente, if he can do as he intends (?says); i mai no more, I can do no more; mighte she werse mighte she bet, if she did worse or if she did better, in spite of all that she could do; we mouen no thing ayenes treuth, we can do nothing against truth; (c) in proverb: be able to do something; he ne mai when he wile the nolde tho he mighte, he who would not do it when he could do it will not be able to do it when he wishes to do it; (d) with implied ben: can be; as il as he mighte, as ill as he was; that to god ~, that which can be for good, that which can be beneficial; (e) with implied beren: to be able to bear (sth.), can endure; (f) with implied verb of eating or drinking; (g) with implied verb of having or getting; ~ forebisen, to have or take an example (from sth.); if he the maistrie mai, if he can have the mastery; as longe as thei mouen, as long as they can have it; (h) with implied verb of accomplishing; if that tristrem mai, if Tristram can bring it about; in al that he mai, as fast as he can do it; (i) with implied verb of preventing or avoiding; as ye mai, as you can avoid it; if (and) i mai, if I can prevent it, if I can stop you (it); if that i mai, if I can avoid it; she mighte hit nought, she could not prevent (help) it; (j)?with implied haven as part of verb phrase; mighte..sustened, might have sustained.
In senses very close to those of OE mōtan or MnE may [although the verb frequently retains something of the usual meaning of OE mæg, magon together with the newer sense]: (a) to be permitted (to do sth.), be allowed, may; (b) to be permitted (to have sth., be sth., be somewhere).
In senses resembling those of MnE shall, will, should, would [usually with vestiges of the older senses of mouen]: (a) expressing futurity: shall, will; (b) in narratives, etc.: ~ heren (iheren), you will hear, etc.; ~ leren (witen, haven mirthe); ~ seien (tellen), I shall tell, etc.; (c) expressing past futurity: should, would; (d) mighte taken herberge, would grant lodging, ?wished to grant lodging.
In senses resembling those of ME ouen and shulen [also cp. OE þurfan]: (a) ought (to do sth.), should (do sth.), be obligated, be advised, have it coming to one as one's due; ne might thou..so flen, you should not (are ill-advised to) flee thus; with implied verb: i wel mai, I surely ought to be satisfied; -- often with neg.; (b) must; (c) to have good reason (to do or be sth.); -- also with implied infin.; blithe mouen ye ben, you have reason to be glad; i mai ben wroth, I have reason to be angry; thou mightest wel compleinen, you have good cause to lament; ~ wel, wel ~, ~ lelli, ~ rightli.
In semantically empty (or nearly empty) uses, comparable to certain uses of do and be in MnE: mai (mouen) ben, is (are); mighte sen, did see, saw; amounten mighte, amounted to; hir herte mighte bresten, her heart did burst, ?her heart came close to bursting; what mai hit menen, what does it mean?; who mai that ben, who can that be?, who is that?; if bettre mighte ben, if there were a better one; bettre..no mai non gon, grisloker ne mai ben, hardere..ne mai non ben, there can be (there is) no better (grislier, harder); the best (moste)..that mai ben, the best that mai gon, the heighest that mai liven, the best (greatest, highest) there is. [In some of these instances, mouen may serve to add emphasis or to express doubt.]
(a) In combination with other modal verbs: connen and ~, ~ and connen, to know how and be able (to do sth.); -- also with implied inf.; connen ne ~, ~ no connen, neither know how nor be able (to do sth.); -- also with implied inf.; connen or (other) ~, know how or be able (to do or be sth.); -- also with implied inf.; ouen and ~, can and ought (to do sth.); ~ and shulen, can and must (be sth.); shulen not or ~ not, must not or cannot (be translated); shulen or ~, be obliged or be able (to do sth.); willen and ~, ~ and willen, be able and willing (to do or be sth.); -- also with implied inf.; ne ~..ne willen, not be able nor wish (to do sth.), cannot and will not; ne willen..other ne ~, be unwilling or unable (to do sth.); on can and..other mai, one knows how and the other has the strength; connen ~ and willen, ~ connen and willen, ouen connen or ~, mighte oughte coude or mighte haven coude; [especially in later quots., it is often difficult to pin down the precise meanings of these modals]; (b) in combination with itself: mighte or mai, ?could or can, ?can or may, ?might or can; mouen or mai, ?can or may, ?may or can.
In impersonal constructions: me mai dreden, it can frighten me, I am frightened; the mai speden, it can speed you, you will prosper; if me mouen, if I am able; what him mighte ben, what was wrong with him; what mai the ben, what ails you?; er hem mighte iworthen, before it occurred to them, before they could decide; him mighte haven lumpen werse, worse things could have happened to him; etc.
Uses of the infinitive [quots. very rare before 1300]: (a) mouen, to be able (to do or be or undergo sth.); -- also refl.; nought to mai willen haven, be able to wish to have nothing; (b) shulen (shal, shalt, sholde) ~, shall (should, etc.) be able (to do, be, or undergo sth.); (c) with implied inf.: i shal not ~ to it, I shall not be able to attain to it; (d) shal (shalt, sholde) ~, shall be permitted (to do, be, or have sth.).
Participial uses [rare before 1400, first appearing in transl. from Latin]: (a) mouinge, being able (to do sth.); (b) might (moue, moued, etc.), been able (to do sth.), have been able (to do sth.); not lik might to ben boren, not likely to have been able to be borne; sholde might, should have been able (to do sth.); (c) to ben might don, ?to be permitted to be done, be permissible.
In selected phrases and idioms: (a) be as ben mai, be as hit (ben) mai, be that as it may, setting that aside, no matter; in any case, at any rate; happen as hit mighte, whichever I might chance upon; happe what happen mai, whatever happens, come what may; hou so mighte ben, however it may be; (b) hou mai hit (that, this) ben, how can it (that, this) be?, how is it, etc., possible?; hou mighte hit (that) ben, how could it (that) be?; hou that mai ben, how that is possible; hou hit mighte ben, how it could be; hou mai tiden this, how can this happen?; hou mouen thos thing iworthen, how are those things possible?; (c) hit mai non other ben, hit mai ben no(n other, hit non other ben ne mighte, it can (could) not be otherwise; hit mai (mighte) nought ben, hit mai not ben, mighte hit nought ben, it can (could) not be or happen, it is (was) impossible; if hit mai ben, if (that) hit mighte ben, if it were possible, if possible; in al haste that mighte ben, in all possible haste; mai (mighte) not ben, is (was) impossible; mighte never ben, could never be; (d) so mai ben that, it may be that (sth. is so), it is possible that, perhaps; hit) mai wel ben, it may well be, perhaps; hit) mai fallen, mai ben (happen, tiden), perhaps; as hit mai ben her, as perhaps here; (e) mai wel, wel mai, can easily (do sth.), can readily;--also with implied inf.; mighte wel, could easily (do sth.); wel ne mai, cannot readily (do sth.); (f) hit (that) mighte wel ben so, it (that) could well be true, it (that) was very likely true; hit mighte wel til frame turnen, it would probably be beneficial; so hit mighte wel ben, as it ought to be, as was fitting; ther mighte wel ben, there could well have been, there were probably; this mai ben, this assuredly is; thou might me wel ileven, ye mouen wel leven, you can readily believe (me, believe me.

Supplemental Materials (draft)

  • ?c1475 *Cath.Angl.(Add 15562)87a : To not moght: Nequire, non posse.
  • Note: AQ
  • c1400 Dur-C.Treat.Syntax (Dur-C B.4.19)192/76 : All swylk wordys 'swld', 'cowde', 'mwght', 'wald', 'ware' sal be coniunctif mode preterneperfite tens.
  • Note: NS 'as word'

Supplemental Materials (draft)

Note: The contracted form imugon, found under sense 2a.(a) from Vsp.A.Hom.Init.Creat., may be otherwise construed. See imouen v.