I have been encountering some of the new concepts that I was not able to grasp. That is, I used to know that the usage of mögen only refers to the concept of to like or want (may be more inclined to the verb to want). However, I have encountered a phrase that uses mögen as maybe. Here is the phrase:

Es mag an Unkenntnis liegen

This may be translated into

It may be due to ignorance

and I really could not find any reference in relation to the usage of mögen for this.

Can anyone explain the concept for me?

2 Answers 2


That is exactly right. That is its use as a Modalverb. A better translation, in my opinion, would be may not maybe, which is actually what you used in your example translation.

Quoting from the Duden's entry:

  1. zum Ausdruck der Vermutung; vielleicht, möglicherweise sein, geschehen, tun, denken

Common phrases include

Mag (gut) sein!
Das mag wohl stimmen

Another way you might see it used is in its Konjunktiv form, which is used in phrases such as the famous Star Wars quote:

Möge die Macht mit dir sein

  • 3
    The Force thing is a different meaning, though (Duden 1f).
    – chirlu
    Jun 19, 2015 at 6:05
  • "Möge die Macht mit Dir sein" is what the French would consider subjonctif (which doesn't exist like that in German).
    – Damon
    Jun 19, 2015 at 12:34

Your interpretation is correct, although there is a but (figuratively and literally!).

Your example as well as the ones given by clinch suggest that what is being said is not the only aspect, and in most cases suggest that you do not wholly agree (or not at all). In almost every case, such a construct begs for, or even mandates, a sentence starting with aber (but) following.

Es mag an Unkenntnis liegen, aber Dummheit schützt nicht vor Strafe.
Mag gut sein! Aber ich glaube es nicht.
Mag gut sein! Aber es ärgert mich, dass du tatsächlich Recht hast.
Das mag wohl stimmen, aber Du hast vergessen, dass …

For the most part, mögen is used to indicate liking people or things (Ich mag sie (nicht)), but it can also be used to express the liking (more commonly unliking) of actions, although this is very old fashioned, much in the same way as wollen:

Ich mag gar nicht gern zustimmen (That one is actually quite acceptable!)
Wohlan, ich will Dir helfen. (Unless you’re a 15th century noble, you sound like a total prick.)

Similarly, the Star Wars quote given by clinch is a perfectly legal use of mögen, indicating something akin to the French subjonctif, but it is also hopelessly outdated and overly exalted. Outside of a marriage speech, classic theater, or medieval real-life role playing events may very well make you sound like a bigheaded prick:

Möge Eure Vereinigung glücklich und fruchtbar sein! (works well for a marriage)
Möge das Jahr des Herrn 1375 den McLeods den Sieg bringen (beginning of the movie Highlander)
Möge der Herr Dich für Deine Sünden strafen (might have been a priest’s quote 80–100 years ago).
Möge unser Unternehmen auch weiterhin erfolgreich sein! (sounds like a narcissistic fool)
Mag er nur kommen! (expresses defiance)

  • +1 for the 15th century noble … –1 for the extended use of prick … damn that cancels out ;)
    – Jan
    Jun 19, 2015 at 15:18
  • @Jan: Let me change that :-)
    – Damon
    Jun 19, 2015 at 15:30

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