One of my brilliant sixth graders asked this question recently. Don’t underestimate kids. They ask great questions!
May be (two words)
When may and be are written separately, they are both being used as verbs. May could be acting as the helping verb, and be could be acting as the main verb.
For example: This may be our last chance to buy a turkey before Thanksgiving.
Or, the two words might both be acting as helping verbs in front of a main verb.
For example: She may be arriving late for Thanksgiving dinner.
And as today is the day before Thanksgiving, may I wish you all a Happy Turkey Day!
Maybe (one word)
When maybe is written as one word, it is an adverb that means “perhaps” or “possibly.”
For example: Maybe we will take a nap after eating all that turkey.
Still not sure what to use? Test it!
If you’re not sure which version to use, try putting “perhaps” or “possibly” in its place. If it works, write it as one word. If not, write it as two words.