by Richard Dury


adverbs: adverbs can be 'harmonic' (reinforce the modality of the auxiliary), or can modify the modality in a different direction (perhaps we could…). The same is true of adjectival and nominal expressions. Verb phrases (matrix verbs in main clauses (I think that…) can also have a similar or different modality from a modal verb in the subordinate clause. Parenthetical verbs ( - I think - ) are perhaps best treated as similar to adverbs.


agent-oriented modality: a supercategory proposed by Bybee (1985) and used by used by Bybee & Fleischman (1995: 5) applying to all modalities in which conditions are predicated on an agent (obligation, desire, ability, permission and root possibility). It is opposed to speaker-oriented modality (speech acts that aim at getting something done: imperatives, optatives, permissives) and to epistemic modality which applies to a whole proposition and communicates the speaker's stance concerning its truth. It seems to boil down to the same thing as 'root modality' (i.e. a combination of deontic and dynamic modalities).


alethic (or logical) modality: (Gk aletheia ‘truth’) ‘concerned with the degree of certainty of a proposition. For example, the must of We must have a visitor expresses a.m. when it means "This follows from what we already know"’ (Trask). This is a category of modal logic and ‘Clear cases of "alethically modal" sentences do not occur frequently in everyday discourse’ (Keifer 2518a). This modality ranges from logical impossibility through possibility to logical necessity (von Wright 1951: 1-2).


ambiguity vs merger: a distinction made by Coates (1983): (i) he must mean business is ambiguous (it could be either epistemic ('I infer that…') or deontic ('it is necessary that..)) and this will be determined by inspecting a larger context; (ii) at that price, it ought to be good is a merger (where the modal interpretation is inevitably indeterminate between epistemic ('I infer that…') and deontic ('the producer has a moral obligation to offer a good product')). Palmer (1990: 21-2) questions this. Other terms used in this semantic area are: blending, indeterminacy.


background: ‘The context which determines the modal reading can be construed as a set of propositions (‘the background’) from which certain conclusions can be drawn’ (Keifer 2517a). ‘In everyday language the deontic background may just consist of what a recognised authority... wishes’ (Keifer 2518a).


basic event schema: basic concrete representations from which languages make the shift towards abstract concepts like tense, aspect and modality (cf Heine 1993), e.g. motion scheme > future in going to; volition scheme > future in will etc.


Biber's three categories of modal verbs: (i) permission/possibility/ability (can, could, may, might), (ii) obligation/necessity (must, should, (had) better, have (got) to, need to, ought to, be supposed to), (iii) volition/prediction (will, would, shall, be going to) (Biber et al. 1999: 485).


bleaching: modal auxiliaries can undergo semantic bleaching, e.g. can before private verbs (I can see the ship). Whether they undergo semantic bleaching (and have a merely syntactic function) in some argument clauses is not clear (I am surprised that you should ask me that, We ask that he should be told / may be told / be told). [RD's note]


boulomaic modality: can be paraphrased as it is hoped/desired/feared/regretted that…Rescher (1968: 24-6) includes want under boulomaic modality (see also Simpson 1993: 47-8). Perkins (1983: 11) classes boulomaic modality as a type of dynamic modality because of the 'disposition' meaning. It could also be said that the disposition comes from the desire of a human source so is similar to deontic volitive modalities where a subject aspires to influence the world. It ranges from not-wanting through not-opposing to wanting. (Palmer (1986: 12) suggests that 'bouletic' would be etymologically preferable.)


circumstantial modality: dynamic modality; when what is possible or necessary is dictated by circumstances: ‘Bill can only relax in his summer house’ (= ‘the circumstances are such that...’), ‘In the mountains pitched roofs must be built’ (= ‘the circumstances are such that...’). The basis for our supposition is not ‘everything we know already’ (the background for epistemic modality), but ‘circumstances of a certain kind’.


Coates' 12 modalities: (i) obligation (strong), (ii) obligation (weak), (iii) permission, (iv) volition, (v) prediction, (vi) ability, (vii) possibility (dy), (viii) possibility (ep), (ix) inference (strong), (x) inference (weak), (xi) hypothesis, (xii) quasi-subjunctive (Coates 1983).

(i)-(v) are deontic, (vi)-(vii) dynamic, and (viii)-(xii) epistemic.


core meaning vs periphery: a distinction made by Coates (1983); periphery meaning is dependent on context. This might be correlated with Leech's distinction (1987: 71) between 'logical element of meaning' and the 'practical (or pragmatic) element of meaning' of the modal auxiliaries.


diachronic development of English modals: (i) desemanticization (semantic bleaching), (ii) decategorization (shift in grammatical category and in word-class), (iii) cliticization (changes in morphosyntactic properties), (v) phonetic erosion (changes in phonetic form). The former full verb has become a 'grammatical concept' always followed by the main verb ('the verb-to-TAM chain', Heine 1993: 47).

Keifer (1998: 596) says that although 'ability' seems historically to develop into 'root modality' and then into 'epistemic modality', 'much of the detail remains… unclear'. Problems include (i) why did root modality split into circumstantial/dispositional and deontic/boulomaic modality?; (ii) is there cross-linguistic support for the development of ability into circumstantial/dispositional modality?; (iii) does modality evolve more from 'practical inference' or from 'conversational implicatures'?; (iv) the development of ability into onjective epistemic modality is clear, but how does subjective erpistemic modality (probability) develop? (v) how are pragmatic notions ('willingness', 'intention', insistence' etc.) expressed in different languages and different stages of the language?


discourse-oriented modality: Palmer sees deontic modality as discourse-oriented (?since it refers more to the speech-act).


deontic modality, deontics: (from Gk deon ‘duty’) ‘concerned with the necessity or possibility of acts performed by morally responsible agents’ (Keifer 2516b, Lyons 1977: 823); ‘concerned with obligation and permission’ (Trask), ‘relating to duties in terms of social or institutional laws’ (Kärkkäinen: 150), ‘involves the issuing of directives and is associated with notions of such as permission or obligation’ (Lew 1997: 146). It is discourse-oriented non-epistemic modality. Unlike epistemic modality, it refers to acts not propositions.

Deontic modality can be subdivided into (i) directives (deontic possibility: you may leave; deontic necessity: you must leave), (ii) commissives (promises, undertakings: you shall be rewarded), (iii) imperatives, (iv) others: volitives, evaluatives.

Another subdivision of deontic modality is: (i) possibility (permission) (you may leave); (ii) necessity (obligation) (you must go); (iii) volition (He won't go).

Deontic modality excludes ability (physical and mental) and desire - these are categorized as dynamic, though they typically have expression similar to that of permission and obligation. Diachronically, deontic meanings come to acquire epistemic meanings.

Biber (1999: 485) points out two typical structural correlates of deontic modals: (i) the subject is human, (ii) the main verb is dynamic (describing an activity that can be controlled).


dispositional modality: when possibility depends on the agent’s disposition: ‘Jane cannot sing today’ (= (i) ‘it is not possible for Jane...’, (ii) ‘Jane is not allowed...’, (iii) ‘Jane doesn’t feel like...’ (dispositional modality)), ‘John must sneeze’ (= ‘J’s dispositions are such that...’).


dynamic modality: (from Gk dynamis 'strength, power') refers to ‘physical necessity or possibility’ (Kärkkäinen: 150); 'is concerned with the disposition of certain empirical circumstances with regard to the occurrence of some event' (Perkins1983: 34), 'concerning ability and volition' (Jacobsson 1994: 167 - though here 'volition' seems to contradict the idea of non-subjectivity, see below). The term was first suggested by von Wright in 1951. Unlike epistemic and deontic modality it is not subjective (John can speak French, Tomorrow I will be thirty, He’ll come, if you ask him, He has to come tomorrow, You can [=’it is possible to’] smoke in here).

Bybee & Fleischman (1995: 13 n3) do not use this term claiming it comes from modal logic and 'is less germane to the analysis of modality in natural language'. Nor does Biber (1999: 485), who subsumes it under "epistemic".

Palmer (1990: 36) points out that dynamic modality is concerned with the ability or volition of the subject of the sentence and so is not subjective like other modalities, hence is less centrally modal.

Dynamic modality seems less of a unified category than epistemic and deontic modality; it has been subdivided into: (i) ability (I can play tennis); (ii) power (Oil will float on water); (iii) futurity (I will/shall be 20 tomorrow); (iv) prediction (You will feel better after this medicine), (v) habit (When he has a problem, he will work at it until he finds an answer).


epistemic modality, epistemics: (from Gk episteme ‘knowledge’) ‘concerned with matters of knowledge and belief’ (Keifer 2516b, Lyons 1977: 793). ‘related to the speaker’s belief or opinion about the validity of the proposition’ (Kärkkäinen: 150), ‘modifies the truth of a semantic proposition’ (Lew 1997: 146), 'truth-oriented, "attitude"' (Jacobsson (1994: 167), 'concerned with the speaker's assumptions or assessment of possibilities and, in most cases, indicates the speaker's confidence (or lack of confidence) in the truth of the proposition' (Coates 1983: 18); involved in the making of a representation that matches the world (through the use of the senses or the intellect) (the 'theoretical manner of representation' or 'theoretical modality', James 1986: 13); ‘epistemic uses are "logical" uses of modals’ (Bailey 1981: 182). It is extrinsic or extra-propositional, expressing the speaker's attitude towards the content of a proposition. We may talk of (i) ‘epistemic necessity’ (‘logically entailed by what is known’, or rather (in natural language) ‘practically inferred from what is known’, deduction (Keifer 2518a) and (ii) ‘epistemic possibility’ (‘compatible with what is known’, ib.), speculation. [Our §2 also adds ‘epistemic prediction’.] For Biber (1999: 485) epistemic also includes dynamic modality. Another subdivision is between subjective and objective epistemic modality. Epistemic modality may also be subdivided according to (i) the speaker’s judgments of necessity and possibility (including the two above categories), and (ii) evidentiality (expressed explicitly by evidentials), the evidential basis for what is said (Keifer 2517b). See non-epistemic modality.

An epistemic comment may be supplied by a matrix verb (I think that…), or a parenthetic verb (- I think - ), sentence adverbial (apparently).


evidential (evidential particle/affix): ‘a (usually obligatory) grammatical marker found in some languages which express the evidence which the speaker has for making a statement’ (Trask); evidentials are ‘markers that indicate something about the source of the information in the proposition’ (Bybee 1985: 184, qu. Keifer 2517b). The primary evidential parameter is (i) direct (or attested) evidence vs (ii) indirect evidence (reported evidence, inferring evidence) (cf Willet 1988: 57). Evidentiality is apparently not shown by grammatical features in English.


existential modality: one of the four types of modality listed by von Wright (1951: 2); Palmer says that alethic and existential modality are more the concern of logicians than linguists, however he discusses examples such as Lions can be dangerous (1990: 6-7, 107-9) as examples of existential modality whose explanatory glosses typically include the word 'some'. His gloss 'Some lions are dangerous' has been challenged, however.

extrinsic modality: extra-propositional modality, expressing the speaker's attitude towards the content of a proposition. It covers the area of epistemic modality. For Biber (1999: 485) it "refers to the logical status of events or states, usually relating to assessments of likelihood: possibility, necessity, or prediction" and is synonymous with epistemic modality (which for him, however, also includes dynamic modality).

Biber (1999: 485) points out two typical structural correlates of extrinsic modal verbs: the subject is usually non-human, and the main verb usually has a stative meaning.


formulaic use of modals: formulas such as May I? or Could you? 'carry by convention a certain illocutionary force' (Kiefer 1998: 597).


future: 'Future time reference is subtly bound up with modality, and is an essential component of personal directives, including commands, requests, warnings, recommendations and exhortations' (Coates 1983: 61).


harmonic phrase, harmonic combination, modally harmonic: modally harmonic describes combinations of modal auxiliary and another modal word expressing the same degree of modality (Lyons 1977: 807, Coates 1983: 45). Harmonic phrase - an element in the context of the modal verb that reinforces, echoes or disambiguates (e.g. I'm sure in: There must be a lot more to it than that. I'm sure it wasn't just that) (Coates 1983: 41). Harmonic combination - two forms with the same modal meaning that are mutually reinforcing (Halliday 1970: 331, Coates 1983: 45). Modally harmonic adverbs would seem to make a particularly important contribution to modal meaning.


hedge: 'epistemic modality is always a hedge' (Coates 1983: 49)


hypothetical/ conditional/ remote/ secondary forms: could, might, would and should are used in hypothetical propositions. Coates (1983: 108-9) refers to could as 'the Remote of CAN' (on a parallel with 'the Past of CAN') (a label that derives from Joos 1964: 121), and also as 'a hypothetical form' and 'a conditional'. These hypothetical forms' are often used without any explicit conditional clause: to indicate that the proposition is hypothetical, as a mark of politeness, to make a tactful suggestion. Bybee (1995) prefers the term 'hypothetical'. Perkins (1982: 50-6) prefers ‘conditional’, while Bailey (1981) refers to 'secondary forms'. Palmer (1990: 45) refers to ‘tentative’ or ‘unreal’ meanings of these forms. See past-tense modals.


illocutionary force: 'the communicative purpose with which a sentence is used to perform a speech act' (James 1986: 14); claimed to be similar to modality by Kärkkäinen (1987: 151) since both communicate the speaker’s attitude or opinion.


intrinsic modality: forms part of the semantic content of the proposition; it covers the area of root modality. For Biber (1999: 485) "Intrinsic modality refers to actions and events that humans (or other agents) directly control: meanings relating to permission, obligation, or volition (or intention)" and is synonymous with deontic modality.


irrealis mode: e.g. If he should, I shouldn’t think…, It’s strange that he shouldCalled irrealis modality by Bybee & Fleischman (1995: 9). Covers non-assertive modal meanings. The subjunctive covers a similar area.


logical possibility: a term used by Biber (1999) to refer to epistemic and dynamic possibility.


Leech’s 11 modal meanings: (i) possibility (theoretical, factual), (ii) ability, (iii) permission, (iv) exclamatory wish, (v) obligation/requirement, (vi) rules and regulations, (vii) logical necessity, (viii) prediction/predictability, (ix) willingness (weak volition), (x) intention (intermediate volition), (xi) insistence (strong volition) (Leech 1971/1987: 73-104).


marginal modals: dare, need, ought to, used to, had better, would rather, be to, have (got) to. See modals, modal auxiliaries, modal verbs.


Mindt's 17 modalities: (i) possibility/high probability, (ii) certainty/prediction, (iii) ability, (iv) hypothetical event/result, (v) habit, (vi) inference/deduction, (vii) obligation, (viii) advisability/desirability, (ix) volition/intention, (x) intention, (xi) politeness/downtoning, (xii) consent, (xiii) state in the past, (xiv) permission, (xv) courage, (xvi) regulation/prescription, (xvii) disrespect/insolence (Mindt 1995: 45).


modality: ‘the essence of "modality" consists in the relativization of the validity of sentence meanings to a set of possible worlds’ (Keifer 1994: 2515a); from a speaker’s-evaluation approach, modality is ‘the speaker’s cognitive, emotive, or volitive attitude toward a state of affairs’ (Keifer 1994: 2516a), his ‘commitment or detachment’ (Stubbs), his ‘envisaging several possible courses of events’ or his ‘considering of things being otherwise’ (Keifer 1994: 2516b). Modality is ‘another name for mood, but one applied more specially to certain distinctions concerned with the speaker’s estimate of the relation between the actor and the accomplishment of some event’ (Trask). Mood is a formal verbal category while 'modalities… have been treated primarily in terms of modal meaning' (Koktová 1998: 600). Modality may be expressed through verbs, adjectives, nouns, adverbs, particles, intonation. See: type of modality, background, subjunctive. not modality: excluded from the domain of modality (by Keifer 1994): (i) factive evaluative predicates (e.g. ‘it is good’, ‘it is amazing that Bill passed the exam’, i.e. no discussion of ‘possible worlds’), (ii) negation, (iii) illocutionary verbs (‘I assert that...’) (iv) perlocution (the effects of the speech act).

Ruthrof (1991) sees modality as ‘the structurable field of the manners of speaking underlying all utterances’ (this he also calls covert or inferential modality). This might be linked with ideas of perspective or style (cf. Saukkonen 1991).

For Bybee & Fleischman (1995: 2), 'Modality… is the semantic domain pertaining to elements of meaning that languages express. It covers a broad range of semantic nuances - jussive, desiderative, intentive, hypothetical, potential, obligative, dubitative, hortatory, exclamative, etc. - whose common denominator is the addition of a supplement or overlay of meaning to the most neutral semantic value of the proposition of an utterance, namely factual and declarative' Modality can be expressed in various ways, 'morphological, lexical, syntactic, or via intonation' (ib.).

For Schneider (1999: 13) and Bybee (1985), modality (more clearly revealed in main clauses) consists of (i) speech acts (orders and wishes, i.e. deontic modality), and (ii) attitudes to truth-content of the sentence (i.e. epistemic modality). Modality is indicated by various means (subjunctive, modal verbs, parenthetical verbs, sentence adverbials, matrix verbs), but some of these (subjunctive, modal verbs) can also be found in object clauses with a merely syntactic function (cf Schneider 1999 ch. 1).


modal logic: has to do with the notions of possibility and necessity; epistemic modality has to do with possibility/necessity of the truth of a proposition (involved with knowledge and belief); deontic modality has to do with possibility/necessity of acts performed by morally responsible agents (involved with the social functions of permission and obligation).


modals, modal auxiliaries, modal verbs: a morphosyntactic approach to modality starts from the formal category of modal auxiliaries (cf. Palmer 1979: 4-5). However, modals are difficult to define and do not all share the same properties. See: speaker’s evaluation. English modals can be divided into (i) ‘central modals’ (can, may, will, shall, must; could, might, would, should), (ii) ‘marginal modals’ or ‘semi-modals’: (a) dare, need, ought to, used to; (b) had better, would rather, be to, have (got) to; (iii) be about to, be bound to, be going to, be obliged to, be supposed to, be willing to, be able to. See non auxiliary modal expressions and marginal modals.

Modal auxiliaries have ‘unverblike properties’ that distinguish them from full verbs: (i) no do-support, (ii) no SV inversion in questions, (iii) enclitic not (cannot), (iv) do not occur together (Standard English only), (v) no S:V number agreement, (vi) no participles or infinitives. (See NICE-properties). These formal distinctions do not hold in other languages. The semantic distinction between m.a. and full verbs is difficult (auxiliary verbs or other verbs used in English, where modals are used in other languages. e.g. the house is to be sold). Warner 1995 claims that modal verbs are now lexical items, a word-class of their own, not a sub-set of verbs. A symptom of this is the way that might have > might of. So English has a distinctive word-class that realizes mood lexically i.e. modal verbs.

Modal auxiliaries (i) attribute properties to the subject of a sentence, (ii) determine the illocutionary potential of a sentence (the range of illoc. forces that a sentence can have when uttered) (James 1986: 14).


modal meaning: (Holmes 1984) the degree of certainty or uncertainty the speaker feels as regards the validity of the proposition; similar to epistemic modality.


monosemantic approach to modality: an approach to modality (found, for example, in Perkins 1983) that sees a 'basic' or 'core' meaning for each modal auxiliary. Another approach would see 'a conglomeration of vaguely meanings, each linked in some way to at least one of the others in the set, but not necessarily sharing any common feature with, or directly linked to, all of them' (Palmer 1990: 15).


mood: ‘grammatical category which expresses the degree or kind of reality assigned to a sentence... mood shades off imperceptibly into modality, and also into evidential systems’ (Trask). 'A system of inflections on verbs': indicative-subjunctive-imperative (James 1986: 1). 'Formal verbal categories' (Koktová 1998: 599). (i) sentence mood, a semantic category: ‘the modal value of sentence types’ (Keifer 1994: 2516a), several sentence types may express the same s.m. (e.g. various question-types may express the s.m. of interrogativity). Perhaps three basic types of s.m.: declarative/exclamative, interrogative, imperative/optative (the optative mood - the speaker desires something to be the case). Declarative mood is unmarked but can be given the meaning ‘to take for granted’ ‘to consider to be true’; (ii) verbal mood, a morphosyntactic category. Davidsen-Nielsen (1990) distinguishes between symthetic mood (subjunctive and imperative) and analytic mood (modal verbs). For Bybee & Fleischman (1995: 2) the term mood is used for a category of meanings that are 'expressed inflectionally, generally in distinct sets of verbal paradigms, e.g. indicative, subjunctive, optative, imperative, conditional, etc.


negation, negation of modality, negation of the proposition: affects the proposition (the statement on which the modal statement comments) in epistemic modality; affects the modality (the statement of possibility, necessity etc.) in root modality (he may not be at home = 'it is possible that he is not at home'; we can't hear you = ' we are not able to hear you'). The distinction is especially clear in epistemic vs dynamic may: you may not go = 'I do not permit you to go' vs. You may not understand = 'it is possible that you do not understand'). The exception is deontic must where it is the proposition that is negated (you mustn't be late = it is necessary that you are not late). The terms 'auxiliary negation' and 'main verb negation' are used by Quirk et al. (1972: 384; 1985. 794); Palmer (1990: 34) says this could be misleading because 'formally it is the modal that is negated in both', and prefers 'negation of modality' and 'negation of the proposition' (even though 'proposition' is not accurate for non-epistemic modality).


neutral modality: Palmer's sub-category of Dynamic modality (1990: 37; opposed to subject-oriented dynamic modality) meaning 'it is possible/necessary for…', e.g. You can get all sorts of things here and I must have an immigrant's visa. He accepts that 'there is some indeterminacy between neutral and dynamic Can and between neutral and deontic MUST' (1990: 37).


NICE-properties: syntactic properties shared by ModE auxiliaries have, be and do as well as modal auxiliares: (i) Negation without do (isn’t, mustn’t vs doesn’t go); (ii) Inversion without do (is he?, must he? vs does he go?), (iii) Clitics (isn’t, mustn’t vs doesn’t go), (iv) Ellipsis without do (often called 'code': but I don’t think Peter is /can vs but I don’t think Peter did). Ellipsis is also found in OE. Huddlestone (1976: 333) and Palmer (1990: 4) form the acronym from Negation, Inversion, Code and Emphatic affirmation (contrastive emphasis on the auxiliary, not on do). Modals are distinguished from the three 'primary auxiliaries' by (i) no -s form of the 3rd psn pres. sing., (ii) no non-finite forms (being, to have etc.), (iii) no co-occurrence (*may will)


non auxiliary modal expressions: (i) expressions incorporating be … to (be going to, be able to, be bound to …); (ii) modal lexical verbs: instruct, authorise, believe, insinuate, allow, compel etc. (frequently met in the passive); (iii) modal adjectives: sure, certain, likely, possible, necessary, probable etc.; (iv) modal adverbs: apparently, perhaps, possibly, evidently etc.; (v) modal nouns: invitation, supplication, demand, thought, ability, will, prohibition etc.


non-epistemic modality: epistemic modality refers to propositions, non-epistemic modality to facts or events. Halliday (1970, 1976) calls it ‘modulation’, Coates (1983) calls it ‘root modality’. It is often divided into deontic and dynamic modality (though Biber 1999 puts dynamic with epistemic).


Palmer's 8 modal meanings: (i) Epistemic Possibility (may), (ii) Epistemic Necessity (must), (iii) Epistemic W/S (will); (iv) Deontic Possibility (may, can), (v) Deontic Necessity (must), (vi) Deontic W/S (shall); (vii) Dynamic Possibility (can), (viii) Dynamic W/S (will). (Palmer 1990: 36-7)

(N.B. here W/S is used instead of Palmer's "?" to mark a degree of modality (as yet unnamed) involving will and shall).


past-tense modals: would, should, might and could (and, to some extent, must). Their use is divided into (i) past tense uses, (ii) hypothetical (or remote, or conditional) uses, and (iii) present tense uses. Examples: (i) I could swim when I was only five, (ii) If you helped me I could finish this in an hour, (iii) I suppose I could do it now. The hypothetical uses (the most common) of past-tense modals may involve the retention of some lexical meaning (as in the above example) or may only have a hypothetical conditional meaning (as in If we were all millionaires, money wouldn't be worth anything) (this also applies to should, would and might). Bybee (1995) explains that (a) a combination of past + modal sense (other authors say just past sense alone) produces the hypothetical uses, that (b) the hypothetical use has replaced the past use over time and that (c) hypothetical uses with an implicit if-clause produce present-tense uses. When used as true pasts, they do not express punctual action, but 'past-habitual or past-posterior modality' (Bailey 1981: 183).


performative nature of modals: modal verbs can be seen as essentially performative (involved in acts that are performed by the act of speaking): 'I judge that…', 'I lay an obligation on you to…', 'I permit…'. This explains why the modals have no past tense: the act must take place in the present. (Palmer 1990: 10-11, 22-3).


perceptional modality: see article on adverbs by Anneli M-S


possibility: can be (i) epistemic (the road may be blocked) or (ii) deontic (the road can be blocked). The difference is captured in the paraphrases (i) it is possible that, x and (ii) it is possible for y to x.


possible worlds: ‘ways in which people could conceive the world to be different’ (Keifer 1994: 2515a). These are the 'frameworks', 'contexts', 'worldviews', 'states of affairs', 'conceptual domains' or 'modalities' within which an event or proposition has a significance or truth value (Perkins: 8)


practical modality: the meaning of the imperative and subjunctive moods (concerned with 'doing' and 'forward looking', suiting the world to words). See theoretical modality. Practical modality is also concerned with the meaning of the root meanings of modal verbs, with the lexical semantics of certain verbs (e.g. wish, request), and with the infinitive (they requested us to go).


pragmatics: ‘"deontic necessity" and "deontic possibility" are semantic notions whereas obligation and permission belong to pragmatics’ (Keifer 2518a), i.e. imposing an obligation or granting permission are speech acts. ‘You may park your car here’ expresses deontic possibility, but can only be a speech act if certain conditions are met (e.g. the speaker must have the authority to grant such a permission) (ib.). Extensions of meaning to modals may also be pragmatically motivated, e.g. We can meet tomorrow (possibility > suggestion), can I help you? (ability > offer), Can you come here a minute please? (possibility > order).


quasi-modals: have to, be going to, be able to, be bound to


Quirk's 3 modal meanings: (i) permission-possibility/ability, (ii) obligation-necessity, (iii) volition-prediction; the first of each pair is intrinsic (show some human control), the second is extrinsic (not the result of human control but of human judgment; 'ability' in Group 1 doesn't fit this scheme very well, however). The pairing of meanings is justified by the fact that the same modal verbs are used for both (will and shall being used for both volition and prediction, for instance) (Quirk et al. 1985: 219). This categorization ignores the epistemic-deontic-dynamic scheme (epistemic being divided between extrinsic possibility and extrinsic necessity), though Palmer (1990: 38) thinks that the two are compatible.


rational modality: covers the indication of what is rational or reasonable in a given situation The causes may be divided into two categories) (Palmer 1990: 105-6).


Rescher's 8 modalities: (i) alethic, (ii) epistemic, (iii) temporal, (iv) boulomaic, (v) deontic, (vi) evaluative, (vii) causal, (viii) likelihood (Rescher 1968, qu. in Perkins 1983: 9).


root modality, root sense: the non-epistemic sense of modals, which deals 'with obligation, permission, ability etc.' (Incharralde 1998: 1), 'agent-oriented, "influence" modality' (Jacobsson 1994: 167), that refer to 'powers of volition' and make a representation that the world has to match (the 'practical manner of representation', or 'practical modality', James 1986: 13); e.g. the sociophysical domain of John must leave now. (For the development of epistemic modality from root modality, see Sweetser 1982, 1990; this is opposed by **** who argues that ****). ‘Root necessity’ covers ‘both deontic and dynamic values’ (Facchinetti 1998: 61). It has been called 'intrinsic modality' since it forms part of the semantic content of the proposition (in contrast, epistemic - or extrinsic - modality is extra-propositional and just shows the speaker's attitude towards the truth of the proposition). The unity of 'root' modality is shown by the syntactic patterns in which it appears: usually an animate subject, an agentive verbs and often a passive infinitive.

The term seems to have been coined by Hofmann 1976 (see note in Palmer 1990: 37).


semi-modals (quasi-modals, periphrastic modals): need and dare in ModE, also have to, is to, ought to, used to. These all have some NICE properties, but are anomalous in various ways (e.g. taking to infinitives, marked for tense and person, can occur in non-finite forms). Have to evolves in ME (Fischer 1994); is to exists in OE (to translate Latin gerundives) but really evolves in ME; ought to splits off from the main verb owe in ME (Denison 1993: 315); for used to see Denison 1993 (323) and Visser (1969: 1425).


speaker-oriented modality: epistemic modality, which applies to a whole proposition and communicates the speaker's stance concerning its truth. Opposed to agent-oriented modality and subject-oriented modality. Palmer (1990: 7) says ‘epistemic and deontic modality relate to the speaker’ (i.e. they are concerned with the speakers - or reported speakers - and their judgments and desires).

However, in an earlier work (1974: 100-3) he talks of ‘discourse-oriented modality’ (deontic modality in questions and requests, which involve both interlocutors) and ‘speaker-oriented modality’ (deontic statements, where the speaker is the deontic souce).

Bybee (1995) seems to use speaker-oriented modality in a different way to refer to speech acts that aim at getting something done: imperatives, optatives, permissives.


speaker’s attitude: ‘modality equals those linguistic means by which a speaker can express his attitude towards the proposition. Modality is thus the attitude of the speaker towards the content of what he says’ (Kärkkäinen: 150, Stubbs 1986: 15)


speaker’s evaluation of a state of affairs (modus): the dictum (what is said) and the modus (how it is said). The modus (= modality) can be expressed in a full verb (I think it is raining, I hope it will be raining), and adverbial (it is probably raining), a modal verb (it must be raining), a mark on the verb (mood, tense: he would never have left us). The modus is clearest when expressed in a higher predicate (the matrix) (I am astonished that...), which contains an attitudinal, non-causative and transitive verb. This view of modality is consistent with the definition of modality as ‘envisaging several possible courses of events’ (Keifer 1994: 2516b), a ‘qualification of the categorical and the absolute’ (Perkins 1983: 18)


subject-oriented modality: ‘ascribes a certain property to the subject of a clause’; one of the three types of modality for Huddleston (1988: 78-9). SEE: type of modality. Palmer defines dynamic modality at subject oriented (1990: 36, since it refers to the ability of will of the subject, rather than the opinions (epistemic) or attitudes (deontic) of the speaker (and addressee)). later, however, he divides dynamic modality into subject-orientated (I can swim) and neutral (='it is possible/necessary for…')


subjective vs. objective epistemic modality: ‘Alfred may be unmarried’ (= (subjectively) ‘perhaps Alfred...’, or = (objectively) ‘I know that there is a possibility that Alfred...’) (Lyons 1977: 797-8). S.m. refers to the speaker’s beliefs, o.m. refers to reality (and can be denied, questioned, can be included in if-clauses and embedded under factive predicates: I know that...). Subjective epistemic modality ‘seems to be in many ways more basic in natural language than objective epistemic modality’ (Keifer 2518b) and Coates confirms that 'in the majority of cases Epistemic modals are subjective and Root modals are objective' (1983: 33).


subjunctive: In OE ‘modality’ (speaker’s attitudes towards the factual content of the utterance: (un)certainty, (im)possibility etc.) was expressed by means of the subjunctive, which has largely disappeared with the loss of inflections and has been replaced in this function by modal auxiliary verbs (plus a whole range of other means: adverbs, phrases, intonation etc.).


syntactic patterns: The unity of 'root' modality is shown by the syntactic patterns in which it appears: usually an animate subject, an agentive verbs and often a passive infinitive. Epistemic modality, on the other hand, typically co-occurs with perfect or progressive infinitive with existential (there/it) subject or inanimate subject, and with a stative verb. The common syntactic patterns associated with each modal auxiliary are listed by Mindt (1998) and Biber (1999).


TAM: time-aspect-modality; these are related grammatical concepts (cf. Givón 1984: 269-318) that are mainly expressed by auxiliaries in English (especially time and modality).


temporal modality: one of Rescher's modalities (1968: 25); ranges from 'never' through 'sometimes' to 'always'. Like existential modality this refers to the target of description.


tentative forms: might, would, ought to, should (Palmer)


tests to disambiguate modal meaning: (i) he may do it è (a) it is possible for him to do it (dynamic modality), (b) it is possible that he will do it (epistemic modality); (ii) he must do that è (a) it is necesary for him to do that (deontic or dynamic modality), (b) he will necessarily do that (epistemic modality)


theoretical modality: the meaning of the indicative mood (connected with 'viewing' and 'backward looking', suiting words to the world). It is also concerned with the epistemic meaning of modal verbs (possibility, certainty, etc.). See practical modality.


type of modality: The interpretation of the type of modality is sometimes clear (‘he may know the answer’ is epistemic), but generally it depends on the context (‘he may come tomorrow’ can be epistemic (‘perhaps he will come’) or deontic (‘he is permitted to come’)). Professor: ‘You can’t [= ‘are not allowed to’ - deontic modality] sleep in my class’ - Student: ‘If you didn’t talk so loud I could [= ‘might succeed in doing so’ - epistemic modality]. Librarian: ‘Quiet! The people near you can’t [= ‘find it difficult to’ - epistemic modality] read’ - Johnny: ‘They ought to be ashamed of themselves - I’ve been able [=’have possessed the skill to’ - subject-oriented modality] read since I was six’. This lack of formal distinction of function derives from the fact that ‘In most languages, the expressions of certainty, necessity, and possibility are also used for obligations and permissions’ (Keifer 2518a) and that 'A characteristic feature of the modals… is their semantic vagueness or even determinacy' (Jacobsson 1994: 168). As a result there have been a great number of 'meanings' assigned to them in a great variety of taxonomies (some of these are presented in this glossary).


von Wright’s 4 modes: (i) alethic, (ii) epistemic, (iii) deontic, (iv) existential (von Wrigjht 1951: 1-2).





Bailey, Ch.-J. N. (1981). ‘English Verb Modalities’. Zeitschrift für Dialektologie und Linguistik 2: 161-188.


Biber, Douglas et al. (1999). Longman grammar of spoken and written English. London: Longman. [§ 6.6 Modals and semi-modals, pp. 483-502]

Bybee, Joan (1985). Morphology: A Study of the Relation between Meaning and Form. Amsterdam: Benjamins.


Bybee, Joan (1995). 'The Semantic Development of Past Tense Modals in English'. Bybee, Joan & Suzanne Fleischman (eds.) (1995): 503-517.


Bybee, Joan & Suzanne Fleischman (eds.) (1995). Modality in Grammar and Discourse. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.


Bybee, Joan & Suzanne Fleischman (1995). 'An Introductory Essay'. Bybee, Joan & Suzanne Fleischman (eds.) (1995): 1-14


Denison, David (1993). English Historical Syntax. Longman.


Facchinetti, Roberta (1998). ‘Does it have to be must?. The modals of necessity in British Caribbean English’. Linguistica e Filologia 7: 59-76.

Fischer, Olga (1994). ‘The development of quasi-auxiliaries in English and changes of word-order’. Neophilologus 78: 137-164.


Givón, T. (1984). Syntax. A functional-typological introduction. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Heine, B. (1993). Auxiliaries, cognitive forces and grammaticalization. OUP.

Huddleston, Rodney (1988). English Grammar: an Outline. CUP

Inchaurralde Besga, Carlos (1998). 'Modals and Modality in English'. Miscelánea [Univ. Zaragoza] 19.


Jacobsson, Bengl (1994). ‘Recessive and emergent uses of modal auxiliaries in English’. English Studies 72ii: 166-182.


James, Francis (1986). Semantics of the English Subjunctive. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press. [Examines subjunctive and modality in a diachronic and synchronic perspective; uses Boyd's theory of modality]
UB: Ing.3.3681


Leech, G.N. (1971; 2nd ed. 1987). Meaning and the English Verb. London: Longman.


Lew, Robert (1997). ‘Towards a Taxonomy of Linguistic Jokes’. Stidia Anglica Posnaniensia 31: 132-152.

Lindblad, Ishrat & Magnus Ljung (eds.) (1987). Proceedings from the Third Nordic Conference for English Studies [Hässelby 1986]. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wicksell. [a mixed bag of a regional Anglistik association, in vol 1 there are a few diachronic language studies]

Mindt, Dieter (1998). An empirical grammar of the English verb: modal verbs. Berlin: Cornelson.

Palmer, Frank R. (1979, 2nd ed. 1990). Modality and the English Modals. London/New York: Longman.

Perkins, M.R. (1983). Modal Expressions in English. London: Pinter.
UB: INGL. 3. 2859

Quirk, R., S. Greenbaum, G. Leech & J. Svartvik (1985). A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. London: Longman.

Rescher, N. (1968). Topics in Philosophical Logic. Dortrecht: Reidel.


Ruthrof, Horst (1991). ‘Language and the Dominance of Modality’. Language and Style 21: 315-326.
UB: no

Saukkonen, Pauli (1991). ‘Perspective as a Source of Style’. Language and Style 21: 53-71, 119-137.
UB: no

Schneider, Stefan (1999). Il congiuntivo tra modality e subordinazione. Roma: Carocci editore.
UB: A.3.***


Simpson, P. (1993). Language, Ideology and Point of View. London: Routledge.


Stubbs, M. (1986). ‘A Matter of prolonged field work: notes towards a modal grammar of English’. Applied Linguistics 7i: 1-25.

Sweetser, E.E. (1982). 'Root and epistemic modals: causality in two worlds'. Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society 8: 484-507.


Trask, R.L. (1997). A Student’s Dictionary of Language and Linguistics. London: Arnold.
INGL.3.4404 but should be moved to CONS.INGL.

Visser, F. Th. (1969). An historical syntax of the English language. Part 3. Leiden: Brill.


Von Wright, H.G. (1951). An Essay in Modal Logic. Amsterdam: North Holland.