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(An Elective Course in English Language for 2nd Year Students)
Associate Professor Steluta Stan, PhD
Chapter 1 – Aspects of Modality in English 4 Chapter 2 – Context and Modality 6 2.1. Context and Modality 2.2. Expressions of Modality. Some examples Chapter 3 – Modals Verbs 3.1. Syntactic Behaviour 3.2. Modals and Tenses Chapter 4 – Meanings and Uses of the English Modal Verbs 4.1. CAN 4.1.1. Ability CAN 4.1.2. Permission/Deontic CAN 4.1.3. Possibility/Epistemic CAN 4.1.4. Recurrence CAN 4.2. General Notes on the Secondary Modals 19 4.3. COULD 4.3.1. Substitutes for CAN/COULD 21 4.3.2. CAN/COULD – Roundup 4.3.3. Exercises – Meanings and Uses of CAN/COULD 4.4. MAY 4.4.1. Permission MAY 4.4.2. Epistemic MAY 26 4.4.3. Ability/Capability MAY 4.5. MIGHT 4.5.1. Epistemic MIGHT 4.5.2. Deontic MIGHT 28 4.5.3. Ability MIGHT 4.5.4. Exercises – Meanings and Uses of MAY/MIGHT 4.6. MUST 4.6.1. Epistemic MUST 4.6.2. Deontic MUST 32 4.6.3. MUST – Roundup 4.6.4. Exercises – Meanings and Uses of MUST 4.7. SHALL 4.7.1. Epistemic SHALL 4.7.2. Deontic SHALL 38 4.8. SHOULD 4.8.1. Epistemic SHOULD 4.8.2. Deontic SHOULD 4.8.3. SHOULD in Indirect Speech Acts 4.8.4. Exercises – Meanings and Uses of SHALL/SHOULD 41 4.9. WILL 4.9.1. Volition/Deontic WILL 43 4.9.2. Power WILL
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necessity and impossibility. WILL/WOULD – Roundup Final Tests 47 48 48 49 51 Chapter 1 – Aspects of Modality in English Pragmatics studies how the transmission of meaning depends not only on the linguistic knowledge (e.10. the inferred intent of the speaker. it would appear that such notions are conceptually grounded on the fact that human beings often think and behave as though things might be or might have been other than they actually are (or were). WOULD in Indirect Speech Acts 4. which today is one of the most pursued branches of logic. knowledge about the status of those involved. different descriptions. about conceivable though not actual states of affairs.9.10. but also on the context of the utterance. that the car has broken down and that I am late for work does not prevent me from imagining myself arriving at work on time […] in a quietly purring car in brilliant sunshine.4.) of the speaker and listener. WOULD as an ‘Irrealis’ Marker 4. lexicon etc. asking different questions on the basis of different theoretical assumptions. The problem is that different disciplines have each approached the notion from different starting points.10. For example.3. Epistemic WILL 45 4. logicians and philosophers. i. pragmatics explains how language users are able to overcome apparent ambiguity. WOULD for Past Time Reference 4. such talk is known in logical studies as talk about other possible states of affairs or other possible worlds.5. Such a worldview appears to constitute an essential part of the fabric of our everyday lives. since meaning relies on the manner. grammar. in each case. 4 Modalization .g.2. The ability to understand another speaker's intended meaning is called pragmatic competence.10. place.3.1. the fact that it is raining.Chapter 1 4.” To talk about things being otherwise than they actually are is to talk about ALTERNATIVE.10. of an utterance. Michael Perkins says in Modal Expressions in English: ”To put it quite simply. In this respect. WOULD for Present Time Sphere 47 4. time etc. have defined these notions together with the relations which may be perceived to exist between them.e. the nature of the question posed and of the goals set have led to different answers. Central to discussions on modality are the notions of possibility. necessity and impossibility. and so on.10. such investigations provide the basis of modal logic. ever since Aristotle. WOULD 46 4. A first attempt may be to consider the type of mental attitude and experience that involves the notions of possibility.
in fact. Perkins shows that there are three general systems of principles that can be involved when one studies the modalities: firstly. instruction.Chapter 1 It has been shown that the principles governing the use of modal expressions in ordinary language differ from those on which the use of their logical counterparts is based. Perkins remarks that “broadly speaking. the Greek word for “knowledge”. is the case. A possible alternative course of events is a “world” in which the speaker conceives himself arriving in time. compulsion. she is loyal. The modalities that conform to social laws regard the sphere of duty. there are cases when one can “know” something and be mistaken. in Perkins’s example above. “To know” that something is the case means that it. are the usually less formal laws relating to social status. They are concerned with the interpretation of the world via the laws of human reason and are known as EPISTEMIC MODALITY. one’s knowledge is no longer knowledge. actual world. “the key concept which underlies modality is the state of lack of knowledge”. according to the principles of morality. of course. as such. in a perfectly functioning car. command. nevertheless. Modalization 5 . there are the modalities which conform to the rational laws of deduction. in brilliant sunshine. it is not exclusively significant. These are of two general kinds: on the one hand. and are known as DEONTIC MODALITY. M. which means that moral statements do not derive from examples. The term epistemic derives from “episteme”. when a person interacts with other people. appropriateness. order. on the other hand. there is no absolute dividing line between the two. Perkins aptly points out that. the fact that it is raining. rather they are grounded on a system of duties which reside in human reason. the actual world is itself just one of an infinite set of possible worlds and. So. but then. We can say that to conceive of something being otherwise is to conceive its being real in some non-actual world or in some state of the actual world at a point in time other than the present. are those laws explicitly involving some legal authority or institution. Although the modal systems used by logicians cannot adequately explain the behaviour of modal expressions in the language. Talk about possible worlds is noteworthy in so far as they are contrasted with and relative to the current. they can. serve as a basis for understanding how modality works in natural languages. according to which one person may be said to have personal authority over another. To say that “Mary ought to be a loyal friend to Ann” is to say that there is a state of affairs in which. actually. that the car has broken down and that the speaker is late for work pertain to the actual state off affairs. The second set of principles concerning modalities is defined in terms of social/institutional laws. in fact.” No need to stress the fact that what ought to happen is not exactly what actually happens. But to be certain (an epistemic modality) that something is the case does not mean that it really is the case.
and the states of affairs that follow from them in accordance with natural laws (the laws of physics. natural/the laws of nature) define three different types of states of affairs/worlds. 6 Modalization . The three general systems of principles (rational/the laws of reason. There are three envisageable courses of events conceived as alternatives to the actual world. social/the laws of society. anatomy etc. biology.Chapter 1 The third set of principles concerning modalities has in view the relationship between actual (empirical) circumstances or states of affairs. chemistry. they form the theoretical background against which the nature of the English modal expressions will be determined.) These modalities define the notion of capacity (physical or intellectual) and are known as ABILITY/DYNAMIC MODALITY.
Pragmatics and the Description of Discourse. The proper interpretation of utterances can be a very complicated matter.Chapter 2 Chapter 2 – Context and Modality 2. It is in the discourse context that one can best see what the participants are doing and what they are experiencing. Context and Modality Language production starts from an extra-linguistic real-world situation. any adequate description of utterances should account for the relationships between the real-world extra-linguistic context and the linguistic choices made by the participants in the discourse. to maintain a proper balance between the syntactic. Many linguists have lately felt a real need for a theory of pragmatics in addition to syntax and semantics. one must refer to many levels of language. to determine their appropriate use and to provide adequate descriptions and explanations. their communicative functions and the contexts/settings in which given linguistic forms have given functions. govern the conditions under which it is appropriate to perform one type of illocutionary act. not only the superficial (surface) syntactic environment and the logical semantic structure. that is with what users of a language can do with these forms. the semantic and the pragmatic factors involved in the use of utterances in natural languages. which will best suit his communicative intentions. the role they can play in on-going conversations. Therefore. the Modalization 7 . also. semantics and pragmatics and their interrelation as follows: SYNTAX as form characterizes the grammatical forms that occur in a language: the structural organization of sentences and the co-occurrence possibilities among lexical items in particular kinds of grammatical constructions.1. SEMANTICS as form+function relates the grammatical forms with their potential communicative functions. in terms of the propositional content they can be used to express. PRAGMATICS as form+function+context is concerned with the relation between linguistic forms. namely the necessity to contextualize. The discourse rules. When the situation eliciting language appears. to “anchor” utterances in some social system as a condition for understanding how they can be used. the speaker performs a speech act which involves a series of logical hierarchical choices of the linguistic elements at his disposal. Communication and language production being organically bound to human beings and extra-linguistic situations. Fillmore has emphasized an idea which is old in anthropology and philology. but also the social context in which the discourse occurs must be brought into consideration. Charles Fillmore has defined syntax. a subset of which is referred to as conversation rules. etc. In his study. they determine what answers qualify as appropriate responses to a certain act. under what circumstances. as well as the speech acts they can be used to perform.
contexts that are strictly speaking extra-linguistic.the relationships between – the speaker and the addressee/surface subject .pair the two. Ar trebui sa ajungem la cabana inainte de a se intuneca.Chapter 2 concepts of pragmatics and contextualization have great relevance for the applied linguist. pragmatic factors are clearly involved in the use and choice of modal expressions.the syntactic features and semantic values . The problem of the equivalence or synonymy between two modals.identify the situation in which certain forms and syntactic configuration are usable in his language. To be more specific. If one is to teach/learn second language use successfully.the social position assumed by the participants in the discourse . the parallelism is not complete and the explanation is pragmatic. Notice that in the following sentences only one Romanian modal corresponds to the two English verbs: You must/*should1 be out of your mind! Trebuie sa fii scrantit/ca nu esti intreg la minte! We should/*must get there before dark. The rules that enable one to define and classify them. although the concept of probability is present in both. are also to be found in the area of pragmatics. he must ‘transpose’ contextual social and cultural concepts. one has to know: . for the contrastive analyst. yet what is described as possible by the former is different from what is described as possible by the 1 incorrect 8 Modalization . there are environments in which only one is possible or appropriate. in the real-world context of the utterance. Both CAN and MAY partake of the notion of possibility. besides syntactic and semantic elements. MUST and SHOULD in their epistemic sense are often taken together under the label probably/likely and are assumed to be semantic equivalents.the impression the speaker wants to make on the hearer etc. to account for their often peculiar behaviour.the source and the goal of modality . yet. between a modal and a lexical/cognate verb or between a modal and an idiom/apparent paraphrase is a good example to consider. and . one must: . although in terms of surface syntax the two languages might appear very different. . Consequently. for second language teaching/learning and also for translation and interpretation. Similarly. not syntactic or semantic.the contextual assumptions shared by the participants in the discourse . a translator’s task is compound: in addition to merely translating words and ideas.determine the means by which the target language makes these distinctions. to tell whether they are appropriately used and determine that use.
a-ti fi posibil and a fi posibil/cu putinta. They are not exact. as in a1). You have to go now. Until recently. while may is closer to epistemic possibility corresponding to may: a avea posibilitatea. Consider also: You must go now. if we consider the following sentences. c1) Ti se da voie sa fumezi/Ai voie sa fumezi. ai voie (de la mine) sa fumezi and non-performatively. in addition Modalization 9 . the paraphrases existing only to fill the syntactic gaps where the simple modals were not available. they were regarded as perfect synonyms. b) is apt to be used when. from the modal expressions available to him. for all the modal expressions used in the above English sentences. the other paraphrase. Trebuie sa pleci acum Sentence a) may be used when the speaker himself sets the obligation. poate (ca). in b) he merely reports that the subject has permission. Trebuie sa pleci acum You’ve got to go now.Este posibil sa/Poate ca… Another intriguing relationship is that between English modals and their paraphrases. Can is closer to logical possibility and is paraphrasable in English by it is possible for… to. b) You are allowed to smoke. In conclusion.Chapter 2 latter. as in c1). Trebuie sa pleci acum. a-ti fi permis is chiefly used to report the existence of permission. we shall easily notice that there are semantic distinctions and differences in distribution and use between them. c) seems closer to b). the addressee needs to catch a train. and does not make the distinction between obligation imposed by the speaker and obligation derived from other constraints. may also be used both performatively. In Romanian the modal a putea does not make the performative/nonperformative distinction. respectively: I can be there in time – It is possible for me to… I may be there in time – It is possible that… Pot sa fiu acolo la timp – Am posibilitatea/Imi este posibil sa… . a avea voie. a trebui. In a) the speaker himself is giving permission or indicates his approval of it. it can also be used to give permission. or to report permission. say. interchangeable equivalents and there are contexts where the use of one is appropriate. the phrase a da voie. while the other’s is not. ai voie (de la tatal tau) sa fumezi. a) You may smoke. Hence the importance of pragmatic elements. b1) Iti este permis sa fumezi. But. a speaker will choose what will best suit his communicative intentions in a particular contextual situation. a1) Poti fuma/Iti dau voie sa fumezi. but the speaker may be opposed to the idea. Romanian uses one modal.
necessary. presumably. dare. . legal. supposedly etc. presume. trust etc. doubt. expectation etc. believe.adverbs: allegedly. imagine. certain. in point of their syntax. assumption. hope. possibly. 2. seemingly. probably. guess. ought to. would. imperative. command. perhaps. instruction. request.adjectives: sure.modal verbs: can. compulsory.nouns: allegation. evidently. might. prophecy. the different modal expressions belong to different syntactic classes and have widely different syntactic properties: . necessarily. for an adequate interpretation of modal expressions.2. hypothesis. one can identify a set of modal expressions on the basis of their shared semantic characteristics previously discussed. permissible etc. will. proposal. may. . Expressions of Modality. fear. Some Examples At the level of linguistic manifestation. likely. should.verbs: assume. suspect. need. 10 Modalization .Chapter 2 to the syntactic and semantic ones. shall. probable. hopefully. fancy. could. . realizing the conceptual sphere of the three systems of law discussed above: rational. . certainty. certainly. must. All these lexical items have been termed modal expressions in virtue of the fact that they appear to express the same type of meaning. lawful. invitation. obviously. possible. think. feel. apparently. social and natural.
be both expressed by syntactic modals. to have a combination of modalities in a sentence. advise. will have been told). COULD. present tense (do not participate in number agreement). WILL.they do not co-occur in constructions like *must can. believe. participles). It is possible. that the English modals are main verbs in the deep structure and this ‘unverblike behaviour’ is due to what E. where may signals epistemic possibility and need/have to deontic necessity. be about to. SHALL. must be reading.they do not take the concord morpheme –s on the 3rd person. which has been used as an argument to characterize them as auxiliaries or semi-/quasi-auxiliaries. . they can be directly negated by not. possibly.they occupy the leftmost position in the verb phrase (may leave. dare and need varies from author to author.they do not have non-finite forms (infinitives. Bara calls “history-specific development of the English language”. ought to. The subcategory of modals that is intermediate between the pure modals and the modal candidates is generally referred to as quasi-/semi-modals/modal paraphrases and traditionally includes items as dare. *shall must However. they are complemented by a verb in its infinitive form. These features are: . tend. ability are not necessarily mutually exclusive: You may need to/have to call again. happen and. WOULD. the English modals do not constitute a uniform class. used to. among other things. permission. Some grammarians also consider a class of modal candidates involving such verbs as seem. be to. MAY. obligation. be to. It has been assumed. a sub-class of what might be called pure/syntactic modals includes such items as CAN. *will may. the grammaticality of the following examples shows that concepts such as possibility. need. as well as cause and make. Syntactic Behaviour From the point of view of their surface syntactic behaviour. but they cannot. very often called ‘unverblike properties’. SHOULD and MUST. therefore. be able to. have to. MIGHT. used to.1. The treatment of ought to. know. they invert with the subject in interrogation. insist. singular. The syntactic modals exhibit the following idiosyncratic features or. here are some of their most important features: Modalization 11 . . .Chapter 3 Chapter 3 – Modal Verbs 3. in general. have to. be going to. however. they do not allow do-support.
in almost all respects. perhaps. while in negations and questions both forms are possible: I need/needed to go. have to is either directly negated by not or allows dosupport: Hadn’t you got to do it? Didn’t you have to do it? USED TO is in present-day English a very defective verb. in the spoken language. two possible negative forms (usedn/t to. or allow do-support. In present-day (American) English. as well as NEED. didn’t use to). b) need may also occur either as an uninflected syntactic modal or as an inflected regular verb: in positive statements the ‘true’ verb is commonly used. Their use as syntactic modals is relatively rare in British English and even more restricted in American English. it may both invert with the subject.Chapter 3 OUGHT TO is considered not to belong to the true verb category in the surface structure because it cannot pass the test for verbs. It should be pointed out that it is not much used in the affirmative except. only with the 1st person singular. did you use to?). it exhibits person and number agreement (am. In interrogation. Need you go?/ Do/Did you need to go? 12 Modalization . They need not go/don’t need to go. were). in the expression I daresay. two possible interrogative forms (used you to?. *Note that when it is used with the meaning to challenge. Unlike them. like the syntactic modals. behaves like the syntactic modals. was. displays a formal behaviour that is characteristic of both syntactic modals and ordinary verbs. like ‘true’ verbs: Have you (got) to leave right now? Do you have to leave? In negation also. In the negative and interrogative it may appear either as an ordinary verb or a syntactic modal: Do you/does he dare? Dare you/he? Negative and interrogative forms with do/does/did are in theory followed by the to-infinitive. Note that the forms with do-support seem to be more common. being a syntactic modal with idiosyncratic surface behaviour. are. has) and has past tense syntax. BE TO. having one past form for all persons. The most common terms used for them are pseudo-/quasimodals. a) dare behaves like a regular verb in the affirmative (dare/dares in the present. but in practice the to is often omitted: He doesn’t dare (to) say it right (in)to my face. ought to is very often reduced to otta. dare is an ordinary transitive verb: I dare you to fill in for me and see how hard it is. DARE. mainly but not exclusively. HAVE TO agrees in person and number (have. dared in the past). without any significant difference in meaning. is. has past tense syntax and may appear in the infinitive and not occupy the leftmost position in the VP: Worse still may be to come.
should. a more tentative probability. He doesn’t need our pity. A special type of ‘remoteness’ is ‘unreality’ or ‘counterfactuality’: I told you time and time again not to drive so fast. Modals and Tenses The distinction between the sometimes called ‘primary modals’ (can.R. Tentativeness. Palmer is based on a semantic dimension of meaning present in the secondary modals and possessed only to a minimal degree by the primary ones. This is because epistemic modality is related to speaker-now and does not have tense itself. others of a formal/tentative meaning (Palmer). taken out of the context. needn’t + have-en never occur as deontic and ability modalities. it is a perfectly regular transitive verb: He needs all the support he can get. The perfect marker have-en can also indicate counterfactual possibility: The car is in such a bad condition that you might have got into trouble but for the safety belt. while most traditional ones view it simply as a problem of past time reference (Jespersen). It is generally claimed that forms like could.Chapter 3 *Notice that the complement verb following need may be used either in the long or the short infinitive. Nevertheless. except after the inflected forms needs and needed. When need is used with the meaning to require. We shall not insist on this aspect. is understood as a more remote possibility. 3. should) as seen by such grammarians as O. there are cases when these forms may be used to express ‘earlierness’ in time. they can only appear with epistemic meanings. it can express both tentative possibility and counterfactuality (contrary-to-reality). G. But speakers of English seldom recognize them as an indication of past time. shall) and the ‘secondary modals’ (could.2. though a very important one. ought to. Jespersen. must. might. may. They are rather felt as markers of some kind of ‘remoteness’ from the reality immediately perceptible at the moment of encoding. will. in which case the sequence of tenses occurs. F. because it will be furthered in the chapters dedicated to each modal. This happens when the time sphere is past and is indicated by a deictic marker or an introductory verb in the past tense. One exception may be deontic must which has no corresponding Modalization 13 . a lower degree of certainty: They might be telling the truth (although I very much doubt that). would. Leech. when the to-infinitive is always used. would. might. might have had is ambiguous. Some grammarians speak of a common hypothetical meaning shared by the secondary modals (Leech). *Notice that. for example. you might have had an accident.
When have-en co-occurs with past/oblique forms of the modals. resemble. (=possibility). contexts which allow deontic uses of modals to occur with the be-ing marker: I shouldn’t be talking to you. understand etc. he’s such a bore. thus permitting the modals to signal ‘tentativeness’ or ‘unreality/non-fulfillment’. but it is by no means the only possible. when simple epistemic modals combine with the perfect marker on the complement verb (perfect infinitive) it is the latter which signals ‘past’. To conclude. *Note that the construction expresses a present requirement (must) concerning a past process (have obtained). however. that’s why we couldn’t find them home. 14 Modalization . The progressive marker be-ing can combine with modals. In conclusion. I think they may travel abroad since they have their passports on them. whereas need can: I needn’t have invited him over. but with certain restrictions referring to those verbs that cannot be usually used in the progressive aspect (know.) Sometimes the be-ing morpheme may distinguish between possible and permissive MAY: I think they may be visiting some relatives in Bucharest.Chapter 3 past/oblique forms: Applicants for this position must have obtained a diploma in the past five years. it indicates past time. *Note that neither dare not nor used to can occur with this construction. We can’t say: She can have smoked and mean She was able to smoke. (permission) There are. the preferred or dominant interpretation in this combination is the epistemic reading. Things are different with simple deontic or ability modals. I don’t even know you.
invitations. with the literal meanings mentioned above they may appear in direct speech acts such as statements. Thus we come to distinguish between ability can (dynamic modality). In actual use. . certainty. virtual certainty. capability. Can you feel the tension between them? The present study is meant to show evidence that infants can and do solve problems at a relatively simple perceptual level. questions. The meanings of the modals will be distinguished from the speech acts they may be used to perform.1. as questions of ability rise only in connection with animate creatures. in fact. negations of possibility.ability/dynamic modalities – expressing potentiality. they often participate in indirect speech acts whose illocutionary force differs from that of the direct act suggested by their surface structure: offers. colloquial language) and the possibility sense. possibility can (epistemic modality). obligation. but it has been claimed that there are conditions that favour the use of be able to rather than can. can is considered by traditional studies a polysemous word having three different senses: the ability sense (both physical and mental). . Palmer. As given by F. can may be replaced by be able to. They can’t speak a word of English but they can make themselves understood. etc. 4. and permission can (deontic modality).deontic modalities – signaling permission. 4. necessity. There is no such perfect equivalence between the two. the permission sense (replacing may in everyday.R. In addition. probability.Chapter 4 Chapter 4 – Meanings and Uses of the English Modal Verbs Before dealing with each of the modal verbs previously mentioned. orders.1. In all these examples. these conditions are: Modalization 15 . however. suggestions etc.logical/epistemic modalities – expressing possibility. a function of the contexts in which it occurs. we feel bound to sum up the basic meanings they occur with: . ABILITY CAN He doesn’t trust too many people. but he cannot resist his little grandson.1. requests. obligation. Other grammarians consider that the polysemy of can is. probability. The subject of all these sentences is animate. CAN Like all the other modal verbs. Thus. the modals appear with many overtones. shades of meaning and degrees of intensity that can only be identified in the discourse context.
instead of different senses of the modal can. to indicate that the subject accomplishes the task: In this way we are able to carry out our research. At the pragmatic level. it can be rephrased as Look! Ken is able to drive.. according to Palmer. we can conclude that. the sentence I ran fast but couldn’t catch the bus is correct. can is used to make an offer: We can also give you a copy of the document if you wish. 16 Modalization . only be able to is available after other modal verbs: might be/should be/has got to be/must be able to etc. I can tell you the truth if you will hear it. So. In the first one. be able to is used. .since can has no non-finite forms. Consider some examples in which can is used contextually to indicate that action should be taken: . we can speak about different possible environments of it. In the second sentence. can and be able to are not always freely interchangeable. If the TR is past and if the situation is a single accomplished occurrence. *Note that in the negative. Our local team can beat yours. only be able to is used: I ran and was able to catch (not could) the train. we shall remark that can may be used to indicate different speech acts. a process is going on. and which is such as not to preclude the event from occurring. Consider also the following examples: Ken is driving. can says can and will do. What it should also be remembered is that if there is an intention to specify that the task is accomplished. a previous occasion on which Ken demonstrated his ability to drive.Chapter 4 . and that a similar occurrence may happen again.be able to is preferred if the TR (time reference) of the sentence is present. As the examples indicate. again according to Palmer. He can lift that huge suitcase. where the speaker speaks on behalf of someone else. is able to says can and does. Ken can drive. but the existence of which is assumed. I or exclusive we.with 3rd person pronouns. the speaker merely assumes some circumstances. but it is not clear if the initiative is his or not: I’ll send him to see what he can do and then he can call you. Joan of Arc can hear voices telling her to save France. and its occurrence is much greater in written texts. . Taking some more examples as: She can tell awful things sometimes. .be able to is a little more formal than can.with 1st person pronouns. The contribution of can to the meaning of the sentence seems to be to relate the event referred to to some external circumstance which is not explicitly identified. So. no process is going on.
be bothered: He can never really believe that when somebody takes a drug it is actually going to harm him. What you can remember out of his speech is what really matters. it combines offer and suggestion: Do come early and we can have a drink. Can you see me wearing something like that? Such examples represent contextual extensions of ability can. stand. But Palmer shows that it is also possible to negate the event by using emphatic not: We can/can’t not go. recurrent event is intended.when an accomplishment is a matter of potentiality. Negation Usually only the modal verb is negated.in contexts in which a habitual. could is the rule: I could stand up and tell them my opinion whenever I wanted to. the affirmative past tense form for accomplished tasks is was/were able to. bear. Palmer discusses some cases in which could is used instead: . but as a request that he do so: Can you hold on? Can you give me a hand with this? If we is used inclusively.As already stated. think. not of realized task: In the state she was she could actually kill someone. possible environments of it.couldn’t occurs in all types of negative contexts to indicate that an event was not accomplished: Only when he died. If the context is an interrogative one. .Chapter 4 . Nevertheless. with be able to either the auxiliary be is negated or unable is used instead: We have to take into consideration the fact that they weren’t able/were unable to elaborate on the matter at stake. Syntactic behaviour 1. remember. Can occurs with verbs of mental cognition like understand. can’t we? 2. just. simply: We can always/simply/just not go. . 3.with a 2nd person pronoun it suggests that action be taken by the person addressed: You can certainly give me a call back tonight. Modalization 17 . Past time reference . his wife realized she could not live without him. Such forms are a little more natural with always. Interrogation – both can and be able to occur in interrogative sentences. then can with you does not function as a question about the addressee’s capacity to carry out the action.
In conclusion. In all these examples. Consider the following examples: You can go now.Chapter 4 A negative meaning of the entire context favours could with the same interpretation of non-accomplished task: He could hardly breathe. He can run faster next year (inappropriate). the temporal sphere of can is present and extended present. be able to is preferred. and then all he could think of was his career. Could is also used with negative items like hardly.2.little. the system of laws relative to which the statements are made represent the laws of society/social laws/institutional laws. PERMISSION/DEONTIC CAN Since about the 18th century.be able to is more common in writing than in speech. The modal verb can be marked as future by will/shall be able to: When you’re in your eighties you’ll be able to say that you are old and wise. does not indicate an event that takes place now. and involve either a person/an institution which creates permission. We’ll be able to save an awful lot of money by living there. Future time reference Can. Therefore.in the present tense. and future accomplishment (be able to). I could understand all he said. scarcely. you can’t have any cake. it has been possible to use can in the sense of permission. The past time reference of can with sensation verbs is formed by using could: From where I stood. let alone speak. unlike can. . 4.be able to is mandatory for past time reference to indicate the accomplishment of an event. Residents can use the car-park without a ticket. be able to indicates an accomplished task. nearly which create an overall negative context: Little could he make out of the text he was given for analysis. I could see the moon. In sum. Provided that the possibility is timeless. mine is broken. 4. If you don’t eat your meal. as shown above. .1. Their team can win the Cup next year (present ability to be actualized in the future). can may relate to a specific future event. This use of 18 Modalization . One moment she seemed to be everything to him. the differences between can and be able to are: . Can I borrow your car. it merely indicates that circumstances are such as not to preclude such an eventuality: You’ll go to Ireland any time you like as long as you can get a good job there. . . the distinction between present ability and future ability can be clearly seen in the following examples: He will be able to run faster next year (future ability).there where the ability is with the subject rather than the circumstances.a distinction is to be drawn between present ability that can accomplish something in the future (can).
e. they lay an obligation that a situation will not take place. please? 3. Syntactic behaviour 1. if he doesn’t like it he can always lump it. may I go out? Mum: Sure you can. of giving permission not to act. approaching a brusque and somehow impolite command: You can leave me out of that silly list of yours. Here the speaker is being ironical. then permission can is extended to mean quite the reverse of permission. can refuses permission. as in You can NOT come. can is more widely used than may as an auxiliary of permission in colloquial English. Nowadays can is no longer regarded as incorrect. can is used to ask if the person addressed gives permission. Perkins gives the following example in this respect: Jack: Can I go out? Mum: Not can. as you wish. but this can be ambiguous unless cleared up by the context: You can come or you can not come. Modalization 19 . Past time and future time reference As a past form. Jack: Ok. can tends to be avoided in formal and polite usage in both written and spoken English. in the same manner as may not. If the context is such as to give rise to a sarcastic attitude in the speaker. thank you very much. Until quite recently it has been fashionable for popular grammar books to state that it is incorrect to use can in contexts in which permission is given. 2. Negation – when in the negative. where may is felt to be the more respectable form. but merely as a less polite version of may.Chapter 4 can is relatively recent and it is a case when can encroaches upon may’s deontic territory. in fact. There is also a possibility of negating the situation i. or of something no one would choose to do. being in some cases simply a matter of courtesy: Can I get you a drink? Can I ring you back? A further contextual extension of permission is one in which the person addressed should act in order for the event to take place: Can I have the salt. Remark that mustn’t and shan’t negate the situation i. offering somebody the choice of doing something that cannot be avoided. may. Well. having the less specific meaning you have permission rather than I give you permission. Many an English schoolchild has been rebuked for saying Can I? instead of May I?. On the other hand.e. Yet. could may occur in reported speech since it is evident that one cannot give permission in relation to past events: He said I could leave the next day. This use of can may be extended from permission to strong recommendation as in: You can forget about your pocket money this week. Interrogation – in interrogative sentences.
Possibility can is more frequent in non-assertions i. *This can be a Toyota. 4. POSSIBILITY/EPISTEMIC CAN Can is said to have a possibility interpretation when it indicates that.e. Remark that can would not be used to refer to a sentence in the present which is known to be untrue: This can be a Toyota. If they give you the sack. 20 Modalization . the possibility interpretation is also available in those contexts in which the subject is inanimate: Lightning can be dangerous (the possibility is stated positively). Palmer shows that we can indicate that permission will be given by using the verb to permit: I shall permit you to. but it is a Mercedes. The interpretation of circumstantial possibility is more appropriate if there is a clear indication of the circumstances in which an event is possible: You can only get a job if you’re good at it and you really want it. circumstances are such as not to preclude the truth of the asserted sentence: There can be only one outcome of nuclear war. Lightning may be dangerous (or not) (both possibilities are open). (a clear possibility interpretation due to the passive construction) Young children can play this game (ambiguous between a possibility and an ability interpretation) Constructions with impersonal subjects favour an epistemic reading for can: You can get quite lost in that metropolis.Chapter 4 Could in the following examples is not a past form but a more polite way of asking for or granting permission: Could we go on to talk about modernist novels? For similar reasons. Contrast the following sentences: This game can be played by young children. Cigarettes can seriously damage your health. Passive sentences constitute another context that favours the interpretation towards a possibility sense. There are however some syntactic markers present in the context which lead to one interpretation rather than the other: CAN in the ability interpretation requires a human or at least an animate subject.3.1. Can this be true? This can’t be true. while in affirmative ones may is preferred: This may be true. you can always come and work for me. negative and interrogative sentences. according to the laws of reason/rational laws. He can’t be working at this late hour. Leech points out that “it is not always easy to distinguish between possibility can and ability can since ability implies possibility. there can be no future expression of permission.
Past time reference – can + perfect infinitive. coercive shall. It’s such a fishy situation that you can be standing on a bomb. she can’t be working at this hour. RECURRENCE CAN Can is often used to denote recurrence. It can be contrasted with the undemocratic. and you. can suggests occasional behaviour. 2. handle it with care. None of them refers to a specific time. Palmer distinguishes between She can’t come (ability) and She can’t be coming (possibility). habitual would: She can/will/would spend hours on the internet.1. 4. dear. it can’t have been Jennifer (it is not possible that it was Jennifer). however.Chapter 4 The progressive aspectual form is a marker for epistemic interpretation: She’s pulling your leg. indicating uncertainty. If you saw a woman in front of the house. They came back so quickly from their honeymoon that they can’t have been too happy there. Syntactic behaviour 1. With 2nd and 3rd person subjects. the fact that a tendency in a person or thing is apt to manifest itself occasionally. etc. you can be standing over there. The interpretation of possibility for can may be further extended in colloquial language to express a suggestion for future action: We can see about that tomorrow. so. while may not negates the complement verb (=it is possible that… not…): He can’t be at home (=it is not possible that he is…). while will and would imply regular/habitual activity. He may not be at home (=it is possible that he is not…). The perfect infinitive form is another marker of epistemic interpretation: Can I have made such a mistake? He can have been hiding from you at that time. Interrogation – the epistemic interpretation is frequent. sometimes. Closest in meaning to the occasional can is characteristic will and customary. Consider the sentences: Curiosity can kill. Note that the perfect infinitive does not generally co-occur with deontic or ability modals: He just can’t have made such a fool of himself. it is familiar though tactful imperative: Jack and Jill. can sit right beside me. bewilderment: Can it have been love that she was talking so excitedly about? Who can it be that bosses everybody around? 3. Note that can also occurs in certain adverbial clauses of degree which have the value of a superlative: She is as Modalization 21 . She can be so obliging when she chooses to. The examples above can have indicative paraphrases with adverbials like at times.4. Negation – can’t negates the modality (=it is not possible that).
might). the above analysis shows that the question about whether particular instances of can should be interpreted as “ability”. will. Leech discusses the secondary modals as sharing a hypothetical meaning not present in the same degree in the primary ones. while others view it simply as a problem of past time reference: O. He also establishes a connection between this hypothetical sense and the formal. might)/volition (would)/possibility (could. would. His position is that the secondary modals do not indicate past time. “formal/polite”. GENERAL NOTES ON THE SECONDARY MODALS As briefly mentioned before.R. In his own words: Sometimes the condition will be realized formally as a conditional clause and sometimes it will be merely left implicit in the context of utterance. F. 1979: 48).2. some grammarians speak of a common hypothetical meaning shared by the secondary modals. saying that “the secondary modals have a more tentative epistemic or deontic interpretation than their primary modal correlates” (1974: 127. shall. i. According to him. improbability which. instead. G. hypothetical tense which is thus devoid of temporal connotations” (1931: 112. past time reference. which. unreality. CONCLUSIONS In sum. 4. he thinks. indirect speech. “permission” or “possibility” can be resolved by postulating an invariant core sense which may contextually interact with one or more of the three different systems of laws in which the circumstances are such as not to preclude an event (in the ability and permission interpretation) or the truth of a sentence (in the possibility interpretation). under the term “conditional”. must. impossibility. constitute an “imaginative use of the past unreal. Perkins objects to all the above mentioned proposals and offers a unifying denominator for “hypothetical”. 114). polite use of the secondary modals (1971: 117). in his opinion. ought to are identical in formal realization with the past tense counterparts of the primary modals. what he calls. Palmer characterizes the common. “tentative”.e. “imaginative past”. conditional clauses. they indicate. can. should. M. subsumes all these distinctions and points out the fact that the secondary modals presuppose the existence of a conditioning environment overtly marked. this meaning extends over three different areas: hypothetical permission (could.Chapter 4 happy as can be (= very happy). might. Jespersen remarks that the modals could. The duty of a president is to serve the people as best he can. may. others of a formal/tentative one. unifying semantic feature of the secondary modals as tentativeness. but 22 Modalization .
general possibility that resulted in a single occurrence. the difference being one of conditionality: . Note that the present conditional of a putea is the usual form in Romanian for these weakened modalities. A past time sphere and the rules of the sequence of tenses are the most common reasons for past-marking: He asked if he could use my phone. such a condition must always be present in some way or another. the circumstances are such as not to preclude the occurrence of the event: I couldn’t endure such behaviour. when be able to is preferred in statements while the rule is more relaxed in the negative or with verbs of perception: I could stand up and tell them my opinion whenever I wanted.3. Modalization 23 . . under a conditional reserve. the negative inference being ‘but I don’t suppose I may’”. By extension. As already stated. can may be substituted for could. He read the message but could not understand it. as in: She made a compromise. could can be used to indicate habitual ability. could may be replaced by can with a difference that Leech characterizes in the following manner: “with could the speaker does not expect his plan to be granted. Notice that could may report both can and could used in direct speech: He said I could go can be the reported form of both You can go and You could go. could will be used out of habit of politeness even in cases in which the speaker does not expect his request to be complied with. If she tried harder.permission could. she could certainly do it. Sometimes this negative assumption is overtly expressed in requests where the conditionality sense is explicit as in: I don’t suppose I could talk to her. He could do it with the right moral support.ability could.Chapter 4 no matter what its formal status might be. the difference residing in the conditionality sense of could. Could may have an ability interpretation if it is the system of natural laws that is taken into consideration and. In all examples. COULD The interpretations of could are essentially the same as those of can. (1983: 51) 4. How could she do/have done otherwise? In all the examples but the last one. It is frequent in 1st person requests as: Could I see your driving license? I wonder if I could borrow some money? Could we have something to drink? Sometimes could is used instead of could+perfect infinitive for past time reference.
It should be pointed out that such statements can be ambiguous lest cleared by larger contexts as to the type of counter-factuality and the time reference. 24 Modalization . but you can be sent to an asylum for speaking like a fool. while be able to is used to express an achievement. SUBSTITUTES FOR CAN/COULD BE ABLE TO – its use is compulsory in the following cases: .to avoid ambiguity for past time reference: He could have a picnic on Friday last (permission). he could see as far as the bridge (possibility. could+perfect infinitive is used: Could you have left your umbrella on the train? This construction can also lead to a “contrary-to-fact” interpretation or. complaint: They could have come when expected. the result of an effort. You could have told me in advance.Chapter 4 . Note that it almost never has progressive and past forms.1. .. You could answer these messages for me. 4.to supply non-finite forms (infinitive. compare: He went up onto the roof and was able to see the lake in the distance with From the window of his motel room. participles).epistemic could: You could not be put to prison for speaking against industry. . no effort) MANAGE TO – is often used to stress more effectively than be able to the notion of overcome difficulty. and it cannot be doubled by can/could since it would be pleonastic. For past time reference.3. (It’s not possible that he said that). Remember that for past continuous ability only could is available: She could speak English and so was able to direct the stranger to his hotel. He mightn’t have said that (It’s just possible that he did not say that) *Remark that the time sphere of epistemic could is present/extended present and future (polite suggestion for future action): There could be trouble at the Dinamo-Steaua match tomorrow.to form compound tenses. except in the negative form where couldn’t is an instance of external negation and mightn’t an instance of internal negation: He couldn’t have said that. What could have turned him so angry? Leech remarks that it is difficult to see any difference in the use of could and might in the epistemic interpretation. also.
You can have met him some time ago.present tense of modal can: ability – characteristic capacity. say tomorrow? Can/Could you repeat.Chapter 4 USED TO – is preferred to could/was able to for habitual. *Note that when the future moment is more remote. can expressing permission: She’ll be able to speak (not CAN) several foreign languages when she has finished the interpreters’ course.ROUNDUP 1. precise statement or categorical request. Modalization 25 . 4.near future (as to the present. ZERO CAN/COULD – when followed by verbs of physical/mental perception/activity or emotions. frequent past action/state which no longer exists at the moment of speaking. It is more colloquial than be able to. polite.past tense of modal can = can + perfect infinitive (true for any modal) (=past time + doubt. diffident): Can/Could you come to/and have lunch with us. there is an adverb of definite future time in the sentence (next week/month/year. supposition. uncertainty. .future (as to the past – should/would be able to) I knew I should/would be able to meet them again. contrary-to-factness): I don’t think he can have been so thoughtful. CAN & COULD . permission (= MAY): I am told you can tame any animal. (Nu inteleg…) BE SUPPOSED TO – can be one of the most subtle ways of expressing interdiction in English: You are not supposed to enter this club if you are not its member. the speaker is more hesitant. please? When can/could you bring the articles to be reviewed? They can/can’t come to the meeting tomorrow. People can often be very unfeeling. when…) and the future possibility depends on the ability. can they? . isn’t he? They can’t have seen us in that pub. competence. not on the circumstances (the ability has not yet been acquired). they often lose the notional content becoming mere auxiliaries that should not be translated in Romanian: I can’t understand what you’re getting at. he’s quite your age. Don’t worry about her! When she has been coached long enough.2. skill (exception – recurrence can = sometimes it can be/happen that…).3. she’ll be able (not CAN) to pass the entrance examination. with could. Can he belong to our group and me not having met him yet! Why can’t you take your pills in time for a change? Can I use your phone? . for ferm. logical deduction (=MAY). CAN . shall/will/’ll be able to are the only choices. possibility.
. it is considered to be a conditional. . We could have offended them if we had omitted to send an invitation. so he could take more exercise. If you could draw. two days ago. she could jog four miles in the morning.the pattern I can do it has the past form I was able to do it. . COULD . He’s put on weight.past general physical/intellectual ability: When young.if there is no indication of mood. he said we could make as much noise as we wanted to.past tense of modal can only when it expresses: general past permission (informal alternative for may): She knew she could do whatever she liked. he could speak Arabic like an Arab. .future in the past of modal can: They said they could help us move in on Monday. you could have your name entered for the coming competition. . The drug can be very effective in the treatment of pneumonia. .unfulfilled past possibility: He said he couldn’t believe it when he was told the news. or a possibility not put to the test: You could have finished the text but insisted to leave. .could+perfect infinitive is used to express past ability not necessarily used. when she saw them). I couldn’t do it covers both the affirmative and the negative and can be interpreted as both a negative conditional (future reference) and a past tense (past reference).if there is no indication in the context as to the meaning of could. last week. .could (not) for all negative/interrogative/negative-interrogative sentences with a past main verb. a larger context will clear the ambiguity.when there is a specific past time adverbial (yesterday. (could would signal permission) 26 Modalization .present indicative (the sequence of tenses. at five o’clock.past occasional ability: She could be a charming person.Chapter 4 2.conditional/subjunctive moods: I could have told that myself. I wish I could have had the chance to meet her. . *Note that: . especially in indirect style): At his party. . Years ago. and we did. it can only express permission. in spite of the moments when she lost her temper. be able to is preferred: John was able to have a picnic on Friday last. . before going to work. then.
I’m sorry I can’t help you with your mathematics. I’m sure he will … to provide quite decently for him and his family. but … to get on. You can’t take these books home with you. if you wish. and I … say that she felt embarrassed. she ran as fast as she …. You can’t have rejected such an attractive proposal if you know where your interest lies. you can walk there. II. She can spend day after day in the library searching more data for her research paper. He can’t have meant to hurt her feelings as I know they are the best of friends. You can certainly give me a ring back to tell me when you come by.Applications 4. … to say a word. d) request. b) theoretical possibility. He made me so mad that in the state I was. Modalization 27 . offer. We can try to solve that now or we can put it off for later. Give reasons for using can/be able to in the following sentences. I have no head for algebra.3. I … see her standing there alone. Identify the meanings of can in the following sentences. Who can be ringing so late at night? Can it be Jim. Can it be true? It (simply) can’t be true! What is done cannot be undone. refer to the course whenever you need: If he still is the person I have known him to be. please? We already know she can be unfriendly when she wants to. He can’t not answer their polite request to forward the necessary details. who’s just got back from the States? What can she mean by that? Now I can understand what you mean to do. She knows I cannot refuse her so she always asks for favours. EXERCISES – MEANINGS AND USES OF CAN/COULD I. choose between: a) physical / mental ability. We can send you a confirmation of receipt. There can be only one possible and terrifying outcome of this imminent war. it takes you about five minutes. c) permission / prohibition. Can I have a look at those photos? You can call on me every time you feel like it. invitation.3. Can you pass me the sugar. I … actually say things I knew I would regret later. The bus station is not very far. suggestion (indirect speech acts). When she saw the bus.
III. Sunt nou în oraş. ori vorbitorul nu şi-a structurat prea bine discursul. you can…)/(…so that X can/could…). dar am putea continua mâine la aceeaşi oră. recurrent. invitations. There was very little I … say or do about the whole situation. 28 Modalization . they still wanted their son to always be honest and speak up his mind. recurrent past event.Applications However harsh they were. single potential (not realized) task. timeless future physical/mental ability. circumstantial possibility (if…. Credeţi că m-aţi putea ajuta să găsesc sediul Institutului de cercetări? Sugerăm să ne oprim deocamdată. habitual. present/past occasional. Să fie oare vârsta? Nu se poate! Am să fiu în stare să-l bat la table când voi avea mai multă experienţă. physical/mental ability to be actualized at a specific future moment. habitual behaviour (the same as WILL/WOULD). single accomplished past occurrence. Am putea să trimitem invitaţiile chiar săptămâna viitoare. suggestions. They were so shocked. asking for/granting present/past/future permission. requests. Putem să găzduim următoarea conferinţă la Galaţi. strong recommendation. they … hardly utter a word. description of present/past characteristic features of people/events. he … stand up and tell them his opinion whenever he wanted to. Credeţi că vom putea termina suficient de repede pentru a trimite la timp documentele? Îmi amintesc că era o vreme când puteam petrece zile întregi fără să obosim. possible event/situation. IV. I … do it on my own. but that did not necessarily mean that I … agree with him. past physical/mental ability. When you are in your sixties. offers. What had been done … be undone. accomplished task in the present. not accomplished past event. you’ll … to say that you have had enough. Look! As I have told you I don’t know how many times. Translate into English and give reasons for your choices: Mă tem că nu înţeleg prea mult din ce spune. I … understand what he meant. reproach for past actions. ori nu sunt în stare să urmăresc nimic pentru că sunt obosit. present ability to be actualized in future. Make sentences to illustrate the following meanings and uses of can-could/be able to: present physical/mental ability. past possibility not put to the test/unfulfilled past possibility. vara viitoare.
poţi oricând să vii la firma noastră.Applications Din fericire. Ştiu cât de încredere poţi fi şi chiar aş dori să ni te poţi alătura. Vezi silueta acea care se apropie? Dacă reuşeşti să recunoşti persoana. Ştii cât de greu poate fi la început. În ce priveşte medicamentul acesta. astfel încât bolnavii să poată spera într-o însănătoşire rapidă. nu se poate să fi refuzat administrarea lui. Modalization 29 . Cercetătorii din domeniu s-au străduit să obţină un nou medicament care să fie cât mai eficient. Ştiu cât de jignită se poate simţi când nu este băgată în seamă. Ai fi putut să-mi spui şi mie despre broşurile pe care le-ai luat de la agenţia de voiaj. Nu-mi dau seama ce urmăreşte. s-ar putea să intenţioneze să înfiinţeze o societate de asigurări. Deşi poate fi nesuferit uneori. şi-a cerut scuze că n-a putut ajunge la timp din cauza unui blocaj în traffic. se ştie că poate fi foarte folositor în tratamentul pneumoniei. A spus că ar putea termina lucrarea de îndată ce intră în posesia tuturor articolelor de specialitate care s-au publicat în ultimii doi ani. Nu se poate să fi venit la întrunire. poţi să-mi spui şi mie cine este. mi-aş fi făcut o idee mai clară despre condiţiile pe care le oferă. aş fi putut la fel de bine să mă lipsesc de ei. aş fi observat-o şi sigur m-aş fid us să vorbesc cu ea. Dacă te concediază. Spune că ar putea termina lucrarea de îndată ce intră în posesia tuturor articolelor de specialitate care s-au publicat în ultimii doi ani. pentru că nu văd nimic cu ochelarii ăştia noi. mi-am făcut mulţi prieteni de când m-am mutat în acest oraş. Iarăşi vorbeşte la telefon! Cu cine o mai fi vorbind şi de data asta? Aş putea să pariez că e vreuna din prietenele ei cu care poate vorbi ore întregi fără să se plictisească. Poţi să crezi că parlamentul ar fi putut vota o asemenea lege care să afecteze interesele bolnavilor? Dacă au reuşit să-i convingă să intre în proiect. este pentru că ei chiar sunt în stare să-l ducă la bun sfârşit.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?