Meanings of the modals2 main kinds of meanings for modal auxiliaries:(I) root (or intrinsic, deontic) meaning – includes ability, permission, obligation, volition. The root meaning of modals involves some intrinsic human control over events;(II) epistemic (or extrinsic) meaning – includes possibility, necessity, prediction. The epistemic meaning of modals involves human judgment of what is or is not likely to happen.
Meanings of the modalsEach of the modals has both root and epistemic uses. In some instances there is an overlap of the two uses, i.e. clauses that contain modal verbs are potentially ambiguous:(1) I’ll see you tomorrow then.Will in (1) combines the meanings of volition (root meaning) and prediction (epistemic meaning).Normally the context makes the intended meaning clear. There are also syntactic structures that favour root or epistemic interpretation:(2) (a) He must leave. = (On) mora otići. (root meaning)(b) He must be leaving. = (On) mora da odlazi. (epistemic meaning)
Meanings of the modalsThere are 12 modal auxiliaries.The set of 12 modal verbs consists of 4 paired forms (present and past forms) and four single forms:(I) can/could; may/might; shall/should; will/would.(II) must, ought, need, dare.used to, ought, dare, need are called marginal modal auxiliaries. (see Lecture 04)
Meanings of the modalsNonfinite verb phrases do not accept modal aux., but the meanings of the modals can be added to them through the use of semi-auxiliaries, such as have to, be (un)able to, be allowed to, be about to:(3) I am sorry to have to repeat this warning.(4) Being unable to free himself, he lay beneath the debris until rescued.(5) The suspects admitted being about to commit a crime.(6) Many inmates hate not being allowed to leave the premises.
Meanings of the modalsThe modal verbs are also limited in their range of time reference. When used with the present infinitive of the main verb, they generally have a present or future time reference.From the point of view of meaning, past forms of the modals (could, might, should, would) are often more tentative or more polite variants of the present forms.Of the 4 past tense forms, could, might and would are used to refer to past time when followed by a present infinitive, and then only with a restricted range of meanings
Meanings of the modalsOf the 4 past tense forms, could, might and would are used to refer to past time when followed by a present infinitive, and then only with a restricted range of meanings:(7) Magda could speak three languages by the age of six.(8) He was very independent, and would never ask for help.(9) Try as he might, he couldn’t get the car to start.
Meanings of the modalsThe use of the four past tense forms is however automatic in sequence of tenses in reported speech:(10) (a) “He can/could; may/might; will/would; shall/should tell me.”(b) I said he could; might; would; should tell me.
Meanings of the modalsThe four single forms must, ought to, dare, need may be left unchanged in reported speech:(11) (a) “He mustn’t; oughtn’t to; daren’t; needn’t tell anyone.”(b) I said he mustn’t; oughtn’t to; daren’t; needn’t tell anyone.In (11b) (reported speech), the modal verbs do not refer to a time earlier than the time of speaking. In the statement “You mustn’t tell anyone”, the obligation (not to tell anyone) existed from the time when it is expressed, i.e. from now onwards. Similarly, in the report I said he mustn’t tell anyone, the obligation (not to tell anyone) existed from the time when it was expressed, i.e. from then onwards, and not at some earlier time.
Meanings of the modalsThe distinction between the root and epistemic meaning of the modal verbs is important in terms of referring to the past time in the clauses in which these modals occur.If we wish to refer to ‘real’ past time with the modal verbs in their root sense, we either use the past tense form of the modal verbs (if appropriate and if available), or we use a synonymous verb phrase (had to, didnt need to, was able to, was permitted to, etc. If the modal verbs in their root sense are followed by a perfect infinitive, they always indicate ‘unreal’ past:(12) He needn’t; should; ought to; would; might; could have gone yesterday.
Meanings of the modalsIf we wish to refer to ‘real’ time with the modal verbs in their epistemic sense, we use the perfect infinitive of the main verb. The use of the perfect infinitive of the main verb does not usually affect the truth of the statement, and in only a limited number of contexts can it indicate ‘unreal’ past (i.e. contrary to past fact). It is possible to use the present tense forms can, will, may with the perfect infinitive to refer to past time:(13) He must; can’t/couldn’t; will/would; may/might; could; should/ought to have been here yesterday.
Meanings of the modals(14) He must have washed the windows himself.(14) indicates inference or logical conclusion (Mora da je sâm oprao prozore), i.e. the epistemic interpretation of the clause is most probable in this context.However, counterexamples can be found, in which the perfect infinitive of the main verb indicates the real past:(15) Entrance qualifications. Candidates must have obtained the MA or an equivalent qualification.
Ability or potential (can, could, beable to)can is used to indicate (a) the possession of ability in general (example 16), and (b) being in a position, in particular circumstances, to perform the activity denoted by the main verb (example 17):(16) He can speak German fluently. (can forms part of a statement having general current validity)(17) I can (or could) give him an answer now/later/tomorrow. (can/could refer to an ability existing in certain circumstances at the present or future time indicated)! Important – to recognize the distinction between ability in general and ability in specific circumstances.! Important – both sentences (16 and 17) refer to a potential performance of the action mentioned, not to an actual performance.
Ability or potential (can, could, beable to)(16a) He could speak German fluently when he was younger.(16a) represents a situation in the chronological past parallel to that in sentence (16). It refers to the possession of the ability to speak German, not to an actual performance of speaking.(17a) I could have given him an answer yesterday.(17a) is the exact parallel in past time of sentence (17), and means “I was in a position to give him an answer” (ability in specific circumstances at a specific time). Again, it does not refer to an actual performance; indeed it implies that I did not give him an answer.
Ability or potential (can, could, beable to)If we wish to refer to an actual performance, we use a form of be able to:(18) I was able to give him an answer yesterday.Verbs like see, hear, understand, etc. come into a special category. The ability to see and the performance of seeing are inseparable. And in this case the use of could is possible when referring to an actual performance in past time:(19) (a) I can see quite clearly what you are doing.(b) I could hear quite clearly what you were saying.
Ability or potential (can, could, beable to)The negative form couldn’t necessarily implies non- performance of an action, and may always be used to refer to past time:(20) (a) He can’t speak German fluently.(b) He couldn’t speak German fluently when I knew him.(21) (a) I can’t give him an answer right now.(b) I couldn’t give him an answer yesterday.
Ability or potential (can, could, beable to)Can may be used with a future time reference (I can see you tomorrow), but in this case the ability is more or less taken for granted now and is not really in question. In cases where ability will exist only eventually, or where it is dependent on some other event in the future, we use will/shall be able to:(22) By the time he finishes his course, he’ll be able to speak English well.We also use be able to when we wish to indicate that an action was in fact performed in the past:(23) After looking at his notes again, he was able to complete the exercise.
Ability or potential (can, could, beable to)Since can and could lack non-finite forms, we use be able to where an infinitive is required or when we want to express the perfect aspect:(24) Ask that policeman over there. He should be able to help you.(25) This is all the information I’ve been able to get so far.
Ability or potential (can, could, beable to)When could + present infinitive is used as the tentative form of can, it has a present or future time reference:(26) I could do it for you now if you like.(27) I can’t do it immediately, but I could do it tomorrow morning.The reported version of sentence (27) is:(27a) I told him I couldn’t do it immediately, but that I could do it the following morning.In conditional sentences, could often represents the unreal present:(28) If I knew how it worked, I could tell him what to do. (= but I don’t know, so I can’t tell him)
Ability or potential (can, could, beable to)In a conditional sentence, could + perfect infinitive expresses unreal past:(29) If I had known how it worked, I could have told him what to do. (= but I didn’t know, so I couldn’t tell him)
General characteristics: can, couldCan and could are also used to refer to a general characteristic or quality that may show itself from time to time:(30) A house in London can cost a lot of money.(31) He could be very unpleasant when he was angry.Neither of these sentences refers to an actual occurrence of the phenomena referred to, and be able to is not used as a substitute for can or could in such sentences.(32) Learning a foreign language can sometimes be difficult. = Učenje nekog stranog jezika zna ponekad biti naporno.
Possibility and permission: can,could, may, might(33) A fuller description can/may be found in the reference books listed at the beginning of this book.In (33), can and may are fully interchangeable. May is a little more formal.
Possibility and permission: can,could, may, might(34) Agreement between management and unions may be reached tomorrow.If we wish to state a possibility rather than a fact, only may is appropriate in (34), which means “It is possible that agreement will be reached”.The distinction between (33) and (34) may be paraphrased as:(33a) It is possible for this to be done at any time (= statement of present fact)(34a) It is possible that this will be done (= statement of future possibility)
Possibility and permission: can,could, may, mightMight represents the tentative form of may as used in sentence (34):(35) I may/might/could be wrong, of course. (present)(36) The two parties may/might/could reach agreement tomorrow. (future)Could (often stressed) is quite commonly used as an alternative to tentative might, as in (35) and (36).
Possibility and permission: can,could, may, mightHowever, could is not used in this way in affirmative negative sentences:(37) They may/might not reach agreement tomorrow.(38) They could not reach agreement tomorrow.These sentences have quite different meanings. The reason for this lies in the way the negative particle not operates. In affirmative sentences with may or might (in the sense of possibility), not goes with the main verb:(39) They may/might not reach agreement tomorrow. = It is possible that they will NOT reach agreement tomorrow.
Possibility and permission: can,could, may, mightWith could, not goes with the modal (unless we use a very special stress and intonation pattern):(40) They could not reach agreement tomorrow. = It is NOT possible that they will reach agreement.
Possibility and permission: can,could, may, mightTo refer to past time, we use may, might and could with a perfect infinitive:(41) No statement was issued after yesterday’s talks, but it is thought that the two parties may have reached agreement. (= It is possible that they reached agreement)Might and could suggest that the possibility is a little more remote:(42) The two parties might/could have reached agreement.
Possibility and permission: can,could, may, mightGiving permission, we use can or may. May is considered more formal:(43) You can/may speak to the patient for just a few minutes now/later/tomorrow.Asking for permission, we use can or may. Asking tentatively (more politely), we use could or might:(44) Can/may; could/might I speak to you for a moment?
Possibility and permission: can,could, may, mightIn the reported version of sentence (43), we use could or might:(44) The nurse said we could/might speak to the patient for just a few minutes.We do not use could/might + perfect infinitive to refer to permission given in past time. We are obliged to use a paraphrase:(45) We had (or were given) permission to speak to the patient.Could/might + perfect infinitive suggest that permission existed but wasn’t acted on, perhaps because of ignorance on the part of the subject:(46) You could/might have come yesterday e.g. if you had wanted to.
Concessive meaning of may(47) Your job may be very demanding, but at least it isn’t boring. = Although your job is very demanding, at least it isn’t boring.May + perfect infinitive is used to refer to past time:(48) The work may have been difficult, but at least it was interesting.
Tentative way of making a request,suggestion or recommendation:might(49) You might send me a postcard while you’re on holiday.
Sarcasm or annoyance on the partof the speaker: might(50) You might look where you’re going!(51) You might have told me you weren’t coming!