Double modals as single lexical items in American English

9 September 2017

Double Modal auxiliary verbs as Single Lexical Items

In American English.

An of import job faced by modern surveies of the American English subsidiary verbs is forestalling the loop of modals as in sentence:

1. I could must
make that.

In general, there have been two chief attacks for governing out such sequences of modals: the Phrase-Structure ( P-S ) regulation attack based on the Auxiliary analysis which relies on P-S regulations incorporating merely one modal per surface clause ; and the subcategorization attack as a portion of the Main Verb analysis, which assumes that modals are finite signifiers and are subcategorized for root signifiers. One job that both types of analyses face is that there are big Numberss of English talkers in the USA, most notably in the South Midland and Southern United States, who on a regular basis use dual modals ( D-M ) .

2.I Don & # 8217 ; t think I have any grants you might could
apply for.

3.We might can
travel up at that place following Sunday.

4.I may could
at Finger & # 8217 ; s.

5.You know, if you drank a half a drink, you might oughta
travel ho-

me and kip it off.

6.This thing here I might should
bend over to Ann.

7.How is it no 1 might non would
notice that but Ann?

8.Well, one time we get under manner, it shouldn & # 8217 ; t oughta
take us really long.

Leting for dual modals might look to be a simple affair of loosen uping the limitations on the loop of modals. Therefore, for these idioms, the Auxiliary analysis would hold an alternate P-S regulation leting two or more modals, and the Main Verb analysis would let modals to hold root forms.However, such simple solutions are non equal when assessed against informations collected in Texas from DM talkers.

This information as a whole indicates that simply loosen uping the limitations of either the P-S analysis or the subcategorization analysis will non adequately account for the talkers & # 8217 ; intuitions about or production of DM & # 8217 ; s.In fact, weakening the limitations of either of these two analyses would make little more than generate unrestricted sequences of modals. Such a effect is debatable since the Texas information indicates that DM idioms have important syntactic and semantic limitations.

While being regional, dual modals are rather of import phenome-non. A big per centum of the U.S. population uses them. Almost every native talker of the Southern Midland and Southern dialect countries utilizations at least one DM at least on occasion.

Besides, there are two facts proposing that the implicit in constructions of individual and dual modal idioms are really similar.First, from the point of view of structural dialectology, DM & # 8217 ; s are apprehensible to talkers of individual modal idioms, so the construction of DM idioms must be compatible with those of individual modal idioms. Second, some Northerners who migrate to Texas get down to utilize DM & # 8217 ; s within a twelvemonth of their reaching, demoing that Northern English can easy suit DM & # 8217 ; s.


Both the unconstrained phrase-structure and subcategorization analyses predict that all combinations of DM & # 8217 ; s are acceptable. There are the nine modals, can, could, may, might, should, will, would, ought to,
, and the quasi-modals, better
( as in had better, & # 8216 ; d better
) , need, supposed to, used to,
attested in DM & # 8217 ; s, and harmonizing to analysis, there are 156 possible combinations with them.

Here are the most common:

may could might would might say to

may can might break might & # 8217 ; ve used to

may will might hold better may necessitate to

may should can might break can

may supposed to used to could might woulda

should oughta musta coulda had oughta

might could would break

might oughta could might

might can oughta could

might should may utilize to

In general, the DM combinations are purely ordered.

e.g: may can
, but non can may

The exclusions to this are could might, can might
. Typically, the first modal is may
or might

There is by and large one sense ( or sometimes two related senses ) that is ( are ) preferred for each DM while other senses are by and large rejected or treated indifferently. In the instance of might could
– & # 8220 ; ability & # 8221 ; . The & # 8220 ; possibility & # 8221 ; is ranked low, and the & # 8220 ; permission & # 8221 ; sense is someplace in between.

Therefore, Double Modal auxiliary verbs could be semantically described as follows:

Might could

& # 8220 ; ability & # 8221 ; : Noone could state if he was covering with them or non, but Bill

might could
state the instance of his reaching.

& # 8220 ; permission & # 8217 ; : She is a really polite three-year-old.Yesterday she asked

If she might could
write on the walls.

& # 8220 ; possibility & # 8221 ; : There might could
be H2O in that old well.

Might should

& # 8220 ; duty & # 8221 ; : They are merely realized that they forgot to direct an invitation

to John. & # 8220 ; We might should
& # 8217 ; ve invited John. ”

& # 8220 ; obligation/suggestion & # 8221 ; : You might should
bend this to Ann.

& # 8220 ; logical possibility & # 8221 ; : Jim normally gets place at approximately 5:30, but it is 6:00

And he is non at place yet.He might should

place by now.

Might oughta

& # 8220 ; duty & # 8221 ; : We might oughta
invite him to our party.

& # 8220 ; obligation/suggestion & # 8221 ; : You might non oughta
call him.

& # 8220 ; logical possibility & # 8221 ; : It is four O & # 8217 ; clock and Mary merely put a pie in the

oven. The pie might oughta
be done by five.

Might would

& # 8220 ; conjectural & # 8221 ; : I might would
havedone it if he would state me to.

& # 8220 ; anticipation & # 8221 ; : I asked him if he might would
hold it ready by one

O & # 8217 ; clock.

& # 8220 ; accustomed & # 8221 ; : John is remembering his childhood: & # 8221 ; On Sundays we might

see our grandparents.


Due the persons & # 8217 ; will the 2nd portion of a dual modal may change, hence, the whole modal building changes its significance. That is because some senses are preferred over others in a 2nd modal. Furthermore the informations indicate that there is no simple generalisation that can be made refering which senses are the most acceptable. For case, although the root senses are preferred over the epistemological 1 for might
and might oughta
( the & # 8220 ; duty & # 8221 ; and & # 8220 ; obligation/suggestion & # 8221 ; from the one portion and the & # 8220 ; logical possibility & # 8221 ; from the other ) this generalisation does non keep for might could
or might would

In the instance of might could
, & # 8220 ; ability & # 8221 ; , a root sense, is more acceptable than & # 8220 ; permission & # 8221 ; , another root sense, and & # 8220 ; possibility & # 8221 ; , an epistemological sense. Finally, for might would
& # 8220 ; conjectural & # 8221 ; , the most epistemological sense, is slightly preferred over & # 8220 ; anticipation & # 8221 ; and decidedly preferred over & # 8220 ; accustomed & # 8221 ; , the most root-like sense. Because of this state of affairs, se-mantis dealingss must be stated individually for each Double Modal.

The DM & # 8217 ; s syntactic and semantic belongingss analysis shows that Double Modal auxiliary verbs have limitations in their sentence structure and significances that the corresponding individual modals may non hold. Furthermore, the limitations are idiosyncratic: a regulation that applies to one DM may non be applicable to another 1. Therefore, a syntactic solution of the DM job is improbable because DMs don & # 8217 ; t act every bit simple combinations of their constituent parts as would be expected if they were syntactically combined.


The tense specification for individual modals in contemporary English is slightly ill-defined. On the one manus, there are some contexts where merely the past-tense signifiers of some of the theoretical accounts are acceptable for most talkers of American English, as in the undermentioned duologue:

– Why did he lose the all-round jock competition last month?

– Well, he was first-class in everything else, but he can & # 8217 ; t/couldn & # 8217 ; T
swim across the river that twenty-four hours.

Although some talkers will besides happen this difference for might
as opposed to may
, or, will accept may
in this context:

I am non certain what the job was. But he may/might
hold had excessively much to eat before the race. The behavior of may
and might
is non unusual for the contemporary modals, which ( except for can
and will
) can normally be used in past tense contexts, or in present, future, or dateless action 1s:

She might
hold eaten that last piece of bar.

You would
hold been merely as angry.

George could
have been more polite around his female parent.

That adult female may
hold been his mother-in-law.

It could
be ready by 6 O & # 8217 ; clock.

You should
visit Rome in the spring.

In malice of the fact that some past contexts freely allow both past and present signifiers of the modals, there are other contexts which are more acceptable with past than with present:

I talked to Jim merely before he left for Dallas last hebdomad.

A: He thought that he could
acquire there in clip.

Bacillus: He thought that he can
acquire there in clip.

As to Double Modals, their job is more hard. They could be conventionally subdivided the two groups: Tense-mixed and Tense-matched 1s. The first group comprises DMs whose first and 2nd parts are specified otherwise for tense:

e.g. may could

alternatively of holding the same tense specification as it is in the 2nd gro-


e.g: may can

Although the present every bit good as the past signifiers of the modals seem to be acceptable, Tense-matched signifiers should be more acceptable than Tense-mixed 1s if both modals are sensitive to strain specification.

While comparing the two DMs from diverse tense-groups, may could
and may can,
in a past context, the Tense-mixed DM could be found more acceptable than the Tense-matched 1. That is likely because may could
has at least some past-tense marker. However, this formisn & # 8217 ; t every bit acceptable as it is found to be in state of affairss in which the contextdoesn & # 8217 ; t curtail the action to the yesteryear. If the action is limited to the yesteryear, it is more common to utilize both modals in the same ( here by ) tenseunderlying this manner the certainty of the yesteryear:

e.g: may could – might could

e.g: It scared him because he might can
hold died.

It scared him because he might coulda
died. ( more preferred discrepancy )

So, it is specific for DMs to alter their tense harmonizing to the con- text, though be givening to the Tense-matched signifier bespeaking both modals are sensitive to strain specifications.


Double Modal auxiliary verbs are syntactically constructed sequences of individual modals. Therefore, they should be analyzed as two-word lexical points, like compound nouns, Ve

rubidium + Particle buildings, Verb + Adjective const-ructions, or parlances. At first the DMs may look a misdemeanor of the regulation of non-iteration in the Auxiliary verbs use, but that is non so. While deducing from the individual modals, the DMs still organize a specific lexico-grammatical portion of the linguistic communication and have their ain features.

The best manner to demo that the vocabulary is the proper grammatical constituent for covering with the specialnesss inherent in DMs is to develop an analogy between multiword lexical points and DMs. For all that they have at least three types of belongingss in common:

1. Non-productivity

2. A combination of both unit-like and non-unit-like behavior

3. Syntactic and semantic abnormalities

These belongingss are common merely in sets of related lexical ( non syntactic ) buildings. Each of them will be discussed in general and so applied in peculiar to DMs.


A distinct illustration of the non-productive multiword lexical construct- commotions are the English Verb-Adjective 1s. These lexical units have their steady form, so they can & # 8217 ; t be altered or reformed by will.

e.g: to hammer level, to pass over clean,

In malice that holding an correspondent lexical signifier, buildings of this type shouldn & # 8217 ; tbe confused with the simple combinations of verbs and adjectives such as to hammer unit of ammunition ( good, strongly, & # 8230 ; )
or to pass over
immaculate ( exhaustively, quietly )

e.g: Margaret hammered
it level

Margaret hammered
it good.

Mary wiped
it clean

Mary wiped
it immaculate.

The Verb-Adjective buildings are non syntactically constructed, that, s they are non-productive. Otherwise, any adjectival should be able to follow any verb, that is perfectly unacceptable for non-productive-ness.

DMs are non-productive, excessively. It is clearly seen in that non all possible DMs are recognized by all DM users. This applies both to single differences among talkers in a address community and different Ces among speech communities. Therefore, it is normal when many individuals who rejected might would
accept might could
. It means that some DMs are far more common than others.

DM talkers from different parts may hold different DMs in their repertory, but all DM talkers have a certain set of DMs. If DMs were non non-productive, that & # 8217 ; s syntactically constructed, all the people who use them would bring forth the same set of them. Alternatively, the talkers seemingly have learned or prefer merely peculiar DMs. In this point larning DMs is tantamount to larning vocabulary.


A 2nd feature of multiword lexical buildings is that they can exhibit a combination of unit-like and non-unit-like behavior. It means that syntactic and morphological regulations sometimes treat these lexical points as one word and sometimes as more than one.

Verb-Particle buildings are good illustrations of this phenomenon: to do up, to acquire over, to quiet down, to exchange on,
etc. In malice of ot- her grounds ( particularly semantic grounds ) that they would be treated as lexical points, the well known regulation of Particle Shift allows the constituents of Verb-Particle buildings to be nonadjacent in surface construction:

e.g: Please, aftermath
me up
earlier tomorrow.

He will surely acquire
all this obstructions over

the light down

Furthermore, at least one adverb, right
, can besides disrupt the compo-

nents of some Verb-Particle buildings:

e.g: She came right

Equally shortly as we got the computing machine started, it broke right

Morphologically, Verb-Particle buildings frequently have idiosyncra-

tic features. Although tense morphemes attach to the Verb,

e.g: It picked
up the door.

and the nominalizing morpheme -er
can attach to both elements ;

e.g: garage door chooser

Other multiword lexical points are besides sometimes treated as units by the morphology: Smith and Wessoned
( shooting ) .

On the contrary, Verb-Adjective buildings ne’er act as a unit every bit far as morphology is concerned. The adjectives can take comparative clauses and the attach toing morphology while the verbs take the appropriate verbal morphemes:

e.g: Mary hammered
it flatter
than of all time today.

He wiped
it cleaner
than I thought.

He shot it deader
than a doornail.

DMs, in their bend, behave likewise to most multiword lexical points: sometimes they act as units and sometimes they do non. For illustration, Adverb arrangement can follow the DM bespeaking that they are moving as a unit:

e.g: I might could
acquire it for you.

or disrupt DM bespeaking that they can move like separate words:

e.g: I might
couldn & # 8217 ; T
see it.

If we had known, we may
hold done it.

Another syntactic regulation that can handle DMs as separate words is the Non-Productive Auxiliary Inversion. Questions built harmonizing to this regulation may incorporate a DM constituent where merely the 2nd modal is inverted:

e.g: Could you might
happen you a place someplace?

However, there are instances when all three possible types of inversion 2nd modal merely, foremost modal merely, and both modals as a unit & # 8211 ; are present:

e.g: Might should
we have invited Jim?

In general, the type of inversion depends to a great extent on the peculiar DM involved. Here are most preferred discrepancies of the DM inquiry buildings:

for might could
+ Subject + might
? ( 81 % )

for might should
+ Subject? ( 55 % )

for might oughta
+ Subject + oughta
? ( 58 % )

the most acceptable inversion type for might would

+ Subject + might
? ( 63,6 % )

Negative arrangement can besides either treat DMs as a unit, bring forthing terminal negation ( type 1 ) :

e.g: I was afraid you might couldn & # 8217 ; T
happen it.

or as separate elements bring forthing median negation ( type 2 ) :

e.g: The female parent might should non
set a cover over her babe.

I don & # 8217 ; t hear excessively good. I think possibly I better put it on or I might non
understand you.

Different DMs show differential penchant for these two types of negation. The penchant for might could and might oughta is median negation. In the responses incorporating the negation of these two DMs, the overpowering bulk of users preferred to state might non could
and might non oughta
, severally. On the other manus, people who accepted sentences incorporating negated might should
or might would
preferable terminal negation: might should not/n & # 8217 ; T
and might would not/n & # 8217 ; T.

In malice that end place is clearly preferred for DM responses with the Past tense or irrealis have
, some persons accepted median arrangement. Furthermore, for a little figure of DM talkers, both negation and have
can repeat within a DM so that they can look in both median and end place at the same time:

e.g: He might non
couldn & # 8217 ; T
be at place now.

He mighta
should hold
gotten place by now.

Another regulation affecting morphology and DMs is tense Concord, as discussed above. Other indicants that tense dainties DMs as units is that the verbal elements following the DM are about ne’er marked for tense, nor does hold of all time look in quality of such undermentioned verbs. In other words, tense and have can repeat in this regional assortment of English, but merely within the DM, going this manner rather complicate for a syntactic intervention of DMs.


The 3rd feature of multiword lexical points is that of semantic and syntactic abnormalities. Multiword lexical buildings such as parlances and compound words have rather an unpredictable nature of their semantics, so the most available and traditional agencies in their survey is the vocabulary. For illustration, throw cold H2O and blackboard exhibit such semantic distinctive features ;

He is ever throwing cold H2O
on my thoughts.

I prefer the green chalkboards.

Until late the word chalkboard had merely the compound type of semantics. This type of semantics has a tendency to curtail the full scope of this compound word & # 8217 ; s significance. That is, a chalkboard was a black-coloured board used as a blackboard, non merely any black-coloured board. Now, nevertheless, since chalkboard can besides mention to a green blackboard, the word begins to get the idiom-type, alleged noncompositional semantics.

Individual DMs have many similar traits with multiword lexical buildings in specific limitations on their semantics. These limitations, even if they show some systemacity, are normally referred to the vocabulary.

Multiword lexical combinations typically exhibit syntactic irregulari- Neckties as good. For illustration, parlances are normally non as syntactically flexible as their actual signifiers:

Her male parent laid the jurisprudence down
when she came home tardily.

He blew
some steam off
after he got place.

DMs besides have some specific syntactic belongingss, some of which were already discussed. One point that hasn & # 8217 ; t been made is that positive declaratory DMs are more acceptable to a greater per centum of the population than negated or inverted DMs are.


In malice of being exclusively regional phenomenon, Double Modal auxiliary verbs are important and normally acknowledged realia of Modern American English. Like the other multiword modals ( such as would instead
) they are taking their ain map in human communicating procedures.

As to multiword modals & # 8217 ; ascription, they serve as necessary, basic looks for all idioms of English. Thus, all idioms of English, both & # 8220 ; dual modal & # 8221 ; and & # 8220 ; individual modal & # 8221 ; 1s, have such a set of looks, and they do non differ qualitatively. The difference is quantitative 1: Double Modal idioms have more of these multiword modals. There is besides no uncertainty that Double Modal auxiliary verbs have many common belongingss with other multiword lexical buildings. Furthermore, being lexical points they contribute to simplify the sentence structure of the Auxiliary system of the English linguistic communication.

In general, it could be incorrect to see Double Modal auxiliary verbs as any sort of gram-mar deformation. Their grammatical signifier is steady and scientifically recognized.As to their stylistical definition, they could be instead attributed to Regional Colloquialisms than to Slang. Besides, while covering with them particular lingual attack is necessary and the context should be taken into history.

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