Modals and modality in English for academic purposes


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Modals and modality in English for academic purposes
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Sieller, Nellie Jane
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Table of Contents
    Title Page
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    Table of Contents
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    Chapter 1. Introduction
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    Chapter 2. Data-based modal studies
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    Chapter 3. Data collection and analysis methodology
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    Chapter 4. Form frequency analysis
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    Chapter 5. Meaning analysis
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    Chapter 6. Applications and suggestions for further research
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    Chapter 7. Summary and conclusion
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    Appendix A. Computers 1
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    Appendix B. Computers 2
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    Appendix C. Engineering 1
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    Appendix D. Engineering 2
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    Appendix E. Medicine 1
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    Appendix F. Medicine 2
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    Biographical sketch
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Full Text







Copyright 1982


Nellie Jane Sieller






I wish to express my appreciation to the Program

in Linguistics faculty at the University of Florida. Very

special thanks go to Jean Casagrande, my committee

chairman, for his continuous encouragement and support.

Also to be acknowledged are the contributions of the

other members of the committee: Wayne Losano of the

English Department and Chauncey C. Chu, Haig Der-Houssikian,

and Roger M. Thompson of Linguistics.

I also wish to thank the six unnamed professors who

so graciously allowed me to record their classes and then

unselfishly gave of their time to clarify sections which

caused difficulty in transcription.

Especially deserving of acknowledgment and thanks

are friends and fellow students in the Linguistics Program:

Anas, Dian, Maggie, Mahasen, Manolo, and Molly.

Many thanks for many things are owed to a dear friend,

the late Mary Manghue.

I would also like to thank the Administration of

Regional Colleges of the University of Puerto Rico for

the leave of absence and financial support which permitted

me to pursue this degree.



ONE INTRODUCTION .................................... 1

Modals and EST ................................... 1
Historical Development ........................... 6
Block 1947 ....................................... 7
Boyd and Thorne 1969 ............................ 8
Lakoff 1972 ...................................... 9
Marino 1977 ..................................... 10
This Study ...................................... 11
Note ........................................... 12

TWO DATA-BASED MODAL STUDIES ....................... 13

Joos 1964 ......................................13
Ehrman 1966 .................................... 15
Palmer 1979...................................... 17
Epistemic Modality ........................... 20
Deontic Modality ............................... 25
Dynamic Modality............................. 29
Other Kinds of Modality ...................... 39
Futurity ..................................... 39
Conditionality and Unreality................. 42
Willingness ................................... 45
Rules and Regulations........................ 45
Rational Modality ............................ 46
Existential Modality ......................... 46
Nonfactivity .................................. 47
Notes........................................... 49


DataCollection................................ 50
Lecture Summaries ............................. 52
Reading Summaries ........................... 54
Data Analysis .................................. 56
Note............................................. 57

FOUR FORM FREQUENCY ANALYSIS......................... 58

Occurrence Analysis............................. 59
Structure Analysis.............................. 64
Finite Verb Phrases.......................... 64
Active versus Passive........................ 72

Other Structures .......................... 73
General Comments and Conclusions on Form..75
Note ......................................... 77

FIVE MEANING ANALYSIS ............................. 78

Epistemic Modality ........................... 78
Epistemic Possibility ..................... 81
Epistemic Necessity ........................ 83
Epistemic Reasonablity or Confidence ...... 86
Deontic Modality ............................. 88
Deontic Possibility ....................... 89
Deontic Necessity ......................... 90
Deontic Use of SHALL ....................... 91
Other Possible Deontic Modals ............. 91
Dynamic Modality ............................. 92
Dynamic Possibility ........................ 94
Dynamic Necessity .......................... 96
Neutral Dynamic Modality .................. 98
Subject Oriented WILL ..................... 99
Subject Oriented Dynamic Modality ........ 101
Futurity .................................... 102
Conditionality and Unreality ................ 105
Willingness ................................. 108
Rules and Regulations........................ 108
Rational Modality ........................... 108
Existential Modality ........................ 108
Nonfactivity ................................ 109
Other Uses of Modals ........................ 110
Summary of Modal Meaning ....................112
Note ........................................ 114
RESEARCH .................................... 116

Note ......................................... 122

SEVEN SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION ...................... 123


A COMPUTERS 1 ................................. 126

B COMPUTERS 2 ................................. 153

C ENGINEERING 1 ............................... 182

D ENGINEERING 2 ............................... 198

E MEDICINE 1 .................................. 229

F MEDICINE 2 ................................... 267

BIBLIOGRAPHY .......................................... 300

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................................... 307


Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate Council
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy


Nellie Jane Sieller

August 1982

Chairman: Jean Casagrande

Major Department: Linguistics

In order to study the frequency of modal occurrences

and meanings in scientific and technical English as used

at the graduate level in an American university for

possible applications in teaching and preparing materials

for foreign students studying English for Science and

Technology (EST), six hours of classroom lectures (in the

fields of computers, engineering, and medicine) and a

comparable amount of data from reading assignments for

these classes were analyzed according to the framework

developed by F.R. Palmer in Modality and the English Modals.

The 80,000 word data base yielded about 1550 modals,

1100 spoken and 450 written. About 23 percent of the

finite verb phrases in the spoken data contain modals and

16 percent in the written data. The most common spoken


modals in these data are can, will, could, going to, and

have to. The most common written modals in these data are

may, can, should, will, and must. The most common spoken

meanings are dynamic (those which indicate that an event

is possible or necessary or that the subject has the

ability or willingness to do something), futurity,

conditionality and unreality, and epistemic (judgments

about propositions). The most common written meanings are

dynamic, epistemic, instructional, and nonfactivity.

Possible application of these findings to teaching

and preparing materials for EST are discussed.

Transcriptions of the classroom lectures are

provided in the appendices.


Modals and EST

L. Fillmore (1976:81) has suggested that "the English

verbal element which has the greatest number of surprises

in store for the second language learner is the modal

system." Cohen et al. (1979:556) have indicated that

interpretation of modals is a problem which cuts across

disciplines for students using English for Academic Purposes

(EAP). The purpose of the present study is to carry out

a contextual analysis (along the lines of Celce-Murcia's

1980 discussion) of oral and written English for Science

and Technology (EST), a subdivision of EAP, in order to

determine which modals and modal meanings are used and if

any are more frequent than others. The data base consists

of 80,000 words, half spoken and half written, collected

from first semester graduate courses in computer sciences,

engineering, and medicine at the University of Florida.

Foreign students in the United States must confront

EAP. The following table indicates the fields of study

in which these 311,880 students enrolled during the

1980/81 academic year (Boyan 1981:6):

Table 1-1
Distribution of Foreign Students by
Field of Study 1980/81

Field of Study Number

Engineering 80,470
Business and Management 54,380
Undeclared 25,150
Social Sciences 24,310
Natural and Life Sciences 23,030
Mathematics and Computer Sciences 19,180
Fine and Applied Art 15,450
Intensive English Language 14,050
Humanities 13,070
Education 11,980
Health Professions 11,320
Other 10,830
Agriculture 8,660

Total 311,880




Thus the three areas of investigation in this study--

computer sciences, engineering, and medicine--account for

110,970 or about thirty-five percent of the foreign students
in the United States during the 1980/81 academic year.

There has been some controversy in the past as to

whether or not EST should be treated as a separate entity.

The questions now, however, center around determining just

what the characteristics of EST are and how EST differs

from other uses of English. Britton (1975:10-11) has

grouped definitions of technical writing into four

categories: 1) those which define it in terms of subject

matter; 2) those which define it in terms of word order,

sentence characteristics, vocabulary, and style; 3) those

which define it in terms of the kind of thought process;

and 4) those which define it in terms of its purpose.

He proposes (11) "that the primary, though certainly not

the sole, characteristic of technical and scientific writing

lies in the effort of the author to convey one meaning and

only one meaning in what he says." Strevens (1978:193)

suggests that scientific language does not differ from

other uses in its basic components but in "the statistical

properties of the mixture in which they occur, and the

intention, the purpose behind their selection and use."

If we wish to do anything to facilitate the foreign

students' interpretation of modals in EST, the modals must

be studied in context. Celce-Murcia (1980:44) states that
"contextual analysis begins with the identification of a

form or forms and then sets out to uncover as much

information as possible regarding the meaning, function,

and frequency of the form(s)." The type of discourse

chosen for analysis would depend on the researcher's purpose.

The need for this type of analysis is becoming more

and more apparent. According to Celce-Murcia (1980:46),
"most language methodologists would agree that the

proponents of the deductive-cognitive approach to language

instruction have now taken momentum away from the

proponents of the inductive-behaviorist approach." Thus

English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers need rules or

generalizations about language not necessarily found in

reference grammars or ESL textbooks. Celce-Murcia (48)

emphasizes that what must be kept in mind is "that the

rules of English usage should not be based on intuitive,

theoretical hypotheses but on fact (i.e., empirical data

derived from valid tests, relevant samples of uncontrived

written and spoken discourse)."

Definitions of modals tend to be somewhat circular.

Modal is a grammatical term which refers to the auxiliary

verbs which express modality. Modality is a semantic term

which Palmer (1979:4) regards as "relating to the meanings

that are usually associated with mood." Lyons (1972:307)

says mood "is best defined in relation to an 'unmarked'

class of sentences which express simple statements of fact,

unqualified with respect to the attitude of the speaker

towards what he is saying." He goes on to suggest that

sentences 'marked' for mood indicate "the speaker's

commitment with respect to the factual status of what he

is saying (his emphatic certainty, his uncertainty or

doubt, etc.)"

It should be kept in mind that the modals are not

the only group of words in English which express modality.

Hermeren (1978a:10) gives the following examples of nouns,

adjectives, adverbs, and verbs which are used for this


A. NOUNS such as chance, hope, presumption
and expectation ('There is no chance etc.
that he will succeed'); intention and
determination ('His intention etc. to learn
English is admirable).

B. ADJECTIVES such as conceivable, possible,
likely and obvious; appropriate and necessary
which can all occur in the impersonal
construction 'it is . that . '
Other adjectives, such as sure and surprised,
occur in a personal construction like
'I am . that . .' whereas adjectives
such as able and willing occur in the
construction 'I am . to . .'. A
third group of adjectives, such as doubtful
and certain, can occur both in a personal
and impersonal construction.

C. ADVERBS such as hardly and perhaps ('He will
hardly etc. go there'); evidently, assuredly,
fortunately, regrettably, surprisingly and
strangely ('Evidently, etc. he was a
dangerous criminal').


1. MAIN VERBS like doubt, think, believe and
predict ('I doubt etc. that he will win');
suggest ('1 suggest that he should have an
apple'); want, prefer, desire, permit and
forbid ('He wants etc. me to win').

2. MODALS, i.e. shall, should, will, would,
can, could, a, migt, must and ouqht.

Various approaches have been taken in modal studies.

The research all seems to support Lakoff's (1972:229)

statement, "The definition and description of modality

has been one of the most pervasive and persistent problems

in linguistics, spilling over as well into related

disciplines such as philosophy." Modals have been a point

of contention in theoretical discussions during the last

twenty-five years. The controversy has centered around the

question of whether they should be analyzed as auxiliary

or main verbs. Pullum and Wilson (1977) provide a critical

review of this controversy.

In the remainder of this chapter, some of the

approaches will be summarized. A short historical sketch

will be followed by discussions of representative articles

dealing with modals from the points of view of form,

semantics, pragmatics, and a syntactic-semantic paradigm.

Historical Development

The historical development of the various modals is

quite complex. Lightfoot (1979:81) uses English modals as

an example to show "that grammars can undergo radical

restructurings in the course of time. . ." According to

Lightfoot (101), there were several early, apparently

isolated, changes in premodals, members of "an inflectional

class generally known as 'preterite-presents'" which

developed from preterites which "had taken on present

meaning in pre-Germanic." These changes included, for

example, loss of ability to take direct objects, loss of
"all the non-premodals in this class," and changes

involving word order (101-9). Other changes, such as loss

of ability to appear in infinitival constructions and

limitation to one modal per verb, occurred around the

same time during the sixteenth century (110-3).

It is indeed a complex task to trace the historical

development of this group of words. In discussing could

for example, Moore (1951:172) suggests that "the early

Modern English strong form was [ku:ld]; this form was not

derived from Middle English [ku:da] but developed under

the influence of early Modern English [fu:ld] and

[wu:ld]. .. ." Need is another example of bizarre history.

According to Moore (173), "it is by no means clear why

this verb developed the uninflected form, but it seems to

have been (at least in part) from the analogy of the

preteritive-present verbs. . ." The modals have such

a diversified history that Lightfoot (1979:103) states

that "it does seem impossible to define a class of modals

on semantic grounds."

Block 1947

Block (1947:399) attempts to take the extensive

descriptions by scholars such as Sweet, Palmer, Curme,

Fries, Jespersen, and Hockett and "arrange the known facts

more systematically than has been done before, or in a way

that will be more useful to other linguists." As a result

of his work, Block (403) classifies verbs into seven

inflectional classes.

The modals fall into the two categories considered

as auxiliaries. The first of these consists of verbs

such as can which have a zero suffix for the third person

singular in the present and a /d/ suffix for the preterite,

e.g. could. The second auxiliary category is made up of

verbs such as must with a zero suffix for third person

singular in the present and uninflected with respect to

the preterite, participles, and gerunds. Block's

classification system is based on form, and he includes

better, as in he better go, in the category with must (409).

Boyd and Thorne 1969

The Boyd and Thorne study (1969:57) proposes "an

analysis of the semantic structure of modal sentences in

English." They base their study on work by Austin

concerning speech acts, e.g. promising, betting, naming.

Boyd and Thorne (58) incorporate the idea of speech act

and illocutionary force from the point of view "that a

complete account of meaning of a sentence cannot be

restricted to semantic analyses as these are usually

understood and that they must be extended to include

information about the kind of speech act involved in

uttering the sentence--that is its illocutionary force."

In order to analyze sentences like You will go, they

postulate two sentence elements: one carries the

"illocutionary potential" and the other "propositional

content" (59). Illocutionary potential refers, for example,

to whether the sentence is an imperative, a promise, or a

statement. In this framework, modals are analyzed as

"indicating the illocutionary potential in the sentences

in which they occur" (62). Will, shall, should, must, may,

can, might, and could are considered with this in mind.

This approach allows for the close relationship

found between some sets of modal and nonmodal sentences

as in these examples (Boyd and Thorne 1969:62):

He goes to London tomorrow.

He will go to London tomorrow.

The first example is considered to be a statement while the

second is considered a prediction. "But in this case the

illocutionary force of utterances is the same, or nearly

the same--as it is indeed in any case where the

propositional content of a statement and a prediction is

an identical present tense sentence containing a future

time reference expression" (63).

Lakoff 1972

Lakoff (1972:229-30) expands the considerations to

be taken into account when dealing with modals even


In order to define the class of modals, or to
provide the set of environments in which a
modal may be correctly or appropriately used,
one must refer to many levels of language:
the purely syntactic environment, as we know
well; the logical structure, as we also know;
and (which ought not to come as a surprise,
but may still be one) the context of the
utterance: the assumptions that are shared
by speaker and addressee, whether or not
previously given linguistic expression in the
discourse; the social situation assumed by
participants in the discourse; and the
impression the speaker wants to make on the
addressee; and so on.

This outlook probably provides us with a more realistic

idea of just how many factors we must deal with. One of

the problems Lakoff discusses (230) is that "of partial

equivalence, or incomplete synonymy, between two modals,

or between a modal and an apparent paraphrase." She

suggests that contextual features may sometimes provide

the explanation.

Lakoff's study does not set up a framework to deal

with modals, but it does raise many questions involved in

explaining modals.

Marino 1977

Marino (1977:73) suggests a possible paradigm for

modals, though he stresses that "we are only at the

beginning of an adequate syntactico-semantic description o

the formal and conceptual aspects of the modal system." H,

also discusses the difficulties in defining modals and

determining just what falls into this group. He suggests

that "there appears to be a hard structural and semantic

core of modality from which many types of occurrences

diverge in varying structural and semantic ways" (76).

His study focuses on "the core semantic characteristics of

the paired modals" in terms of epistemic and root modals

(78). "In general, the root occurrences must be

understood to involve the speaker's modal perspective on

the subject of the sentence and the epistemic occurrences

refer to the speaker's modal perception on the whole

proposition" (79). The paradigm he suggests is the

following (87):


root can capacity could
epistemic can propositional capacity can +
epistemic could conditional propositional could +

root may

epistemic may

epistemic might



propositional possibility

conditional propositional


may +
might +

root shall

epistemic shall

epistemic should

root will

epistemic will

epistemic would

promissory intent

emphatic propositional
conditional propositional

definite propositional
implied negation

should +

would +

This Study

In Chapter II, three data based studies will be

discussed in detail. Joos 1964 is based on spoken data,

Ehrman 1966 on written data, and Palmer 1979 on both

spoken and written data.

A description of the data collection and procedures

for analysis of form and meaning in this study is

presented in Chapter III.

The results of the analyses of form and meaning

as found in the data are presented in Chapters IV and V,


Chapter VI contains a discussion of possible

applications of the findings and suggestions for further


The study and findings are summarized in Chapter VII.


1. The three areas studied have been selected
because they are of particular interest to the students
I work with at Bayamon Technological University College.


Joos 1964 and Ehrman 1966 are probably the most

commonly referred to data based studies of modals. The

Joos study uses the transcript of a British trial while

Ehrman uses the Brown University corpus.1 Thus, the former

is based on spoken British Enlish whereas the latter is

based on written American English. A brief treatment of

each of these studies will be followed by a detailed

discussion of a more recent study, Palmer 1979, which is

based on the spoken and written corpus of the Survey of

English Usage.2 Both the Joos and Ehrman studies

concentrate on what the different uses of a given modal

have in common. The Palmer analysis deals with this but

also provides for distinguishing the different uses.

Joos 1964

Joos 1964 is a detailed study of the English verb

system. The data he uses are from a 1957 murder trial which

is available in the book The Trial of Dr. Adams by Sybille

Bedford (1959). The last chapter of the Joos study is

devoted to modals.

According to Joos (1964:149), factual assertions

have truth value, but in relative assertion "there is no

such truth-value with respect to the occurrence of the

event; what is asserted is instead a specific relation

between that event and the factual world, a set of terms

of admission for allowing it real-world status." These

relations are expressed through modals.

Joos (1964:166) suggests the existence of two

competing modal systems. In the modern system, each modal

has three meanings: adequate or contingent, casual or

stable, and assured or potential. These meanings are

discussed in the following manner (149-50):

Casual modals . take that relation from the
minimal social matrix of events, where the
determining factors are the result of
chance and whim operating upon the items
that populate the factual world of
accepted reality; but the
Stable modals . find that relationship in
the maximal social matrix of events, where
the determining factors are eternal and
omnipresent: they are community mores.
Accordingly, stable modals exclude remote
Adequate modals . derive their force from
completeness in the set of determining
factors; but the
Contingent modals . get their weakness
from some deficiency in the determining
Assurance . comes from penalties for failure
of the specified event to occur; but
Potentiality . comes from immunity in case
the actor brings the event to completion.

The modals are thus classified in the following manner:

Table 2-1
Joos' Classification of Modals

Meanings Modals
will shall can may must ought to dare need
Casual xx xx xx xx
Stable xx xx xx xx
Adequate xx xx xx xx
Contingent xx xx xx xx
Assurance xx xx xx xx
Potentiality xx xx xx xx

Would, should, could, and might are considered to be remote

tense forms and are explained by contrasting them with the

remote tense as used in factual assertion. "In factual

assertion, remote tense blots out present reality; with

modals (in relative assertion) remote tense does this

only part way. . the remote tense of a modal

generalizes so that present reality becomes a minor

fraction of the total possible reference" (169).

Along with this modern system, there is an archaic

system which still influences modal meaning. These

archaic meanings are especially influential in the use of

shall, should, may, and might. Shall and should may carry

meanings of "subservient probity" making "a faithful

promise good for all time" (Joos 1964:168). May and might

in the archaic sense may carry the idea of "subservient

freedom" indicating that "the event is authoritatively

allowed, and the assertion is worded with this modal to

signify that the actor is hardly free to desist" (187).

Joos' (1964:148) presentation of his analysis as

dealing with "the complete solidarity and symmetry of the

English system of modal markers for relative assertion"

has led to much criticism of this model. (See, for

example, Hermeren 1978).

Ehrman 1966

Ehrman (1966:9) "began with the question of whether

or not Martin Joos' semological classification of modal

auxiliaries . is valid, especially for American English."

Using a selection from the Brown University corpus, she (10)

wanted to find "the most general meaning(s) for each modal

that would apply to as many occurrences as possible."

Therefore, she discusses the modals in terms of basic

meaning, "the most general meaning of the modal in question,

the meaning that applies to all its occurrences," and

overtones, "subsidiary meanings which derive from basic

meaning but which add something of their own" (10).

Ehrman (1966:74) concludes that the modals have the

following meanings:

Can: nothing in the state of the world
prevents the predication:
A. there are certain positive qualities
of the subject such that the way is
cleared for the predication;
B. no lack of permission prevents the
C. nothing in the state of the world
prevents the occurrence of the
May: nothing in the state of the world
prevents the predication, and furthermore
there is no guarantee that the
predication will not occur.
Will: the occurrence of the predication is
guaranteed, either in a concrete
(future time function) or a general
(neutral time function) context:
A. subject's volition has something to
do with the guarantee;
B. the predication is a natural
consequence or concomitant of another
factor or predication.
Shall: same as will, except used with first
person si-ect and carries stylistic
notion of education involving exposure
to prescriptive grammar (this is the
only current usage of shall in the
corpus; in speech it is also used with
second- and third-person subjects to
indicate that the speaker or someone
designated by the speaker guarantees the

ought to: the predication conforms to the speaker's
or writer's view of some aspect(s) of the
state of the world:
A. the occurrence of the predication
will conform to the speaker's or
writer's view of the probable
result of the relevant factors.
Must: the predication is required by some
aspect(s) of the state of the world:
A. the occurrence of the predication is
required by the speaker's or writer's
view of the probable result of the
relevant factors.
(Need): the predication is required by the
speaker's or writer's view of some
aspect(s) of the state of the world.

Criticism of Ehrman centers around the inconsistency

of saying there is a basic meaning while pointing out

that may, for example, has a continuum of meanings

(Hermeren 1978:26-7).

Palmer 1979

The analysis in Palmer 1979 is based on the

extensive oral and written corpus of the Survey of English

Usage. Since Palmer also refers to the Brown University

corpus, his work seems to utilize one of the broadest data

bases of any study available to date.

There are several reasons for choosing Palmer's framework

as the basis for the present study. His analysis is based

on both spoken and written data. He differentiates among

the various meanings rather than just looking for what is

common in all uses of a given modal. Palmer's work deals

with English in general. By using it to analyze modals

in EST we may be able to determine how EST usage differs

from general usage. Further studies in other areas could be

carried out using the same framework and then compared.

Palmer (1979:1) is "concerned with the semantic

concept of modality, but only to the extent to which it is

signalled by the English modal verbs." He assumed (8)

"that the basic notions of modality are those of possibility

and necessity." Taking formally defined modals as the

starting point, he suggests (5) "that the meanings involved

are such as to justify characterizing them as 'modality'."

Various formal criteria are used in developing Palmer's

system. The first four also characterize BE, HAVE, and

DO (Palmer 1979:9):3

(i) Inversion with the subject. (Must I come?)
(ii) Negative form with -n't. (I can't go.)
(iii) 'Code'. (He can swim and so can she.)
(iv) Emphatic affirmation. (He will be there.)
* There are further specifically 'modal'
(v) No -s form for 3rd person singular.
(vi) Absence of nonfinite forms. (No infinitive,
past or present participle.)
(vii) No cooccurrence. (No *He may will come.)

According to Palmer (10), "these formal characteristics

of the modals form a complex set, and it is plausible to

suggest that they have been retained in the language only

because native speakers are aware of the modals as a

set ." Using these seven characteristics as basic,

considering the semantics, and acknowledging that "some

arbitrary decisions are inevitable," Palmer (17-18) defines

the scope of his study as follows:

(i) There is no doubt about the central position
of MAY, CAN and MUST. They are both formally
modals and clear exponents of possibility
and necessity.

(ii) OUGHT TO and SHOULD are also formally
modals, and can be shown to be concerned
with a facet of necessity ...
(iii) SHALL and WILL are included because they
are formally modals, and although they do
not relate to possibility and necessity
they have much in common semantically with
other modals. . Even their use for
future time reference has some relation to
(iv) Briefer consideration will be given to DARE
and NEED, which are half in the formal system,
to IS TO, and to the more marginal WOULD
(v) USED TO will not be discussed. It has many
of the formal characteristics of a modal,
but it is outside the semantic system ...
(vi) We shall discuss in some detail BE BOUND TO,
TO. Formally none of these are modals, but
they have an important place within the
semantic system and either supplement, or
contrast with, the modals.

Once the scope of his study has been stated, Palmer (18)

broadens the term modal "to include all these 'modality'

verbs. .

Palmer suggests explaining the modal system in a

two dimensional framework with degrees of modality,

basically possibility and necessity, along one axis and

kinds of modality along the other (1979:39). According to

Palmer (36), by considering syntax and semantics, "we can

distinguish between three basic kinds of modality":

epistemic, deontic, and dynamic.4 The third kind is

subdivided into neutral and subject oriented. The

characteristics (36-37) are in terms of marking the

modality and the proposition, or event, for past and for

negation and in terms of voice-neutrality as summarized

Past modality--no proposition--yes
Negation modality--yes proposition--yes
Voice-neutrality yes
Past modality--no event--no
Negation modality--yes event--yes
Voice-neutrality yes
Neutral Dynamic:
Past modality--yes event--no
Negation modality--yes event--yes
Voice-neutrality yes
Subject Oriented Dynamic:
Past modality--yes event--no
Negation modality--yes event--yes/no
Voice-neutrality yes/no?

It must be emphasized that the divisions are not

always clear-cut. "There is no doubt that the overall

picture of the modals is extremely 'messy' and untidy and

that the most the linguist can do is impose some order,

point out some regularities, correspondences, parallelisms"

(Palmer 1979:40).

Epistemic Modality

In sentences containing modals, we can talk about

the meaning associated with the modal, the modality, and

the meaning associated with the proposition or the event

being discussed. Epistemic modality refers to judgments

about the possibility or necessity of propositions.

Epistemic possibility. Judgments about possibility

are generally made in the present as in the following

example (with paraphrase below):

Jim may be at home.

'It is possible that Jim is at home.'

We could make a judgment in the present about a proposition

in the past:

Jim may have been at home.

'It is possible that Jim was at home.'

The proposition is marked for past through the use of have.

Both the modality and the proposition can be marked for


Jim can't be at home. (negation of modality)

'It is not possible that Jim is at home.'

Jim may not be at home. (negation of proposition)

'It is possible that Jim is not at home.'

7Can't is used to negate the modality while may not negates

the proposition.

The third criterion used by Palmer in his

classification is voice-neutrality. This refers to "whether

a sentence containing a modal can be passivized without

changing the meaning (other than the 'thematic' meaning

that may be associated with change of subject)" (Palmer 1979:34).

According to Palmer (56), "sentences with epistemic modals

are voice-neutral, provided that the proposition itself is

voice-neutral" as in
John may have seen Mary. (voice neutral)

(Mary may have been seen by John.)7

Might similarly expresses epistemic possibility,

but it is more tentative than may:

Jim might be at home.

Jim might have been at home. (proposition in past)

Jim couldn't be at home. (negation of modality)

Jim might not be at home. (negation of proposition)

Epistemic necessity. The characteristics of epistemic

necessity are very much like those of epistemic

possibility. Such judgments are usually made in the

present, e.g.,

Jim must be at home.

'The only possible conclusion is that Jim is at

The proposition may be in the past:

Jim must have been at home.

'The only possible conclusion is that Jim was at
home. '

The negation of epistemic necessity is a bit more

complicated than that of epistemic possibility. The

modality may be negated with needn't and the proposition

with mustn't:

Jim needn't be at home.

'That Jim is at home is not the only possible

Jim mustn't be at home.

'The only possible conclusion is that Jim is
not at home.'

Epistemic necessity is negated in this manner when "it is

important to make the judgment in terms of necessity rather

than possibility: (Palmer 1979:54). According to Palmer,

it is more usual to negate epistemic necessity in terms of

the logically equivalent forms of epistemic possibility:

not-necessary is logically equivalent to possible-not, and

necessary-not is logically equivalent to not-possible.

Thus the more usual corresponding form for negation of

modality in terms of possibility:

Jim may not be at home.

The more usual form for negation of the proposition in

terms of possibility would be:

Jim can't be at home.

The general statement that epistemic modals are voice-

neutral holds for epistemic necessity:

John must have seen Mary.

(Mary must have been seen by John.)

Should would be "the unreal or tentative marker of

epistemic necessity" in the sense that "it expresses

rather extreme likelihood, or a reasonable assumption or

conclusion. But it implicitly allows for the speaker to

be mistaken" as in (Palmer 1979:49):

You should be meeting those later on this

Palmer (55) found "no clear examples of epistemic shouldn't,"

but he suggests that perhaps

Well, that shouldn't be hard.6

is an example with the proposition negated.

Also expressing epistemic necessity is BE BOUND TO:

Jim is bound to be at home.

Compared to the use of MUST above, this "is the more

certain, and indeed can almost be paraphrased by 'it is

certain that' . ." (Palmer 1979:45). Although BE BOUND TO

may be used with present reference, in the examples noted

by Palmer (45), "the main verb is a verb relating to the

future and, in most cases, a verb of action" while MUST
"will not normally be used to refer epistemically to the


Both HAVE GOT TO and HAVE TO are considered as
"'necessity' modals," but only rarely do they occur in the

epistemic sense (Palmer 1979:46,52):

You've got to be joking.6

It had to be there--there wasn't anywhere else
it could have been.6

Epistemic reasonability or confidence. WILL used

epistemically "refers to what it is reasonable to expect"

or "expresses a confident statement" (Palmer 1979:47):

Tell him Professor Cressage is involved--he will
know Professor Cressage.6

The French will be on holiday today.6

The tentative form is would (48):

I think it would be Turner as well.6

Epistemic modality--questions. Though it is seldom

questioned, Palmer (1975:56) notes examples of both direct

and indirect questioning of epistemic modality:8

Can they be on holiday?6

I was wondering if it could have been fear?6

Can or could is used to question epistemic possibility, and
"it seems that MUST, NEED, BE BOUND TO can all be used"

to question epistemic necessity (56):

Must they be on holiday?6

Need they be on holiday?6

Are they bound to be on holiday?6

Deontic Modality

Deontic modality is essentially discourse oriented,

concerned with the speaker and the hearer. It deals with

matters such as permission, obligation, stating an

undertaking, promises, and threats. It involves the

modality of an event rather than a proposition.

Deontic possibility. "Deontic possibility consists

essentially in the giving of permission" (Palmer 1979:59).

Both MAY and CAN are used in this manner:

You may go to the movie.

You can go to the movie.

According to Palmer (60), "evidence from the Survey is

insufficient to prove the differences between MAY and

CAN . ., but it seems clear that MAY is far more formal

than CAN. . ." Both are used in idiomatic expressions:

You can say that again.6

You may rest assured.6

Commands, "often of a brusque or somewhat impolite kind,"

are often expressed by CAN (60):

I'm Dr. Edgton now, so you can observe my new

In speaking, we do not give permission "in the past

or in relation to past events," and, thus, deontic

possibility marks neither the modality nor the event for

past (Palmer 1979:67).

In expressions of deontic possibility, both the

modality and the event may be negated. "One can give

permission, etc. for an action not to take place or one

can refuse permission, etc. for it to take place" (Palmer

1979:64). An example of the negation of the modality

would be:

No, you may not go to that movie.

The event can be negated through stress.

I was under the impression that you were going.
But if you want to stay home, you may not go to
the movie, if that's what you want.

Negation with CAN is similar:

No, you can't go to that movie. (negation of

You can n6t go to that movie. (negation of event)

The issue of voice-neutrality is not clear-cut. "If

one gives permission, etc. for someone to perform an action,

one equally gives permission for the action to be performed"

(Palmer 1979:68):

Yes, you may eat the cake.

Yes, the cake may be eaten.

In the following example, however, permitting John to meet

Mary is not necessarily the same as permitting Mary to meet


John may meet Mary.6

Mary may be met by John.6

Might and could are used in a manner parallel to

MAY and CAN, but they are "more diffident or polite"

(Palmer 1979:68):

Might I come in, at the moment, on this, Chairman?6

Well, could we go on to modern novels, then?6

Deontic necessity. MUST is considered to indicate

deontic necessity when it indicates that "the speaker (or

writer) clearly takes responsbility for the imposing of

the necessity" (Palmer 1979:61):

I've been telling Peter, as I've been telling
several people, you know, "You must get into
permanent jobs," and I've been urging Peter to
go back to school teaching or something,
where he's very, very good.6

As with deontic possibility, deontic necessity marks

neither the modality nor the event for past.

Needn't is used to negate modality in deontic

necessity (Palmer 1979:64):

You needn't take this down.6

The event is negated with mustn't (64), which "lays an

obligation not to act."

You mustn't put words in my mouth.6

Voice-neutrality is somewhat questionable with

respect to deontic necessity. Palmer notes some examples

where voice-neutrality does seem to be present, as in


This, of course, must not be taken as a reason
for drawing more cheques.6

But he also notes that in the following examples (68),

John must meet Mary.6

Mary must be met by John.6

"if I compel John to meet Mary, I do not compel Mary to

be met by John."

Deontic use of SHALL. SHALL is considered as

indicating a degree of deontic modality in which "the

speaker gives an undertaking or guarantees that the event

will take place" (Palmer 1979:62-63):

I intend to see that . where firearms
are used, the maximum penalty shall be the
maximum penalty available to the law.6

A similar use of SHALL occurs in regulations (63):

The 1947 act shall have effect as if this
section were included in Part III thereof.6

The deontic use of SHALL is similar to the other

degrees of deontic modality in that there is no marking

for past.

If the modality is to be negative, it is expressed

in verbs other than SHALL, e.g.,

I don't promise to write that letter.

The event is negated through the use of shan't (Palmer


You shan't go there tomorrow.6

Other possible deontic modals. Palmer considers

SHOULD and OUGHT TO for inclusion as deontic modals, but

he decides that they "will be treated with dynamic

necessity, though they sometimes have highly deontic

characteristics" (1979:69).

For various reasons Palmer includes HAD BETTER with

the deontic modals. "It has no past tense forms. ..

The negative form, hadn't better, moreover, like mustn't,

negates the event not the modality; it advises nonaction"

(Palmer 1979:70). It would also seem to be voice neutral.

Deontic modality--questions. Questions with deontic

modality are quite possible "to ask if the person addressed

gives permission, lays an obligation, etc." as in

(Palmer 1979:65-66):

May/can I leave now?6

Must I come tomorrow?6

Shall I reserve it tomorrow?6

Similar questions are used when "permission is sought as

a matter of courtesy" or as an offer to act (66-7):

May I leave my telephone number?6

Here's our coffee. Shall I pour?6

Dynamic Modality

Palmer (1979:3) uses dynamic modality "to refer

generally to the modality of events that are not conditioned

deontically." He divides this group into two subkinds:

Neutral: Those which indicate that an

event is possible or necessary.

Subject oriented: Those which indicate that the

subject has the ability or

willingness to do something.

The dynamic modals include: CAN, BE ABLE TO, MUST, HAVE


subkinds will first be considered in terms of degrees and

then in terms of their characteristics.

Dynamic possibility. Under dynamic possibility,

Palmer considers four different uses of CAN. He then tries

to determine how these uses differ semantically from the

uses of BE ABLE TO. He also includes a discussion of DARE.

The dynamic uses of CAN include neutral possibility,

subject oriented possibility, implication, and occurrence

with private verbs.9 In the neutral possibility sense,

CAN is used "simply to indicate that an event is possible"

(Palmer 1979:71-2).

I know the place. You can get all sorts of
things here.6

In the subject-oriented sense, CAN indicates ability

of animate subjects (Palmer 1979:73):

He's one of the senior referees in the league,
fairly strict ,disciplinarian, can handle games
of this nature.6

In the case of inanimate subjects (73), "it indicates that

they have the necessary qualities or 'power' to cause the

event to take place."

Religion can summate, relate, and conserve all
highest ideals and values.6

A.third dynamic possibility use of CAN discussed by

Palmer (1979:73) is that in which it suggests, "by

implication, that action will, or should, be taken."

Yes, we can send you a map, if you wish.6

The last use of CAN which Palmer (1979:74) discusses

under dynamic possibility is its use "with the so-called
'private' verbs." CAN (74) is used "with SEE and other

verbs of sensation where there is little indication of

I can see the moon.

It is also used with another group of verbs (75),


BE BOTHERED, etc., . with some sense of ability or


What you can remember in two weeks is the
thing that matters.6

The differences between neutral and subject oriented

dynamic modality do not account for the differences between

the uses of CAN and BE ABLE TO. CAN is used in both senses

as is BE ABLE TO (Palmer 1979:75-76). In this example,

BE ABLE TO is used in the neutral sense:

. because they are applying the disciplines
already to the illumination of a particular, a
practical, problem rather than a purely
theoretical one, that they are able to become
better communicators on that, on these issues.6

It is also found in the subject oriented sense:

And yet you're able to look at the future of it
in this very objective way without making a
value judgment.6

After much discussion and many examples, Palmer (88-9)

summarizes "the conditions under which BE ABLE TO will be

used rather than CAN":

(i) It alone can occur in the nonfinite forms,
-but will still be restricted by other
considerations. ...
(ii) It will not occur with the implicative
function of CAN, or regularly with private
verbs. ...
(iii) It is much more common in writing than
in speech. ..
(iv) In present tense forms it will often indicate
present actuality (but future actuality is
indicated by can). .. 0
(v) In past tense forms it is obligatory if
there is an indication of the actuality of a
single event. ...

(vi) It will not normally occur where a subject-
oriented interpretation would not be
possible (this does not mean that it will,
in fact, have a subject-oriented
interpretation) ....
(vii) A distinction can be drawn between present
possibility with reference to the future
and future possibility. The latter requires
BE ABLE TO with WILL ...
(viii) BE ABLE TO rarely occurs with passive forms.

The last form considered by Palmer (1979:89-90)

within dynamic possibility is DARE whose meaning "is

roughly 'have the courage to', in a rather weak sense

since it often relates to actions that do not need much

courage. . Semantically DARE is obviously subject-

John daren't come.

Dare John come?6

Dynamic necessity. In treating dynamic necessity,

Palmer discusses the indeterminacy between dynamic and

deontic meanings of MUST and also considers HAVE (GOT) TO,


MUST has been discussed as indicating deontic

necessity. It (Palmer 1979:91) "often occurs where, in

assertion, there is little or no indication of the

involvement of the speaker":

If the ratepayers should be consulted, so too
must the council tenants.6

This use is considered to be neutral dynamic. Thus the

crucial difference between deontic and neutral dynamic uses

of MUST is whether or not the speaker is involved, but (173)

"it is not always possible to distinguish between" them.

The possibility of the existence of subject

oriented necessity is discussed by Palmer (1979:106), but

he only found one example which could be interpreted in

this manner:

Protoplasm, the living substance of all plants,
contains nitrogen and the rose tree must absorb
this nitrogen in the form of nitrates.6

Very closely related to MUST are HAVE TO and HAVE

GOT TO. There are certain differences between the latter

two (Palmer 1979:92):

(i) HAVE TO is more formal; HAVE GOT TO belongs
to a more colloquial style and generally
appears only in the spoken texts.
(ii) HAVE GOT TO has no nonfinite forms. There
is no *will have got to, *to have got to,
*having got to. Instead the forms of HAVE
TO must be used.
(iii) HAVE GOT TO is much rarer in the past tense,
and may differ in meaning from HAVE TO, in
that only the latter usually implies
actuality. ...

Palmer considers three principal points in comparing and

contrasting the uses of MUST and HAVE (GOT) TO (93-94):

(i) In neutral necessity, they seem


I must have an immigrant's visa. Otherwise
they're likely to kick me out you see.6

I've really got to know when completion
date is likely. Otherwise I might find
myself on the streets.6

(ii) "In the present tense HAVE TO and HAVE GOT

TO imply actuality, while MUST does not":

It's a slow walk down. He's got to fight
his way through the crowds.b

(iii) The only form that can be used in

situations requiring a nonfinite form


It's too late to put him into an isolation
hospital. I would have had to do that a
few days ago.6

SHOULD and OUGHT TO are also discussed under dynamic

necessity. They are nearly interchangeable, "even with

tag questions, since there is nothing odd about"

(Palmer 1979:100):

He ought to come tomorrow, shouldn't he?6

Palmer (100) does suggest, however, "that SHOULD is more

common than OUGHT TO."

NEED does not fit neatly into the system. It could

be considered as indicating a conditional necessity.

Neutral dynamic modality. In neutral dynamic modality,

the modality but not the event is marked for past. For

possibility, both could and past forms of BE ABLE TO are

available. With neutral necessity, past forms of HAVE (GOT)

TO can be used. There is no past form of MUST.

Both the modality and the event can be marked for

negation, though "normally only the modality is negated,

by formally negating the modal" (Palmer 1979:78-79):

You cannot treat of disease unless you know
the causes.6

the fact that they weren't able to gratify

The event could be negated by using an emphatic not:

We can/can't not go.6

For necessity, Palmer (94-95) suggests the following:

(i) The negative forms of the relevant modals
with -n't or following not or in conjunction
with any negative word, negate the event
and express an obligation not to act:

I think we mustn't worry too much about
this ...

(ii) There are no forms of MUST that negate the
modality (deny the obligation). Instead
forms of NEED are used:

The politics of the party machine does
not and need not concern them ...

(iii) The negative forms of HAVE TO and HAVE GOT
TO are also available, but there are two
restrictions. First, although HAVE GOT TO
has the negative forms has/have/hadn't got to,
the negatives of HAVE TO are formed with DO--
does/do/didn't have to. . Secondly, the
negative form normally negates the modality:

You don't have to do that.

The neutral dynamic modals are voice-neutral.

Palmer (1979:87-8) found many examples of CAN in the

passive but not of BE ABLE TO:

It can easily be rubbed out.6

Few examples of neutral dynamic necessity were found (99):

A lot of work has got to be done on it.6

Subject oriented WILL. Before considering the defining

characteristics of subject oriented dynamic modality,

one more degree in addition to those of possibility and

necessity must be discussed, that of WILL expressing

volition, power, and habit. It is not always easy to

distinguish these from the other uses of WILL.

Examples of volitional WILL include (Palmer 1979:109):

I'm seeing if Methuen will stump up any money
to cover the man's time.--

I said I am not competent to do it and I
wouldn't have my name on the title page to
do it.6

Power in the subject oriented sense "is little more

than volition applied to inanimate objects, to indicate

how such objects will characteristically behave" (Palmer


You know that certain drugs will improve the

Examples of habitual activity WILL include (Palmer


These are visual things. You don't need words
to convey them and countries as far apart as
China and Wales will use the dragon to convey
basically the same concepts without any words.6

WOULD RATHER expresses preference in a subject oriented

sense (Palmer 1979:148):

I'd rather do the second half of the autumn
term if that's all--.6

Subject oriented dynamic modality. As with neutral

dynamic modality, in subject oriented dynamic modality,

the modality can be marked for past but not the event.

With possibility, either the past form could or the past

forms of BE ABLE TO are available, but they do not occur

in free variation. Palmer (1979:80-82) lists several

conditions for the uses of could:

(i) Could may be used if there is no implication
of actuality:

I was plenty scared. In the state she
was in she could actually kill.

(ii) If there is an indication not of a single
action, but of successive or habitual action,
could may be used, even if there is an
implication that these actions took place:

I could get up and go to the kitchen
whenever I wanted to ...

(iii) There are no restrictions on couldn't or on
could with any of the negative forms ....

I ran fast, but couldn't catch the bus ....

(iv) Could occurs where there is a meaning of
'nothing but':

One moment I seem~to be everything to him,
and then all he could think of was this
child. ...

(v) Could may also occur in seminegative or
'affective' contexts:

He was laughing so much, he could hardly
get a word out. ...

The past form of subject oriented WILL is would

(Palmer 1979:128) in a "situation, in relation to actuality,

exactly like that of CAN. . ." If there is an

implication of actuality, the positive form is not used,

but the negative may be:

*I asked him, and he would come.6

I asked him, but he wouldn't come.6

When WILL is used in the habitual sense (129), "actuality

is implied even in positive forms":

. and whenever she gardened, she would
eat with dirt on her calves.6

The negation of subject oriented dynamic modality

is a bit complicated. The modality can be negated both

with CAN and WILL (Palmer 1979:78,126):

I can't judge distance at all.6

Even in the Sixth Form there are one or two
who will not talk about sex.6

With CAN, the event is not negated, but with WILL it may

be (127):

I won't ask for details.6

The question of voice-neutrality is not simple. As

far as ability goes (Palmer 1979:88), passivization does

not usually occur if there is reference to a specific


?That weight can't be lifted by John.6

That weight can't be lifted by anyone. 6

That weight can't be lifted by one man.6

Volitional WILL is not voice-neutral (135):

It seems to Nebarrow that you people just
won't do your homework properly.6

Passivization in this sentence would be quite unusual.

Dynamic modality--questions. It is quite possible

to question dynamic possibility, and with dynamic

necessity, "problems arise only when the negative form does

not negate the modality. If it negates the modality, the

same modal is used for interrogation" (Palmer 1979:96):

Can you lift that weight?6

. and they both have refused. Need
I say more?6

With subject oriented WILL it is possible to question the

modality (127):

Will John come?6

Other Kinds of Modality

Palmer (1979:7) notes that "natural languages are

notoriously untidy," and, therefore, it is not at all

surprising that there are other uses of modals which do not

fall neatly into his tripartite divisions. In addition to

these three main kinds, he discusses futurity, conditionality

and unreality, willingness, rules and regulations, rational

modality, existential modality, and nonfactivity.


Palmer argues that considering WILL and SHALL as

markers of future tense in English is misleading. They

usually carry some additional meaning as well. He suggests

(Palmer 1979:111) that "BE GOING TO is more reasonably to

be regarded as the form normally used for reference to the

future." He (115-7) specifies "five kinds of 'modal'

future with WILL":

1. Envisaged future:

Is it ever envisaged that the College will
hive itself off from the University?6

2. Hoped for, prayed for, decided future:

We pray that God will look upon the hearty
desires of his humble servants.6

3. Events within a future scene:

Yet here we are going to find that
there's going to be a National
Enterprise Board which will be expected
to do things in Scotland.5

4. Description of a planned future:

My government will make it their special
duty to protect the freedom of the individual
under the law.6

5. Instructions:

Private Jones will report at 08.00 hrs.6

One example (112) of the rare occasion when "shall has the

meaning of pure futurity" is provided:

My babe-in-arms will be fifty-nine on my
eighty-ninth birthday. . The year
two thousand and fifteen when I shall
be ninety.6

Palmer (1979:120-1) discusses various differences

between WILL/SHALL and BE GOING TO. BE GOING TO is pretty

much limited to spoken texsts while WILL/SHALL occur in

both spoken and written. Pointing out the following

contrasts (124-6), Palmer cautions the reader not to be

too dogmatic:

1. BE GOING TO is used when the futurity is not


I'm buying an awful lot of books here.
It's going to cost me a fortune to get
them home.0

2. BE GOING TO is used when no volition is


So, are you going to leave a message or
shal-TT say something?6

3. With WILL/SHALL, "there is little or no

present activity involved":

She'll be in soon.6

4. If there is any conditionality, WILL/SHALL is


I'll be at home all day today except for
about half an hour just after lunch.6

5. It is more common to find WILL/SHALL than BE


There is no difference between negation of futurity

and negation of the event with WILL and BE GOING TO.

As for interrogation, Palmer (1979:127) finds that

"the WILL of futurity is comparatively rare" while

questions with BE GOING TO are apparently not uncommon.

BE GOING TO may be used to indicate future in the

past in spoken text while "would is similarly used in a

literary style" (Palmer 1979:130):

I was going to say that it looked a bit like
a pheasant in flight.6
Twenty years later, Dick Whittington would
be the richest man in London.6

Two of the uses of IS TO are discussed as indicating

futurity. "The past tense forms are commonly used to refer

to events that are known, in retrospect, to have been

subsequent to other events. . ." (Palmer 1979:146):

Worse was to follow.6

Usually (146), "present tense forms refer to future events

that are planned."

The old group is still going strong but there's
to be a new girl from Norwich.6

Two other uses of IS TO are considered to be more

modal in nature. It is "used to refer to what can be, or

what can reasonably be, in both present and past" (Palmer


I cannot see how this kind of overlapping is to
be avoided.6

It is also used to report commands:

He is to work all day.6

Palmer (140,148) also mentions the use of were to or was to

in the if-clause of a conditional sentence as perhaps being

a modal use expressing a rather "remote possibility."

Conditionality and Unreality

Sometimes interwoven with elements of futurity are

conditionality and unreality. If WILL/SHALL are used for

futurity, elements of conditionality, which may be manifested

in various ways, are often present (Palmer 1979:113-4):

1. Will often occurs in the "apodisis (the main

clause) of a real condition referring to the

future. . In the protasis (the if-clause)

a nonmodal present tense form is used."

If John comes, Bill will leave.6

The events in the protasis could be past:

Look, if she didn't grudge you the weekend,
she won't grudge you an alibi.6

2. The condition may be expressed by and or

or else:

You put it under your pillow and a fairy
will come and give you. . .6

I don't want to stay there for ever,
obviously, or else it'll be terribly
bad for me.6

3. Other conjunctions may express conditionality:

When there is a surplus of labour, prices
will not rise.6

4. The condition may be implicit:

This will give us nice time to acclimatize
you and have lunch before the lecture.6

5. It may be that the condition is understood to

be an action which the reader (listener) must

carry out, such as doing the asking:

Your nursery man will probably spare you a
few understocks.6

In some cases, would marks conditionality (Palmer


I wouldn't offer if I didn't want to do it.6

Interrelated with conditionality and often difficult

to separate from it is unreality. There are various

expressions of unreality:

1. Could may be used as an indication of

conditionality/unreality. Palmer (1979:31)

suggests that in certain examples it is the

event not the modality which is conditional

or unreal. In the following examples, it is

the running, not the ability, which is


If I wanted to, I could run ten miles.6

If I had wanted to, I could have run ten

2. SHOULD and OUGHT TO can express a "potential or

tentative" necessity with an unreal event

(Palmer 1979:101-2):

We ought to have done so much this year and
we haven't done it, you know.6

3. In some cases WILL may express an unreal

volition (Palmer 1979:134):

Certainly doesn't want to do Reigate. He
would do Cuckfield, and of course,
Horsham ..6

4. Unreal present and past conditionals are

generally expressed with would, should, would

have, and should have. There are various

manifestations of the condition (Palmer 1979:139-41):

a. It may be implicit in the linguistic context:

In fact, I would have said that it
looks as though London would be worth
going through.6

b. It may be implicit in a pronoun, e.g. that:

That wouldn't be impossible.6

c. There may be an implicit if I were you:

I wouldn't be in too much of a hurry.
There can't be more than about eight feet
of water under your keel.6

d. The condition may be quite vague:

. and I would certainly
encourage firms to do that.6

Included here are expressions such

as I would say, I wouldn't dream, I

wouldn't know, I wouldn't mind.

5. Closely related to unreality but perhaps

expressing unlikelihood is the use of should

in initial position (Palmer 1979:141):

Should it rain, the match will be cancelled.6

6. Unreality may be present in the use of epistemic

or subject oriented dynamic modals (Palmer

1979: 141-2):

I think I might have walked out too, from
all accounts.

If he wanted to, he could pass the exam.6


According to Palmer (1979:145), the decision to use

BE WILLING TO is "deliberate, to express much more clearly

the notion of willingness, rather than simply the
'volition' of WILL":

The University is both anxious and willing to
discharge its responsibility in this sphere.b

Rules and Regulations

Rules and regulations often use CAN or MAY (Palmer


In the library you can take a book out and
keep it for a whole year unless it is recalled.

. and it is subject to the final
prerogative of mercy of the Home Secretary
who may recommend a reprieve.6

Similarly, MUST may occur in reporting a rule (149):

A spokesman for Devon County Council's Weights
and Measures Department said, "Where a landlady
says her place is 'two minutes from the sea,'
it must not mean by jet aircraft."6

Rational Modality

There are certain situations in which negative or

seminegative (such as with hardly) CAN express states of

affairs which are unacceptable to the speaker (Palmer


Come off it! You can hardly call Cynthia

Could (151) is similarly used, but it is tentative:

So in some degree you could say it would be
taking him rather too literally.6

MUST (152) may also be. used in this manner:

The government must act. It must make up its
mind about priorities--offices or houses, housing
estates or luxury buildings.6

Such occurrences do not really fit into Palmer's system,

and he refers to them as rational modality.

Existential Modality

CAN and MAY are both used to indicate "some" or

"sometimes" (Palmer 1979:153-4):

Roses can be mauve.6 (some)
The weather can be awful. (sometimes)

One of us has evidence which agrees with the
earlier hypothesis of Chapman and Salton (1962)
that the lamellae may arise de novo from the
middle of the cell and migrate to the
periphery.6 (some)

The process may be carried out indiscriminately
by the wind or by insects which fly from flower
to flower.6 (sometimes)

It is also possible to make past time references (154):
Yes, but she could be nasty. (sometimes)
Dinosaurs could be dangerous. (some)

MUST (155) may be used in a similar manner to indicate

"that what is said is true of all things being referred to;

but at the same time it has an implication that this

results from an essential characteristic":

All scientific results must depend on a rather
specialized form of history.6

In many cases, however, "the dividing line between an

epistemic and a 'characteristic' interpretation is not

very clear" (155).


There are several uses of MAY which seem to indicate

nonfactivity "where a modal with a more specific meaning is

not appropriate" (Palmer 1979:158-60):

1. This use sometimes appears in writing while

a more informal style might use CAN:

Calder Idris, however, may be climbed
from other points on this tour.6

2. The sense intended in the following example

seems to be related to a "proper description":

We operate what might be described as a
gigantic tutorial system.6

3. There is an idea of "conceivable" in the

following example:

They did their best, but it soon became
clear that they were in a foreign country.
I might have been talking to them in

4. Suggestions are often made with might:

You might even pay a visit.6

5. There is an idomatic use of might with (just) as

well (have):

I might as well have stayed at home.6

6. Like would, might can indicate habitual past


In those days we might go for a walk through
the woods.6

7. It is also possible to consider here the

subordinate use of MAY with a purpose clause:

How can you keep bees? You have to have lots
of land in order that they may eat.6

8. Wishes may fall into this nonfactivity use:
May God bless you all through the coming year.

9. Perhaps also to be considered here is the

concessive use of MAY:
However difficult it may be. ..

A brief evaluation of the work of Joos and Ehrman

has been presented, followed by a detailed presentation of

Palmer's outstanding work which has been chosen as the basis

for the present study.


1. The Brown University corpus consists of over
a million words of written text, 500 samples of about
2000 words, collected and computerized at Brown University
under the direction of W. Nelson Francis. The texts were
all published in 1961 in the United States.

2. The Survey of English Usage is an extensive
oral and written corpus collected at University College,
London. Randolph Quirk (1980:1) describes this corpus as
"a resource base not only without remote parallel elsewhere
in the world for the study of English, but unparalleled
(though now being imitated) for the study of other languages."

3. I have attempted to follow Palmer's notational
system (1979:32) and use capital letters for lexical
items, e.g. WILL, and underlining for forms, e.g. will,

4. Palmer uses terms from Von Wright's (1951)
work on modal logic.

5. In the sentence Jim may be at home, the
proposition is expressed in Jim is at home and the modality
by may. In the sentence Jim can play tennis well, the
event is playing tennis, and the modality is expressed by

6. The example is taken from Palmer. The modal has
been underlined to facilitate readability.

7. The example which Palmer (1979:56) uses to
indicate lack of voice neutrality is

John may want to see Mary.

(Mary may want to be seen by John.)

This, however, seems to be a strange passive since it is
a two story sentence. I have not been able to come up with
a one story sentence with an epistemic modal in which the
proposition is not voice neutral.

8. Would, should, could, and might correspond to
will, shalI, can and may, respectively, in indirect speech.

9. Palmer (1979:74) attributes this term to Hill
(1958:207, quoting Joos).

10. Palmer (1979:163) defines actuality as "the
implication that the event did, does, or will take place."


Data Collection

Data were collected from classes in which first

semester graduate students could have enrolled during the

1981 fall semester at the University of Florida. Six

courses were involved: two in computer sciences (C-I and

C-2), two in engineering (E-1 and E-2), and two in

medicine (M-1 and M-2). One classroom lecture was recorded

in each course and then transcribed thus providing the

spoken data. The written data consist of selections from

reading assignments corresponding to the recorded lectures.

Only classes with native-American English-speaking

professors speaking what Kenyon and Knott (1953:xxxii)

describe as a Northern dialect were recorded. All

professors were males between forty and fifty years old

with between eight and twenty-five years of teaching

experience. The professors chose the class to be recorded

and in each case indicated that they considered the

specified class to be lecture-type.

The number of students ranged from eight to twenty-five

with the exception that M-1 had eighty-five students.

(Large classes seem to be common in the College of Medicine.)

In each case, one entire class was recorded. The time

involved ranged from forty to sixty minutes. This

information is summarized in the following table:

Table 3-1
Number of Students and Class Length

Class Number of Students Length of Class
C-I 10 40
C-2 8 50
E-I 25 40
E-2 8 55
M-1 85 60
M-2 15 60

Three small cassette recorders (Realistic, Panasonic,

and General Electric) with built-in microphones were

situated in different places in the classroom in order to

collect the data more accurately than would a single player.

More sophisticated equipment was not used in an effort to

avoid inhibiting the professors and/or students. Twelve

Sony and six Scotch 120-minute cassettes were used. The

best recording in each case was copied onto Scotch 60-minute

cassetes for use in the transcription phase of the project.

The lectures were painstakingly transcribed. The

professors were consulted to clarify areas which caused

difficulty in transcription. The transcriptions resulted

in a corpus of about 40,000 spoken words distributed as

indicated in Table 3-2. (Only professors' words were

counted for this study. Hesitation phenomena were not

counted as words.) The transcriptions are provided in the

appendices. Brief summaries of these lectures are

provided below.

Once the word count of spoken data was made, an

equivalent amount of written data was selected from

reading assignments corresponding either to the recorded

class or to the immediately preceding or immediately

following class. The reading selections were chosen so

that they represented entire articles, entire chapters, or

entire sections of a given chapter. (It is feasible that

certain modals might be more characteristic of different

parts of a selection as suggested in Lackstrom 1979.)

The written data amount to about 40,000 words. (Equations

were not considered to be words and thus were not counted.)

The words were distributed as indicated in Table 3-2.

Brief summaries of the reading selections are provided


Table 3-2
Spoken and Written Data Base

Class Spoken Written Total

C-I 5,901 5,127 11,028
C-2 6,291 5,529 11,820
E-1 3,831 4,529 8,360
E-2 7,088 6,188 13,276
M-I 8,188 8,237 16,425
M-2 8,030 9,260 17,290

Total 39,329 38,870 78,199

Lecture Summaries

C-1. The professor discusses projects which are to

be carried out by the students. He then continues a

discussion (begun in a previous class) about implementation

of types at compile and run time in different computer

languages. Explanations and examples are presented.

Questions from students are answered as they arise. Some

transparencies are used during parts of the discussion,

and the blackboard is used extensively. At the end of the

class, the professor mentions what they will be doing in

future classes.

C-2. The professor announces a lecture which will

be taking place immediately after the class period. Plans

for the remainder of the semester are discussed. The

professor then continues a discussion of feedback related

techniques. He includes a discussion of an experiment

described in the textbook. (This forms part of the

written data for C-2.) He then moves on to discuss

microfilm technology. He uses pictures, transparencies,

and actual samples during his presentation. Questions

from students are answered as they arise.

E-1. The professor continues a discussion on

graphical aspects of linear programming, working through

examples. (These same examples are worked out in the

section of the textbook which is used as the written data

for E-1.) Student questions are answered as they arise.

The blackboard is used extensively. In the following

class, they are to deal with mathematics related to the

graphical interpretation.

E-2. The professor reviews the discussion from the

previous class on the indirect tensile test and moves on

to discuss its relation to elastic theory and hypothetical

stresses. A handout is provided for the students, and the

blackboard is used extensively. The professor uses slides

when he goes on to discuss pavement systems. Discussion

of this topic is to continue in the next class. Student

questions are answered as they arise.

M-1. The professor begins by revising the schedule

for the remainder of the semester. The class lecture is

given to prepare students for laboratory work on

superficial structures and muscles of the lower extremity.

The students are provided with blank diagrams which they

fill in during the lecture as the professor fills in

similar diagrams on the blackboard. A replica of a human

skeleton is also used during explanations and descriptions.

Student questions are answered as they arise.

M-2. The professor continues lecturing on the

neuromuscular system, specifically motor control at the

spinal cord levels. He discusses two viewpoints on the

organizing principles of segmental motor control.

Experiments relating to each viewpoint are discussed. (One

of the viewpoints is presented in the article used as the

M-2 written data.) Slides are used throughout the lecture.

Student questions are answered at the end of the lecture.

Reading Summaries

C-i: Blake 1977:30-8. This is a journal article

describing high-performance computer systems. There is a

two paragraph introduction followed by sections on process

address space, procedure call, instruction frequency

measurements, and stack hardware.

C-2: Salton 1975:472-93. This is a section of a

chapter in a textbook. The chapter title is "Dynamic

Information Processing," and the two assigned sections

deal with feedback searching and document space modification.

These sections consist mainly of explanations and examples.

E-1: Shamblin and Stevens 1974:243-74. This is

a portion of the tenth chapter of the textbook. It

includes an introduction and sections on graphical

interpretation, algebraic solution, and maximization. The

concepts are explained, and then sample problems are solved

with the step-by-step procedures given.

E-2: Asphalt Institute 1974:46-73. The selected

portions include part of the third and all of the fourth

chapters. The entire manual consists basically of

instructions and procedures for running an asphalt plant.

M-i: Tobin 1961:214-30. This is a portion of a human

dissection laboratory manual. The particular sections

analyzed provide instructions and explanations for the

dissection of the following parts of the inferior extremity:

the gluteal region, the flexor region of the thigh, the

popliteal fossa, the posterior crural region, the anterior

crural region, the dorsal region of the foot, and the

lateral crural region.

M-2: Henneman 1980:718-37. This is a portion of a

chapter of an anthology of medical physiology. The

analyzed portion describes the concept of the motoneuron

pool and discusses experiments dealing with motoneuron

size and pool organization.

Data Analysis

Once the data were collected, the number of modal

forms, as defined in Palmer's study, were counted. The

results are presented and discussed in Chapter IV.

The final step in the research carried out for this

study was the meaning analysis. Each sentence containing

a modal was considered.1 An attempt was made to classify

the meanings according to Palmer's framework as presented

in Chapter II. If necessary, the modal was studied in its

contextual environment beyond the sentence. It is

acknowledged that this meaning analysis was the most

difficult part of the research because of the very close,

complicated relationships among the various meanings. The

results of this analysis are presented and discussed in

Chapter V.



1. Sentence punctuation has been imposed on the
spoken data. Someone else transcribing this material
might impose it in a different manner, but this does not
affect the present study.


The form frequency analysis involves looking at the

individual tokens which occur in the data as well as the

kinds of structures in which they occur, e.g. finite or

nonfinite verb phrases, active or passive, etc. The forms

considered are those defined by Palmer (see Chapter II).

Although he does not include used to, he does discuss its

relationship to the system, and, therefore, it has been

counted in this study.

The spoken data provide certain quirks not found in

the written. For example, there are contracted modal forms

in the spoken but not in the written. Thus for comparison

purposes, the contractions have been counted as full forms.

This, however, presents the problem of whether to consider

'I1 as shall or will. In keeping with what has been done

in other studies (Joos 1964:162-3; Palmer 1979:112),

Jespersen's conclusion that 'I1 is from will and not shall

is used. According to Jespersen (1954:296), while we have

no example of the sound [S] being dropped in weak positions,

the sound [w] tends to disappear in weak syllables, cf.

such words as answer, Southward, hap'orth, Greenwich ..

Another quirk in the dpoken data is that certain forms

occur in incomplete structures, as in this example of can:

So I can now, let's see, the type of that node

then is, since I have an R and a D being mixed,

will be what? (Appendix A:140)

The number of modals in such incomplete structures is

noted in Table 4-1. Since it would be very difficult, if

not impossible, to determine the meaning of the modals

in such structures, they are not included in the overall

calculations. There are, of course, no such occurrences

in the written data.

Table 4-1
Modals in Incomplete Structures:



going to
have to
able to
is to
used to





C-2 E-1

2 2
5 2
6 0
0 2
0 0
o 0
2 0
3 0
0 0
0 0
o 0
0 0
1 0
0 0
0 0

19 6


E-2 m-i

0 4
1 11
3 10
0 3
0 0
0 1
0 1
0 1
0 1
0 0
0 0
0 0
0 0
0 0
0 0

4 32


A total of 1553 modals,

1099 in the spoken and 454

in the written data, in completed structures were found.

No examples of dare or need used as modals were found, nor

were there any examples of be willing to, would rather,

had better, or be bound to. Table 4-2 lists the number of







occurences of the different modal forms. It also

indicates the percent of each form for the spoken modals,

for the written modals, and the total number of modals in

the data.

Table 4-2
Modals in Spoken and Written Data

Modals Spoken Written Total
Tokens Percent Tokens Percent Tokens Percent

can 228 20.76 91 10.04 319 20.54
will 218 19.83 77 16.96 295 18.99
would 211 19.19 14 3.08 225 14.48
going to 167 15.19 0 0.00 167 10.75
may 48 4.36 102 22.46 150 9.65
should 31 2.86 88 19.38 119 7.66
have to 90 8.19 1 0.22 91 5.85
might 38 3.45 20 4.40 58 3.73
could 38 3.45 17 3.74 55 3.54
must 1 0.09 35 7.70 36 2.31
able to 18 1.63 2 0.44 20 1.28
is to 8 0.72 4 0.88 12 0.77
ought to 1 0.09 2 0.44 3 0.19
shall 1 0.09 1 0.22 2 0.12
used to 1 0.09 0 0.00 1 0.06

Total 1099 99.92 454 99.96 1553 99.92

Chi-square tests were used to determine if there is

a significant difference between the use of modals in the

spoken and written data.1 The x2 values for forms

occurring ten or more times (can, will, would, going to,

may, should, have to, might, could, must, able to, is to)

are presented in Table 4-3:

Table 4-3
Chi-Square Values for
Spoken versus Written Data

Data x

All 657.895*
Computers 284.657*
C-I 162.839*
C-2 107.436*
Engineering 220.474*
E-1 75.738*
E-2 149.392*
Medicine 228.692*
M-1 126.300*
M-2 108.955*

*: Significant at the .01 level

In this table, All refers to the entire corpus. Computers,

Engineering, and Medicine refer, respectively, to the C-1

plus C-2, E-1 plus E-2, and M-1 plus M-2 data. As all of

the figures are significant at the .01 level, in all areas

there is a statistically significant difference between

the use of modals in the spoken and written data.

Because of the results of the general test, individual

modals were tested. The results for these tests are given

in Tables 4-4 and 4-5.

Table 4-4
Tests for Individual Modals:
Spoken versus Written


12. 923**
-12. 671**







**: significant at .01 level
X : insufficient forms for computation
Positive numbers indicate form occurs
more often in spoken data while
negative numbers indicate more
frequency in written data.

Table 4-5
Tests for Individual Modals:
Spoken versus Written
by Class









3. 742**



**: significant at .01 level
* :significant at .05 level
X : insufficient forms for computation
Positive numbers indicate form occurs more
often in spoken data while negative
numbers indicate more frequency in
written data.


going t(
have to
able to
is to


going t
have to
able to
is to


As indicated in Table 4-4, there is a statistically

significant difference in the use of certain modals in the

spoken versus written data. Can, will, would, going to,

have to, and able to are used more in the spoken data than

in the written. May, should, and must are more common in

the written data. We can also note statistically

significant differences of modal use within the data for

the three disciplines:

Computers: Can, will, would, going to, have to,

and able to occur more often in the

spoken while may occurs more often

in the written data.

Engineering: Would, going to, and have to occur

more often in the spoken while may,

should, and must occur more often in

the written data.

Medicine: Can, will, would, and going to occur

more often in the spoken while must

occurs more often in the written data.

Within the individual classes, as shown in Table 4-5, we

can note the following statistically significant


C-l: Can, will, would, going to, have to, and able

to are all more common in the spoken data.

C-2: Can, will, would, going to, and have to are

more common in the spoken data while may is

more common in the written.

E-l: Going to and have to are more common in the

spoken data.

E-2: Would, going and could are more common

in the spoken data while may, should, and must

are more common in the written data.

M-l: Can, will, would, and going to are more

common in the spoken data.

M-2: Can, will, would, going to, and may are more

common in the spoken data.

We can also look at the use of the forms in the

individual sets of data. The results of frequency counts

for the individual sets are given in Tables 4-6 through

4-13. In these tables, the modals are listed according to

frequency of occurrence, and the percent is also given in

each case. Differences and similarities in modal use can

be noted between the spoken and written data for each class

as well as between classes.

Structure Analysis

Finite Verb Phrases

Knowing what percent of finite verb phrases use

modals will help us to determine how much emphasis they

should receive in EST teaching. Because some of the modals

defined by Palmer may have nonfinite forms, e.g. have to,

the form occurrence figures will be revised to exclude

them. There are 15 nonfinite occurrences of be able, 10

in spoken C-I and 5 in spoken C-2. There are 29 nonfinite

occurrences of have to, 22 in spoken C-i, 4 in spoken C-2,

Table 4-6
Spoken C-1

Table 4-7
Written C-I


have to
going to
able to
used to


Tokens Percent





Modal Tokens Percent


have to



Table 4-8
Spoken C-2

Table 4-9
Written C-2


going to
have to
be able

Tokens Percent



Modal Tokens Percent

is to


99.93 Total

Total 146

70 99.96

Table 4-10
Spoken E-1

Table 4-11
Written E-1


going to
have to


Tokens Percent



Modal Tokens

is to





Table 4-12
Spoken E-2

Table 4-13
Written E-2


Tokens Percent

going to
have to



Modal Tokens


98.90 Total 146






Total 189


Table 4-14
Spoken M-I

Table 4-15
Written M-I


going to
have to
is to


Tokens Percent





Modal Tokens

is to


Table 4-16
Spoken M-2

Table 4-17
Written M-2

Tokens Percent

Modal Tokens

can 45
could 40
going to 19
will 19
may 17
should 10
could 6
is to 5
might 5
able to 2
have to 2

Total 170




99.95 Total






40 100.00

1 in spoken E-1, 1 in spoken M-I, and 1 in written C-I.

Figures for comparing the number and percent of finite and

nonfinite verb phrases in the spoken data are presented

in Table 4-18 and for the written data in 4-19.

Table 4-19
Modal versus Nonmodal Finite Verb Phrases:
Spoken Data

Class Finite VPs Modal VPs Nonmodal VPs Percent Modal

C-I 724 243 481 33.56
C-2 772 137 635 17.74
E-1 468 132 336 28.20
E-2 860 189 671 21.97
M-1 917 185 732 20.17
M-2 860 170 690 19.76

Total 4601 1056 3545 22.95

In the spoken data, the overall percent of modals in finite

verb phrases is 22.95, ranging from a low in C-2 of 17.74

to a high in C-I of 33.56.

Table 4-20
Modal versus Nonmodal Finite Verb Phrases:
Written Data

Class Finite VPs Modal VPs Nonmodal VPs Percent Modal

C-I 423 54 369 12.76
C-2 397 70 327 17.63
E-1 431 87 344 20.18
E-2 421 146 275 34.67
M-1 593 56 537 9.44
M-2 591 40 551 6.76

Total 2856 453 2403 15.86

The overall percent of modals in finite verb phrases in

the written data is 15.86, ranging from a low in M-2 of

6.76 to a high of 34.67 in E-2.

In his study, Joos (1964:148) found that 16.7 percent

of the finite verb phrases in the trial transcript contained

modals. Before we can compare figures with Joos' study,

however, we have to limit them to figures for the forms

he considered. To do this, we have to remove the figures

for going to, have to, able to, used to, and is to. This

results in the figures shown in Table 4-21 for the spoken

data and Table 4-22 for the written data.

Table 4-21
Spoken Finite Verb Phrases:
Altered for Comparison with Joos' Study

Class Finite VPs Modal VPs Nonmodal VPs Percent Modal

C-I 724 191 533 26.38
C-2 772 112 660 14.50
E-1 468 66 402 14.10
E-2 860 155 705 18.02
M-1 917 149 768 16.24
M-2 860 142 718 16.51

Total 4601 815 3786 17.71

Table 4-22
Written Finite Verb Phrases:
Altered for Comparison with Joos' Study

Class Finite VPs Modal VPs Nonmodal VPs Percent Modal

C-I 423 54 369 12.78
C-2 397 69 328 17.38
E-1 431 86 345 19.95
E-2 421 146 275 34.67
M-1 593 54 539 9.10
M-2 591 38 553 6.42

Total 2856 447 2408 15.65

The altered figures indicate that in the spoken data, 17.71

percent of the finite verb phrases contain modals with a

range from 14.10 in E-1 to a high of 26.38 in C-I. The

overall percent of modal finite verb phrases is 15.65 for

the written data with a range from 6.42 in M-2 to 34.67 in

E-2. In comparing these figures with Joos' 16.7 percent,

we can note a slightly higher percent in the spoken data

(17.71) and a slightly lower percent in the written

data (15.65).

Almost twice as many modals are found in the spoken

data as in the written. The percentages of finite verb

phrases with modals, however, are very close in both sets

of data. Therefore, it may be the case that the use of more

finite verb phrases, modal and nonmodal, is characteristic

of spoken as opposed to written data.

It is also possible to compare statistics in the

present study with those of Barber 1962. Barber looks at

various measurable characteristics of modern scientific

prose, including modals. His analysis is based on

selections from three different American textbooks:

one on engineering electronics, one on biochemistry, and

one on astronomy. The data base totals approximately

23,400 words. In his study, Barber does not include will

and shall as modal auxiliaries. He finds that 16 percent

of the 1763 finite verb phrases contain modals (Barber

1962:26). The breakdown of modals in his study is

summarized in Table 4-23 (based on Barber 1962:29):




Table 4-23
Barber's Study







Revisions of the spoken and written data from the present

study to compare with Barber's study are provided in

Tables 4-24 and 4-25, respectively:

Table 4-24
Spoken Data:
Revised to Compare with Barber's Study

Modal Tokens Percent

can 228 35.84
would 211 33.17
may 48 7.54
might 38 5.97
could 38 5.97
should 31 4.87
must 1 0.15
let 41 6.44

Total 636 99.95

Table 4-25
Written Data:
Revised to Compare with Barber's Study

Modal Tokens Percent

may 102 27.41
can 91 24.46
should 88 23.65
must 35 9.40
might 20 5.37
could 17 4.56
would 14 3.76
let 3 0.80
Total 372 99.96

It is not clear whether Barber did not include ought to or

if there were no occurrences in his data. In the present

study, there was 1 occurrence in the spoken and 2 in the

written data. The revisions result in 13.82 percent of

the spoken finite verb phrases and 13.02 percent of the

written containing modals. In both cases, the percent is

lower than the 16 percent found in Barber's study.

Wingard (1981:55) found modals to account for 10.21

percent of the finite verb phrases in four medical texts.

The percents ranged from 7.37 to 15.87 percent. In

Wingard's study the percent is lower than that found in

the present study. It is interesting to note, however,

that the percents for modals in the written medical data

in the present study are noticeably lower than those in

other areas (see Table 4-20).

Active versus Passive

Another often discussed verb phrase topic is the

extent to which the passive voice is used. The figures

for the present study are provided in Table 4-26.




Table 4-26
Passive versus Active Modal Verb Phrases

Spoken Written
Passive Active Passive Passive Active

20 223 8.23 22 32
5 132 3.64 42 28
0 132 0.00 50 37
2 187 1.05 78 68
6 179 3.24 54 2
11 159 6.47 17 23

44 1012 4.16 263 190




The overall percent of passives for the spoken data is

4.16 percent with a range from 0.00 in E-1 to 8.23 in C-I.

The overall percent of passives for the written modals is

58.05 with a range from 40.74 in C-I to 96.42 in M-I.

Figures for comparing the active versus passive

modal verb phrases are not readily available for the Joos

study. Barber (1962:29) found that 58 percent of the

modal verb phrases to be passive in his (written) data.

Winegard (1981:55) notes 102 modal verb phrases with 66 or

64.70 percent passive. Thus, the 58.05 percent finite

modal verb phrases in the passive in the present study

does not seem unusual for written data.

Other Structures

As the modal forms were being counted, it was noted

that they occur in a variety of structures in addition to

the modal plus basic form of the verb. They occur with

the progressive, in the negative, with have plus a past

participle, as proforms, with two verbs such as can locate

and erase, in questions, in contracted forms, and with

intervening adverbs as in should carefully prepare. The

figures for such occurrences have been tabulated and

presented in Table 4-27 for the spoken and Table 4-28

for the written data.

Table 4-27
Modals in Other Structures:

Structure C-I C-2 E-1 E-2

Progressive 5 3 6 8
Negative 14 9 5 11
Have plus PP 7 0 1 4
Proforms 2 2 4 0
Two verbs 11 7 2 7
Questions 13 9 0 3
Contractions 57 48 26 64
With adverbs 6 7 12 18

Table 4-28

Modals in Other Structures:

Structure C-I C-2 E-1 E-2

Progressive 0 0 0 1
Negative 0 3 7 6
Have plus PP 0 1 4 0
Proforms 0 0 0 0
Two verbs 0 0 2 6
Questions 0 0 1 0
Contractions 0 0 0 0
With adverbs 8 13 15 9

Spoken Data

M-1 M-2 Totals

5 1 28
18 13 70
2 0 14
2 2 12
11 7 45
2 3 30
61 18 331
16 14 73

Written Data

M-I M-2 Totals

0 0 1
2 1 19
0 1 6
0 1 1
4 5 17
0 0 1
0 0 0
22 8 75

Some interesting similarities and differences can

be noted in comparing the figures for spoken and written

data. In the spoken data there are a large number of

contractions while in the written there are none. In the

spoken data, structures with intervening adverbs are about

as common as negative structures while in the written data

they are much more numerous than the negatives. In both

sets of data, there are a noticeable number of modals

with compound verbs.

General Comments and Conclusions on Form

It must be acknowledged that the variables involved

prohibit sweeping generalizations. It might be the case

that the results are due to individual differences rather

than being attributable to EST in general. More homogeneity

might be found if, for example, each lecturer or reading

selection were discussing an experiment. Nevertheless,

all of the data represent lectures or reading selections

with which a foreign student could have been confronted.

It must also be noted that the present study is exploratory

in nature.

With these reservations in mind, we can summarize

the findings from the form analysis:

1. In the overall data, can, will, would, going to,

have to, and able to seem to be more

characteristic of spoken EST while may, should,

and must seem to be more characteristic of

written EST.

2. Spoken EST may have a higher percent of finite

verb phrases with modals than written EST,

22.95 percent as opposed to 15.89 percent in

the present study.

3. Written medical material may have fewer finite

verb phrases with modals than are found in other

types of EST. (It may be that the particular

texts analyzed were of a factual nature.)


4. Modals in passive verb phrases are infrequent

in spoken EST (only 4.16 percent) but quite

common in the written EST (58.05 percent).

5. Contractions are rampant in the spoken data and

nonexistent in the written data.

6. Intervening adverbs are not infrequent in either

the spoken or written data. A similar statement

can be made about modals with two verbs.



1. All statistics for Tables 4-3, 4-4, and 4-5
have been worked out by Naomi R. Fuller, Statistics
Department, University of Florida.


The nature of the modals as a class is such that

the regularities are complex. The untidiness which

characterizes modals is, of course, found in all systems

that attempt to represent them, Palmer's included.

Nevertheless, the meaning analysis carried out here on the

basis of Palmer's system did yield some regularities and

broad patterns.

Modals found in the data are analyzed according to

the presentation of Palmer's system in Chapter II. The

analysis was carried out in two steps. First utterances

containing a given modal were considered and grouped

according to the meaning involved. Once the groups were

formed, they were then considered in terms of Palmer's

kinds and degrees of modality. If various meanings

appeared to be present simultaneously in the same modal

occurrence, the modal was classified according to what

seemed to be the predominant meaning in the context. The

results of this analysis are presented in an order

paralleling the framework presented in Chapter II.

Epistemic Modality

Epistemic (cf. Chapter 11:20) uses of may, cannot,

might, must, should, will, and would were found as

summarized in Table 5-1:

Table 5-1
Epistemic Uses of Modals

Modal Spoken Written Total

may 20 37 57
cannot 1 3 4
might 24 12 36
must 0 6 6
should 13 8 21
will 13 25 38
would 60 2 62

Total 131 93 224

If we compare these figures with the overall figures

for form occurrence (cf. Table 4-2, Chapter IV:60), we can

note the following:

my: Almost half, 20 out of 48, of the spoken

forms and a third, 37 out of 102, of the

written forms are used in an epistemic

sense. More than a third, 57 out of 150,

of the total number of occurrences are


cannot: Very few of the forms are used in an epistemic

sense, only 1 out of 228 spoken and 3

out of 91 written.

might: About two-thirds, 24 out of 38, of the

spoken forms and three-fifths, 12 out

of 20, of the written forms are used in

an epistemic sense. Almost two-thirds,

36 out of 58, of the total number of

occurrences are epistemic.

must: The one spoken form is not epistemic.

About a sixth of the written and

overall forms, 6 out of 35, are used

in an epistemic sense.

should: Almost half, 13 out of 31, of the spoken

forms and an eleventh, 8 out of 88, of

the written forms are used in an

epistemic sense. About a sixth, 21 out

of 119, of the total number of

occurrences are epistemic.

will: Very few of the spoken forms, 13 out of

218, or written forms, 25 out of 295,

are used in an epistemic sense. Only

about an eighth, 38 out of 295, of the

total number of occurrences are


would: More than a fourth, 60 out of 211, of

the spoken forms and a seventh, 2 out of

14, of the written forms are used in an

epistemic sense. More than a fourth,

62 out of 225, of the total number of

occurrences are epistemic.

If we look at the total number of modals, epistemic

uses account for about an eight, 131 out of 1099, of the

spoken forms and about a fifth, 93 out of 454, of the

written forms. About a seventh, 224 out of 1553, of the

total number of occurrences are epistemic.

Epistemic Possibility

The distribution throughout the data of modals used

in the sense of epistemic possibility (cf. Chapter 11:20)

is summarized in Table 5-2:

Table 5-2
Epistemic Possibility

Class may cannot might
Spoken Written Spoken Written Spoken Written

C-I 0 1 0 0 6 2
C-2 4 22 0 0 8 5
E-1 1 0 0 1 0 0
E-2 5 12 0 0 6 3
M-1 2 0 0 2 1 0
M-2 8 2 1 0 3 2

Total 20 37 1 3 24 12

The judgments of epistemic possibility seem, in some

cases, to fall into categories of predictions, conclusions,

suggestions, and reasons. Often, the redundant nature of

the language reinforces these categories. Examples are

given below.

1. The idea of "new customers" seems to support

the predictive nature of the judgment in

this statement:

New customers whose interests match
those of earlier user populations may
profit by interacting with a document
collection specifically adapted to the
earlier users (Salton 1975:484).

2. So and therefore often reinforce the

conclusion judgments:

So, it may be more than a political
question. (Appendix B:181)

Therefore, it might not allocate an
independent register or uh dedicate a
register for that particular variable.
(Appendix A:131)

The obvious nature of a conclusion, according

to the speaker or writer, may be indicated by

the word obviously:

Obviously, when the representation of
the individual clustered items changes,
the centroids used in the search process
may no longer adequately reflect the
individual cluster contents. (Salton

3. The context may contain a form of suggest

indicating the suggestive nature of the


The fact that the negative strategy can
help in some cases in which the positive
feedback is unusable and does not on the
whole exhibit a lower overall performance
suggests that a selectively applied
negative policy might produce further
improvements in overall performance.
(Salton 1975:477)

4. The context may contain a form of reason

indicating that the judgment provides possible


Other reasons may be that--that there
may be a tumor somewhere upstream, so
to speak, so that uh the blood is
working against the gradient. (Appendix E:

There is one example of a judgment made about a

proposition in the past:

You might have heard of Reclamite, and it's
supposed to rejuvenate the pavement somewhat
and seal it off. (Appendix D:224)

We do find examples of the possibility of a

negative proposition and the negation of the modality with


You may or may not remember that the formula
for the net resistance of this circuit, of
resistors in parallel, is one over R total
equals the sum of the reciprocals of all the
individuals. (Appendix F:274)

So, again, it looks as though input resistance
can't be the only determinate of rheobase, or
they should all be covering the same uh range
of values. (Appendix F:295)

The data also provide examples of epistemic

possibility in embedded questions, such as:

The question arises whether or not the vector
modification technique might not be extended
to the document vectors themselves in the hope
of creating a more useful set of document
identifications. (Salton 1975:483-4)

Also of interest are examples of the modality and

the proposition occurring in separate clauses as in:

So, it may be that the S's, once they start
to fire, are sort of self-sustaining.
(Appendix F:299)

The epistemic possibility judgments, in some cases,.

may be quite closely linked to the idea of conditionality

as when the judgment indicates possible results under

certain circumstances:

On the other hand, if allowed to become too
fine, it may lack density and fail to produce
the desired surface texture. (Asphalt
Institute 1974:60)

Epistemic Necessity

The distribution throughout the data of modals used

in the sense of epistemic necessity (cf. Chapter 11:22)

is summarized in Table 5-3:

Table 5-3
Epistemic Necessity

Class must should
Spoken Written Spoken Written

c-i 0 0 0 1
C-2 0 0 1 3
E-1 0 0 0 1
E-2 0 0 1 1
M-1 0 0 2 0
M-2 0 6 9 2

Total 0 6 13 8

The six examples of must expressing epistemic

necessity are all found in written M-2. There are often

indications in the context that a conclusion is being

made as in this example:

These observations indicated that orderly
recruitment of motoneurons must depend on
differences in the excitabilities of the
motoneurons themselves or on some systematic
difference in the input from stretch
receptors, resulting in more effective
stimulation of small cells.
(Henneman 1980:722)

Some of the judgments with should fall into

categories of predictions and conclusions as indicated,

respectively, in the following examples:

Uh I think the--during dead week, I will have
project reports, and I think we should be able
to do all of the project reports on two days,
on Monday and Wednesday and Wednesday of dead
week. (Appendix B:154)

Since this has twice the surface area of that,
its RN should be a half. (Appendix F:276)

With modals used in the sense of epistemic necessity,

as was the case with epistemic possibility, we tend to find

words such as since, so, and therefore in the context:

And since this has twice the surface area of
that, its surface area should be half of that
and a quarter of that. (Appendix F:276)

So, if we have the same number of boutons,
and they are--they all are equally efficacious,
that is, they all inject the same amount
of synaptic current, and a lot of other
assumptions, uh we should have an inverse
relationship between the size of cell and the
amplitude of the post synaptic potential
developed. (Appendix F:277)
They should, therefore, be clear, complete
and accurate. (Asphalt Institute 1974:70)

The data do provide examples of judgments made about

propositions in the past as in:

The use of electrical stimulation with widely
spaced electrodes must have resulted in
simultaneous discharges from several pools of
motoneurons. (Henneman 1980:722)

None of the examples of must being used in the sense

of epistemic necessity are negative. In the examples of

negation with should, the proposition is negative as in:

Yeah, that was somewhat--femoral canal--
shouldn't've slipped that in on you there.
(Appendix E:257)

The data also provide examples of epistemic

necessity in embedded questions, such as:

The question arises whether the space
modification process should be performed
using the original user query vectors as a
modification criterion or whether any of
the query formulations might be usable for
this purpose. (Salton 1975:489)

There is also a main clause question with epistemic


Uh that, however, raises the question which
we take up here, why should small motoneurons
be recruited first? (Appendix F:272-3)

We also find an example of the necessity modality

and proposition occurring in separate clauses as in:

If CFL is very precisely and linearly
related to cell size, it must be concluded
that the distribution of input to the pool
and any other factors that contribute to
the relationship are also size dependent.
(Henneman 1980:728)

As with the epistemic possibility judgments, in some

cases the epistemic necessity judgments may be closely

linked to conditionality in that they indicate judgments

based on certain circumstances:

If I was to go out and put a wheel load on
here, measure the deflection basin, measure
strain from the surface or whatever, all of
those measured values should correspond to
the computer predicted value using
multilayer elastic theory. (Appendix D:216)

Epistemic Reasonability or Confidence

The distribution through the data of modals used in

the sense of epistemic reasonability or confidence

(cf. Chapter 11:24) is summarized in Table 5-4:

Table 5-4
Epistemic Reasonability

Class will would
Spoken Written Spoken Written

C-I 0 3 5 2
C-2 0 1 4 0
E-1 3 4 6 0
E-2 8 6 9 0
M-1 0 11 23 0
m-2 2 0 13 0

Total 13 25 60 2

In these data, when will is used in the epistemic

sense, it is often difficult to distinguish between meanings

of the utterance with and without will. An especially

good example of this difficulty is this compound


So, x-two will be twelve, and x-one is
minus twenty, which is back here.
(Appendix C:193)

The judgments with will tend to be conclusions, often

having so, thus, or obviously in the context:

So it will be right about here, down to here,
and put in this line, and again our solution
has to be on the underside because it is less
than or equal to these values. (Appendix C:185)

Thus the optimal number of top-of-stack
registers will minimize the number of pushes
and pulls. (Blake 1977:37)

Obviously, the new query vector will appear
more similar to the relevant document set
(and hence may retrieve more relevant items
in the future) than the original and less
similar to nonrelevant. (Salton 1975:473)

The epistemic uses of would tend to be conclusions

(frequently having so, of course, then, or therefore in the

context), predictions, and results of specified conditions:

So the floor of it is adductor longus, and
then the medial wall uh would be one of the
vastus muscles, the vastus medialis, and that
comes around like this. (Appendix E:256)

So, in this kind of situation, then we would
predict that there would be a size principle.
(Appendix F:277)

If this was a fairly brittle material with
very little creep, then even though we have
a slight slope here, the response that we
measure would probably be the true elastic
strain. (Appendix D:203)

There are examples in the data of epistemic

confidence with a negative proposition as in:

And uh that number at this point won't
have any meaning to you, but ...
(Appendix F:287)

There is one example of a question with epistemic


So, what would we do with it? (Appendix B:163)

Deontic Modality

Deontic (cf. Chapter 11:25) uses of can, might, could,

shall, ought to, and should were found as summarized in

Table 5-5:

Table 5-5
Deontic Uses of Modals

Modal Spoken Written Total

can 6 0 6
could 3 0 3
might 4 0 4
shall 1 1 2
ought to 1 0 1
should 3 1 4

Total 18 2 20

Very few examples of deontic modality were found in

the data for this study. This seems reasonable since in

a lecture situation or in the types of reading assignments

involved, occasions for the use of permission, obligation,

statements of undertakings, promises, and threats would

be rare. Referring back to Table 4-2 (Chapter IV:60), we

can note, however, that deontic modality accounts for all

occurrences of shall in the data and for the only

occurrence of ought to in the spoken data.

Deontic Possibility

The distribution throughout the data of modals

used in the sense of deontic possibility (cf. Chapter II:

25) is summarized in Table 5-6:

Table 5-6
Deontic Possibility

Class can could might
SpokenWritten Spoken Written Spoken W-itten

C-I 3 0 1 0 1 0
C-2 1 0 0 0 3 0
E-1 0 0 0 0 0 0
E-2 0 0 0 0 0 0
M-1 1 0 2 0 0 0
M-2 1 0 0 0 0 0

Total 6 0 3 0 4 0

The only examples of deontic possibility occur in

the spoken data with can, could, and might. Four of the

six occurrences with can could almost be considered as

dynamic possibility except that a person of higher

authority is speaking to one(s) of lesser authority, e.g.,

You can uh get some--one of the secretaries
up in the office to give you four Acco press
folders. . (Appendix A:130)

One of the occurrences of can which is considered deontic

has a humorous tone in that the lecturer seems to be giving

himself permission:

As uh far as what--I can always look on the
skeleton. (Appendix E:262)

There is one occurrence of can in a question. In this case,

the difference in status between the speaker and the

addressee almost makes the request a command:

Can I have the projector on, please?
(Appendix F:267)

One of the deontic occurrences of could is in a


Could we organize something to allow those
papers to circulate so that people can get
a chance to copy them, have a chance to look
at them? (Appendix A:128)

The other two occurrences of deontic could are found

together. The intonation of the first part of the

utterance indicates that it is a request. The tag question

seems to be added in order to give the addressee time to

compose his response:

Uh maybe Dr. Lawless could tell us more
about the vein stripping business, uh
could you? (Appendix E:242)

The occurrences of might which are considered deontic

seem to be extremely polite ways of giving commands. In

each case, someone of higher authority, the lecturer, is

speaking to people of lesser authority, students, as in:

You might want to read it over. ...
(Appendix B:163)

Deontic Necessity

No examples of must in the data were considered

to express deontic necessity.

Deontic Use of SHALL

The two occurrences of shall in these data are

considered to be deontic (cf. Chapter 11:28). The first,

from spoken C-i, is in a question:

Shall I try that assignment to an integer
variable? (Appendix A:142)

The second is from written data, E-2:

The samples prepared for tests shall be
obtained from the field sample by quartering
or other suitable means to insure a
representative portion. (Asphalt
Institute 1974:65)

Other Possible Deontic Modals

There are several occurrences of should and ought to

which seem to be deontic (cf. Chapter 11:28) in that they

are placing an obligation. One is from written data, E-1:

The reader should expand a simple case
expressed by this notation to verify this
method of notation. (Shamblin and
Stevens 1974:246)

The others, one ought to and three should, are from spoken


And, as I say, I think you ought to read it
over and look at it a little more carefully,
and uh I'll describe it now.
(Appendix B:163)

Really should attend. (Appendix B:153)

Shouldn't ask me that 'cause I always have
something to change. (Appendix B:155)

Uh should I go with uh maybe a different
color? (Appendix E:236)