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English Grammar: Modality Essay

1597 words - 6 pages

ModalityAlthough some grammarians consider it to belong to the category of MOOD, modality actually stands on its own, particularly in the English language where it is primarily marked by the system of MODAL VERBS.If we compare the following sentences:1. It is raining. (INDICATIVE; marks the statement for the factuality of action/state/event described by it)and2. It may be raining outside. (MODALITY)we can define MODALITY as the way in which the meaning of a proposition is modified so as to reflect the speaker's/subject's attitude towards the likelihood of the proposition content being or becoming true.According to their meanings, the modal verbs are divided into three categories:1. EPICTEMIC modals are those that express possibility, necessity and prediction.2. DEONTIC modals are used to impose obligation, give permission and again make a prediction (of another kind, which will be explained further on).3. DYNAMIC which refer to human's possessing certain abilities. This category is not modal in the strictest sense of the word since it does not reflect an attitude towards the content of the statement.Let's compare the following predictions:1. It will be raining outside.and2. I will do as I please.The first statement expresses a prediction that cannot be controlled by the speaker in any way, whereas in the latter the speaker has the control over the statement marked by the verb. Uncontrollable predictions fall into the EPISTEMIC category of modal meaning and the controllable ones are DEONTIC. For that reason epistemic modality is called extrinsic and deontic modality is called intrinsic.English modals have developed a high semantic potential, for example, CAN expresses possibility, permission, and ability. Although they are extremely context sensitive, some of them overlap in meaning: You should see a doctor : You ought to see a doctor. This is a consequence of the ongoing process called SEMANTIC CHANGE, which makes the modal verbs the most difficult part of the English grammar to explain to foreign learners as well as to master.There are two groups of the English modals:1. CENTRAL: can/could, must, shall/should, may/might, will/would2. PERIPHERAL: need, ought to, dare, used toApart from these, there are also:3. the SEMI-MODALS: have to, be able to, be about to, be bound to, be certain to, be destined to, be due to, be going to, be likely to, be meant to, be obliged to, be supposed to, be sure to, be willing to, and4. the MODAL IDIOMS: have got to, be to, had better, had rather, would rather, would sooner, would as soon, may/might as well, had best.Meanings of central modals:CAN/COULD1. possibility (epistemic modality): Can it be possibly true? It cannot be true!The modals are often associated with particular pragmatic uses as in requests, offers, promises, and their distal forms ("could" is distal form of "can') tend to have implications of tentativeness and politeness. Therefore, "can" and especially "could", denoting possibility are often used...

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