Time in Sentences with Modal Verbs

Ilse Depraetere

in The Oxford Handbook of Tense and Aspect

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780195381979
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Time in Sentences with Modal Verbs

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  • Linguistics
  • Semantics
  • Grammar, Syntax and Morphology


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This article examines the ways in which temporal information is communicated in sentences with modal verbs. It uses clauses with modal verbs that express epistemic and root possibility as a test case. In other words, the focus is on can, could, may, and might, on the understanding that most of the observations made can be extended to the modal realm of necessity. The discussion begins by introducing and defining some core concepts, and proceeds with a methodology for the analysis of temporal information in modal possibility utterances. In a number of cases, the markers that communicate time can also contribute to other kinds of meaning (hypothetical meaning, counterfactual meaning, tentativeness (politeness)). The article considers epistemic modality versus non-epistemic modality, modal utterances and modal meanings, the M-situation of a modal utterance, the temporal relationship between the M-situation and the residue, the modal meaning of permission, general situation possibility and situation permissibility, and the past morpheme.

Keywords: time; sentences; modal verbs; temporal information; epistemic modality; non-epistemic modality; modal utterances; modal meanings; M-situation; situation permissibility

Article.  14451 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Semantics ; Grammar, Syntax and Morphology

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