Degrees of modality

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapterpeer-review


This paper sets out a new account of modality as a typological category, and applies it to English. Previous studies have argued for a prototype approach to modality, but have not constructed such an account consistently. Section 2 sets out the need for a prototype analysis, and section 3 offers a set of criteria which define the core of the category of modality. We examine several English modal auxiliaries with respect to the criteria, concluding that some of them frequently fail to meet the criteria and are therefore not core members of the category – in other words, they have a low degree of modality. Section 4 locates modality within a wider framework. In section 5 we revisit two problems in the analysis of English modals, arguing that the proposed framework sheds new light on them. Section 6 criticises the alternative analysis put forward by the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Huddleston and Pullum 2002). We conclude that the framework needs to be tested on other languages, but that it appears to be useful for English.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationModality in English: Theory and Description
EditorsRaphael Salkie, Pierre Busuttil, Johan van der Auwera
Place of PublicationBerlin, Germany
PublisherMouton de Gruyter
Number of pages25
ISBN (Print)9783110196344
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Publication series

NameTopics in English Linguistics


  • Modals
  • modality
  • English grammar
  • prototypes


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