LINGUIST List 9.448

Tue Mar 24 1998

Sum: English Modals

Editor for this issue: Anita Huang <>


  1.>, English Modals

Message 1: English Modals

Date: Tue, 24 Mar 1998 12:17:00 +0900
From:> <>
Subject: English Modals

Dear linguists,

In the beginning of January I raised two questions about English modals.
My first question is: Which modal is more suitable in (1) and (2)?
(1) Bill isn't eating his food. He (doesn't have to/ may not) be hungry.
(2) A: Someone is knocking on the door. It must be John.
 B: It (doesn't have to/ may not) be John. It could be George.
My second question is: Does "It doesn't have to be Dexter" in (3) have the 
meaning of (4a) or (4b)?
(3) "The other four senators may have more powerful motives we don't happen to
 know about. It doesn't have to be Dexter," continued Mark, sounding 
(4) a. It is not certain that it is Dexter.
 b. It is possible that it is not Dexter.

Soon after that I got 17 e-mails. Thank you for answering my questions. I 
would express my sincere thanks to the following people who supplied useful 
data: Deborah Milam Berkley, Larry Horn, Daniel Currie Hall, Alison Huettner, 
Steven Schaufele, William Morris, Sarah Rosenzweig, Rob Pensalfini, Pierre 
Larriv, Susan Ervin-Tripp, Peter T. Daniels, Price Caldwell, Karen Davis, Rick
Nouwen, Bruce Despain, Megan Elizabeth Melancon, and Vincent Jenkins.

As to (1), all the respondents said that "may not" is more suitable.
As to (2), Half the respondents claimed that "doesn't have to" is more
suitabl e and half of the respondents claimed that "may not" is more
suitable. Some respondents pointed out that "doesn't have to" is
somewhat better and more typical. One respondent pointed out that "may
not" is poor but not impossible. As to (3) and (4), 59% of the
respondents told me that (3) expresses the meani ng of (4a) and 41%
told me that (4) expresses the meaning of (4b). One responden t
indicated that (3) can mean both (4a) and (4b) in this context,
although per haps (4b) is slightly more appropriate.
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