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Summary Details

Query:   summary: modals
Author:  YIB00161 YIB00161
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Pragmatics

Summary:   Dear linguists,
At the end of March I raised two questions about "must" and "will".

My first question is: Which is more certain, (1) or (2)?
(1) Speaker A: Someone is knocking on the door.
Speaker B: That must be George.
(2) Speaker A: Someone is knocking on the door.
Speaker B: That will be George.
British literature such as Halliday (1994) and Close (1975) say that "must" is

more certain, while American literature such as Feigenbaum (1985) and
Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman (1983) say that "will" is more certain. I wou
like to know whether there is a difference between British and American usage.
My second question is about the following quoted examples.
(3) Then the bell rang again, and then again, two short insistent peals. It

must be Nan, he thought -- no one else would ring like that, as if they

had a right to come in. (I. Murdoch, The Sandcastle)
(4) Mason hung up the telephone and said to Della Street, "Irving is on his

way here." "To see you?" "Probably." "So what do we do?" "Wait for

him. The party may be rough." Five minutes later angry knuckles banged

on the door of Mason's private office. "That will be Irving," Mason said
"I'll let him in myself, Della." (E. S. Gardner, The Case of Terrified

As to "must" and "will", Palmer (1990:57-58) does not write anything about
the relative degree of certainty. Instead, he points out that "must" indicate
s the only possible conclusion on the basis of the evidence available, whereas

"will" indicates what is a reasonable conclusion from previous knowledge.
I think that examples (3) and (4) can be explained in terms of "evidence
available" and "previous knowledge", respectively. In (3) the speaker conclud
from his observation about the bell ringing that it must be Nan. This can be
regarded as an evidence available. In (4) Mason knows that Irving is coming.

This is previous knowledge. So I think that Palmer's view is right. What do yo
u think about this?

Soon after that I got 11 e-mails. Thank you for answering my questions. I
would express my sincere thanks to the following people who supplied useful
data:Richard Cook, Aurora Vanderbosch, Douglass Dee, Max Wheeler, Vincent
Jenkins, Stan Whitley, Eric Filson, Tim Higgins, Suzette Haden Elgin, Joey
Laubach, and John Mackin.
As to the first question, three people say that "will" is more certain than
"must" and one says that "must" is more certain than "will". One of the
respondents points out that relative certainty depends on context. He also
doubts there's a true Brit./Amer. difference here.
As to the second question, five people say that Palmer's explanation sounds
right. But some of them assert that the distinction is not really firm.

Kenji Kashino

LL Issue: 9.929
Date Posted: 22-Jun-1998
Original Query: Read original query


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