A New Approach to English Grammar, on Semantic Principles

By R. M. W. Dixon | Go to book overview
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6
Secondary verb types

6.1. Secondary-A types

None of the Secondary-A verbs have any independent semantic roles. Basically, they modify the meaning of a following verb, sharing its roles and syntactic relations.


6.1.1. MODALS and SEMI-MODALS

Many tens of thousands of words have been written about the English modals. Only some of the main points of their grammatical and semantic behaviour are indicated here.

There are two, syntactically different but semantically related, types, MODALS and what we can call SEMI-MODALS:

MODAL SEMI-MODAL central meaning
will/would
(shall/should)
be going to prediction
should
ought to
-- obligation
musthave to
have got to
necessity
can/couldbe able to ability
--be about to imminent activity
be to -- scheduled activity
may/might -- possibility
--get to achievement
--be bound to inevitability

We mentioned at the end of §3.4 that a clause may contain a chain of verbs, each in syntactic relation with its neighbours, e.g. She will soon be able to begin telling John to think about starting to build the house. A modal must occur initially in such a chain--that

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