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  1. #1
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    Default modal verbs vs. modal auxiliaries

    Hi everyone,

    I'm a French to English translator living in Montreal and recently I've also been moonlighting as an ESL textbook reviser.

    I've noticed that on this site you use the term Modal Verbs. In all the grammar references I've used, they refer to modal auxiliaries. What grammatical reference do you use? Can you really use either term or will someone cry foul at some point?

    I thank you for any assistance you can give me. I okayed the use of Modal Verbs and now I'm wondering if I'll end up looking incompetent.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: modal verbs vs. modal auxiliaries

    Quote Originally Posted by Isadora57 View Post
    Hi everyone,

    I'm a French to English translator living in Montreal and recently I've also been moonlighting as an ESL textbook reviser.

    I've noticed that on this site you use the term Modal Verbs. In all the grammar references I've used, they refer to modal auxiliaries. What grammatical reference do you use? Can you really use either term or will someone cry foul at some point?

    I thank you for any assistance you can give me. I okayed the use of Modal Verbs and now I'm wondering if I'll end up looking incompetent.
    An auxiliary is a verb (auxiliary verb); technically, a modal is a modal auxiliary verb, but that is a bit long for most people. Nevertheless, some linguists see some regular verbs as modal at times, so the safest short form is "modal auxiliary". People will know that it refers to verbs.

    At least that's the way I see it.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: modal verbs vs. modal auxiliaries

    In short, modal verbs are also auxiliary verbs. Modal verbs describe possibility, permission or obligation, while auxiliary verbs (and this is not the standard description, but in English it generally holds true) can be made negative by adding "not". Verbs like "can", "must", "will" all describe possibility or obligation (and are thus modal), and we can also have "can't", "mustn't" and "won't" (i.e. "will not"), so they're also auxiliary verbs.

    To add to the complication, these verbs are sometimes called "defective", because they are missing the infinitive, present participle and past participle forms. You can have almost any variation on these three designations -- defective modal verbs, defective modal auxiliaries... take your pick.

    In the end, these are just labels applied to grammatical constructs, and you won't look foolish if you use "the wrong one", for the simple reason that there isn't such a thing as "the wrong one" in this case.

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