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  1. M56

    Basic semantic meaning of modal auxiliaries

    In his chapter on modal auxiliaries in The English Verb, Michael Lewis lists what he thinks are the basic semantic meanings for each. I cite those meanings below and ask if you agree with them.

    Please remember, we are talking about the basic semantic meaning. In context, these auxiliaries take on wider meanings, but it is the basic meaning I want to discuss.


    Can = I assert that it is possible that ...
    Could = I assert that it is "remotely" possible that ...

    May = If I have anything to do with it, it is possible that ...
    Might = If I have anything to do with it, it is "remotely" possible that ...

    Must = I assert that it is necessary that ...

    Will = Given my percepton of the immediate situation, it is inevitable that ...

    Would = Given the (hypothetical) situation which I perceive at the moment of speaking, the action described is also inevitably true.

    Shall = According to my perception of the present situation, it is, if it's anything to do with me, inevitable that ...

    From The English Verb by M Lewis. LTP 1986.

    Should is dealt with separately as it is a far more complex auxiliary and has many meanings.
    Last edited by M56; 07-Jun-2005 at 06:04.

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