Must we stay to the end?

Alexey86

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Here's an excerpt from The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language by Huddleston and Pullum (p. 205):

must1.jpg

My questions:
1. Why should must be used in the positive answer to 'Need we stay to the end?'? Would need be wrong?
2. Would 'don't have to' be also possible in the negative answer?
 

emsr2d2

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I think it's important to point out that "Need we stay to the end?" sounds very old-fashioned and is unlikely to be uttered by the majority of native speakers. The most natural dialogues would be:

Do we need to stay to/till the end?
No, we don't.

Do we have to stay to/till the end?
No, we don't.
 

Charlie Bernstein

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Right. It seems grammatical, but this is the first time I've ever encountered "Need we."

People often say, "Need I say more?" and "Needless to say, . . ." but those are fixed phrases.
 
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Alexey86

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OK, I understand those examples are unlikely. Would anyone answer my questions please?
 

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Alexey86

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Modal need is used only in the negative and interrogative forms.

Are there any explanations as to why it is so?

Please look at following passage taken from Forbes: "Twenty-four-hour punditry and commercial jingles are the narrative in our time. Listen to an old-time storyteller weave his yarns, and his pauses are the weft to the verbal warp. It is how Debussy described music--the spaces between the notes. There is scant space for silence when our ears are constantly deluged with a cacophony of information.
Need we make room for it? Does silence scare us now, a dangerous rent in the seamless fabric of noise that clothes our lives? Can it be too damned quiet? Have we grown so uneasy with the domain of the imagination and the inner life, the silence of our own minds, the place that the poet e.e. cummings described as "the turning edge of life," that we must fill our aural landscape with noise?"

The positive answer would be 'Yes, we must', right?
 
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probus

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Yes we must is fine. Also Yes we have to. Ought to and should are also possible but slightly less emphatic.
 

Charlie Bernstein

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Here's an excerpt from The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language by Huddleston and Pullum (p. 205):

View attachment 4109

My questions:
1. Why should must be used in the positive answer to 'Need we stay to the end?'?

You can say, "Yes, we need to."

You could also say, "Yes, we must," but it would be less natural.


Would need be wrong?

No. It's grammatical but unnatural.


2. Would 'don't have to' be also possible in the negative answer?

Yes. You can say, "No, we don't have to" or "No, we don't need to." Both are natural
That's my humble.
 

Charlie Bernstein

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Are there any explanations as to why it is so?

Please look at following passage taken from Forbes: "Twenty-four-hour punditry and commercial jingles are the narrative in our time. Listen to an old-time storyteller weave his yarns, and his pauses are the weft to the verbal warp. It is how Debussy described music--the spaces between the notes. There is scant space for silence when our ears are constantly deluged with a cacophony of information.
Need we make room for it? Does silence scare us now, a dangerous rent in the seamless fabric of noise that clothes our lives? Can it be too damned quiet? Have we grown so uneasy with the domain of the imagination and the inner life, the silence of our own minds, the place that the poet e.e. cummings described as "the turning edge of life," that we must fill our aural landscape with noise?"

The positive answer would be 'Yes, we must', right?
That's acceptable, but "Yes, we need to" "and "Yes, we have to" are more natural.

Keep in mind also that spoken and written English are almost two separate languages. The "Need we" line in that text is perfectly natural, unremarkable written English, but not many people talk that way.

Unsurprisingly, English speakers who read have much bigger vocabularies than English speakers who don't.
 

jutfrank

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Are there any explanations as to why it is so?

There are explanations for everything. What kind of explanation are you seeking? A historical one?

The positive answer would be 'Yes, we must', right?

Right.

The main point of that passage is to mention that Yes, we need is not grammatical.
 

Alexey86

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There are explanations for everything. What kind of explanation are you seeking? A historical one?

I prefer a semantical one. Why is the modal need restricted to nonassertive contexts?
 

jutfrank

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There isn't a semantic one, and I'm equally certain there isn't a syntactic one. I suspect that you'd have to look for a historical one. By this I mean to say that what is considered grammatical is based simply on patterns of use, which change over time. If nobody ever says it, it can't really be said to be grammatical.
 

5jj

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There are explanations for everything.
I normally agree with this, but feel that there are occasional exceptions. The modals are, in my opinion, certainly an exception.

I think it was Palmer (1979) who was the first to use the word 'messy' of the English modals: "There is no doubt that the overall picture of the modals is extremely ‘messy’ and that the most the linguist can do is impose some order, point out some regularities, correspondences, parallelisms. But there is no single simple solution and I have some sympathy with Ehrman’s (1966: 9) view that we can only arrive at a ‘rather loosely structured set of relationships."
 

jutfrank

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I normally agree with this, but feel that there are occasional exceptions.
.For now, I'll cling on for dear life to my bold utterance that there is explanation to be found for everything—a mantra that for me extends beyond linguistics, and one for which I'm constantly being taken to task to defend.

I think it was Palmer (1979) who was the first to use the word 'messy' of the English modals: "There is no doubt that the overall picture of the modals is extremely ‘messy’ and that the most the linguist can do is impose some order, point out some regularities, correspondences, parallelisms. But there is no single simple solution and I have some sympathy with Ehrman’s (1966: 9) view that we can only arrive at a ‘rather loosely structured set of relationships."

I can't help but take an opposing view to Palmer's. I believe that instead of imposing order on chaos, there is a kind of implicate order behind all things which we can reveal with deeper principles. That is, there is a fundamental structure that allows chaotic forces to work as they do. We see order through chaos.

The modern-day grammarian's descriptivist approach of deriving grammaticality from usage (i.e., what's grammatical is what people say) is just one way of proceeding toward the truth. I think you can equally operate on the assumption that what people say is guided by underlying, guiding principles, no matter how obscure. I think this was the lesson learnt from the European Enlightenment on both the empiricist and rationalist sides—just because you can't see something doesn't mean it's not there; sometimes it's a question of turning on the light.
 
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5jj

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For now, I'll cling on for dear life to my bold utterance that there is explanation to be found for everything—a mantra that for me extends beyond linguistics, and one for which I'm constantly being taken to task to defend.
If you can find logical explanations for these oddities of modal need, I'll buy you a beer next time you're in Beroun:

1. Unlike four of the core modals, modal need does not have a remote/past-tense form (cf can/could, may/might, shall/should. will/would). Must has the same peculiarity.
2. Like dare, need is not used in the affirmative form except after a negative construction such as I don't think we need go.
3. Unlike the core modals, but like modal dare, modal need has a non-modal equivalent with almost exactly the same meaning.
 

jutfrank

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My point really is that any explanations for these peculiarities could well be at least partially explained by history, and that one would have to look to historical or comparative linguistics. I wonder about usage in closely-related members of our Germanic family. I don't think there's a cognate in modern German of modal need.

How's the tap water in Beroun? :-D
 
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