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Double Modal Constructions in Linguistics Essay

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Double Modal constructions are commonly known as part of the linguistic capability for some narrators of African American Vernacular English and Southern American English. Though, TV and increasing mobility have moved Double Modals into the capabilities of speakers remote of these two multiplicities. Conventionally, the current syntax has written off Double Modals constructions as exceptional or as just natural produce of linguistic variation. Consequently, Double Modal constructions are not well represented in the grammatic literature. The aim of this paper is to supply to the small body of syntactic work on Double Modal constructions by adding a new analysis of modality and tense based on distributional confirmation.

The use of so-called “double modal” structures is quite common in the South and Southwest. Such constructions in Dallas are common in everyday speech, and they serve a real linguistic purpose: modal forms such as «could» and «should» are ambiguous in Modern English, as they have both an indicative and a subjunctive sense. For example, “I could come” can mean either “I was able to come” (past indicative of “can”) or “I would be able to come” (subjunctive). The application of double modal constructions with “may” or “might” serves to resume this difference. Thus, for a Southerner, “I might come” or “I may come” carry the subjunctive meaning, whereas “I could come” is only analytic in meaning. The distinction between “may could” and “might could” is subtle; “might could” seems to be a bit less positive than “may,” but many nations use only “might could” or both phrases interchangeably. Similar disagreements apply to “may should” and “might.” Here, “may” and “might” appear to weaken the obligation sense of “should.” Regarding the forms which you did not hear, such as “may can,” “should could,” etc.: “may” and “might” are the only constituents that can occur first in a double modal, since they (esp. “might”) have the strongest sense of expressing possibility as opposed to certainty. Therefore, they are used to express the subjunctive senses. The second element can only be “could” or “should” since these alone are ambiguous; “may can” is unlikely since “can” only has an indicative sense.

Table 1. Double modal constructions

may might oughta oughta could might suppose to
may can might can used to could might’ve used to
may will might should oughta musta coulda
may might would would better might woulda had oughta
may suppose to might better better can
may used to might had better
may need to might could

The modal verbs, which usually may be combined, are divided into two groups:

  1. ‘Could’, ‘should’, ‘would’, ‘may, might’ and ‘will’
  2. ‘Have to,’ ‘must,’ ‘can,’ and ‘ought.’

Double modals may then occur in the order (1) (2), pursued by a tense marker (if any) and an aspect marker (if any), and the Verb. Triple models may also occur as (1) must (2) Verb, with “must must” prohibited. The rhetorical issue or interjection “No must” shows something which is noticeable or to is anticipated. (1) canceled forms all suffix syllabic –n, giving couldn’t, shouldn’t, wouldn’t, may not, while (2) invalid forms are must > mustn’t, have to > not have to and ought > oughtn’t; “will” has no negated form, while can > can’t necessitate both a span and tone modify.

For Tyneside English, the epistemic use of mustn’t and a special negative form of Can, cannit have been reported (Beal 1993: 196). The use and grammaticalization of the habitual markers Would and Used to have been investigated within a spoken corpus from York. First results from the analysis of data representing the Southeast, the Southwest, the Midland, and the North, indicate that the material does not contain the rather marked constructions discussed above but differs from Standard English data in a more subtle way, namely degree of grammaticalization. Hypothetical Could, for example, can be shown to be at a comparatively early stage of its grammaticalization, while have got to has been grammaticalized further than in Standard English and is commonly used in its past tense form had got to in the Midlands and the Southeast. Preliminary analyses of being going to and Will also indicate a fairly high degree of grammaticalization for the former.

An investigation into the grammaticalization stages of the sub-schemes of obligation, past tense modality, and future marking in the dialects and its contrast with the Standard English scheme add to the discussion of the diachronic development of the modal verbs. As pointed out above, the different sub-schemes are at very dissimilar stages of their expansion and add up to a system very unusual from the present one in terms of the grammaticalization phases of its various sub-schemes. This gives sustain to the accounts stated by Plank (1995), who hassles the gradualness of the grammaticalization of the modals and the sequential disparity of the progress included.

Lastly, an attempt will also be made to model diachronic expansions of the modals and the variation exhibited in the degree of grammaticalization within official theories of syntax. Mainly in the area of accountability, it will be shown that the changes that lead to the expansion of the markers have to and have got to can be represented productively within the frameworks of Minimalism and Distributed Morphology.

Double modals such as He might are thought of as a humorous “Redneck” trait, but similar formations such as I should do are upper-crust British English. We can reject a person for the use of stigmatized language without feeling that we» re prejudiced against the person or their group.

Double modals: Used in some Southern speech varieties: “I might” for “I might be able to,” or “I shouldn’t oughta,” etc. Stigmatized, but used anyway, even by College English speakers from the region.


Thus it may be outlined in the paper; the modals are usually doubled in order to increase the expressiveness and the emotionality of the sentences when the talker aims to attract someone’s attention to the fact or tries to emphasize the importance of the information.

The analysis offered here contributes to the Double Modal dialogue as it calls into issue customary analyses between modality and tense. Further research needs to be done in this sphere.

DiPaolo argues that there is no semantic cause why Double Modals occur, so it is posited that both models are stored in the dictionary as one syntactic unit, compound into the arrangement at the same time.


  1. Boertien, Harmon S.. Constituent structure of double modals. Language variety in the South: perspectives in Black and White, ed. by Michael Montgomery and Guy Bailey, 294-318. University of Alabama Press.1986
  2. Beal, Joan C. English Pronunciation in the Eighteenth Century: Thomas Spence’s Grand Repository of the English Language. Oxford: Oxford University, 1999.
  3. DiPaolo, M. Double modals as single lexical items. American Speech, 64(3), 195-224. 1989
  4. Iorio, Josh Tense, Adverbs, and Negation in Double Modal Construction University of Texas at Austin 2003.
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