'Dare' and modal verbs

ThomasK

Senior Member
Belgium, Dutch
I am just wondering whether a modal verb must have a morphological or syntactic traits.

I had been thinking of the English dare', Dutch durven: in English it is considered a modal verb, at least in part, so I believe, whereas the Dutch durven is not, I think. Or at least it does not have the characteristics of a modal verb - or: not yet? In German there are semantic equivalents such as (es) wagen, sich trauen, but none of those seem to be on the way of becoming a modal, whereas the original dürfen is a 'full-blown' modal but meaning 'may' or 'can' (permission), not 'o dare'.

Maybe I ought to ask for a 'perfect' definition of modality as well. I found this:
'verb inflections that express how the action or state is conceived by the speaker'
but then I think that modality can be expressed by means of sentence adverbs, modal verbs, ... as well.
 
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  • CapnPrep

    Senior Member
    AmE
    First of all, concerning your specific example: dare and durven/dürfen are not cognates. Have a look at this table at Wikipedia.

    Second, you need to distinguish the more general concept of modality and the more specific grammatical category of modal auxiliary verb.
     

    Alxmrphi

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Thomas, I am not sure I understand your question.
    Can you rephrase it?

    In English, morphosyntactic traits of modal verbs exist, yes, the most salient is lack of a 3rd person inflectional affix and T->C movement (inversion in questions).
     

    Frank06

    Senior Member
    Nederlands / Dutch (Belgium)
    Or at least it does not have the characteristics of a modal verb
    I cannot follow very well: What do you think are the (formal, morphological/syntactic?) characteristics of a modal verb?
    I am just wondering whether a modal verb must have a morphological or syntactic traits.
    No.
    If you look at the list of modal verbs given in the ANS (> algemene verschijnselen > modaliteit), you'll notice that not all of them share the same morphological and syntactic features (and that CapnPrep hits the nail on the very head). As for the verbs they give:
    [a] blijken, lijken, schijnen, heten, dunken, voorkomen, toeschijnen;
    kunnen, moeten, (be)hoeven, mogen, willen, zullen.
     

    Alxmrphi

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Hey Frank,

    It would be fair to say there are morphological traits of some modal verbs, like in Germanic, don't you think? The present-preterite verbs were the ones that developed into modal verbs in English, I presumed it would be similar in other Germanic languages (though maybe things happened in other languages I am unaware of). But the strong ablaut that they show in the present tense is a good morphological trait that unites them (in earlier pres.pret. verbs I mean).

    If there are other modals now in Germanic languages that don't derive from this earlier grouping then obviously this probably would not apply, but a large chunk of Germanic modals (I believe) descend from this earlier grouping, which did show morphological similarities, so in essence I think it'd be okay to say "Yes" to that question.

    What do you think?

    [Edit]: Just to point out I'm not talking about verbs in this category that didn't develop into modals (i.e. like kunna/mega in Icelandic) but in German/Dutch/English I believe they became full modals, complete with absence of 3rd person singular endings etc.
     

    Frank06

    Senior Member
    Nederlands / Dutch (Belgium)
    Hi Alex,
    It would be fair to say there are morphological traits of some modal verbs, like in Germanic, don't you think?
    I think we agree here: some modal verbs share a set of peculiar features. The problem here is "some".
    If there are other modals now in Germanic languages that don't derive from this earlier grouping then obviously this probably would not apply,
    And that's exactly the case, I think. I really think we can safely skip that 'if-clause'.

    but a large chunk of Germanic modals (I believe) descend from this earlier grouping, which did show morphological similarities, so in essence I think it'd be okay to say "Yes" to that question. What do you think?
    But then we are not talking anymore about all the modals, but about a group we've picked and chosen according to a specific set of morphological and syntactic features, ignoring all the other modal verbs which do not share those features.
    If so, then the question whether that specific group of modal verbs should have those features, which happen to be the prequisite reasons to belong to that group in the first place, is a bit absurd.
    [or am I missing an enormously obvious point here, it would certainly not be the first time :D]

    ThomasK said:
    I am just wondering whether a modal verb must have a morphological or syntactic traits.
    That's the OP's question. For the time being, I don't see any reason to answer this in a positive way. Though I guess it's also up to the OP to be a bit more clear about what exactly he's talking about.

    Groetjes,

    Frank
     

    Alxmrphi

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Haha when you put it that way, it makes sense.
    I guess my lack of knowledge about modal verbs in Dutch/German is the problem. I have no idea if it's virtually exactly those verbs that are now modals, or if they only make up 50% of the total grouping. I had (without thinking) assumed that they'd naturally be in the vast majority, but I had no reason to make that judgment. If that's not the case I can see perfectly how it seems like a paradox.
     

    ThomasK

    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    First of all, concerning your specific example: dare and durven/dürfen are not cognates. Have a look at this table at Wikipedia.

    I agree: I was too quick in supposing dare was a cognate of the others, but my main point is some seem to function as AUX (partly at least: dare) and that durven, while meaning the same as dare, is never a modal auxiliary in Dutch.

    Second, you need to distinguish the more general concept of modality and the more specific grammatical category of modal auxiliary verb.

    No problem with that, but I was inclined to think that verbs expressing modality would be modal auxiliaries, which is not true.
     
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    ThomasK

    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    Some modal verbs share a set of peculiar features. And that's exactly the case, I think.

    I agree, I was too quick (I am very good at that): I consider some copula (seem/ schijnen, etc.) and limit the modals to can, must, should, etc., as some grammarbooks seem to do.

    But then: there is still my initial question: must durven be considered a modal verb?

    Could I also say that some verbs like hoeven/ brauchen, maybe durven in Dutch, are moving towards a syntax typical of modals (dropping the to in front of infinitives)?
     

    Frank06

    Senior Member
    Nederlands / Dutch (Belgium)
    Could I also say that some verbs like hoeven/ brauchen, maybe durven in Dutch, are moving towards a syntax typical of modals (dropping the to in front of infinitives)?
    What you describe makes me think of two general tendencies in Dutch (at least I think those are tendencies):
    1. the construction with "om... te + infinitive" gets reduced to "te",
    2. and in "te + infinitive", "te" sometimes is omited.
    (Maybe we should address this in the Dutch Forum.)

    But if these vague impressions have some ground in reality, then I think it goes way beyond the modal verbs and modality.

    Frank
     

    ThomasK

    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    Thanks, but I am thinking of "Je had dat niet hoeven doen". In German for example there is 'bräuchte', a synthetic conditional, not common in other non-modal aux. ...

    Do you consider durven a modal verb?

    Thanks,
     

    ThomasK

    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    I am back ;-) because I wondered whether to try can fit into the group of modal verbs (from a semantic point of view). I do admit my starting point here is (again) the fact that in Dutch we seem able to drop the 'to', just like with beginnen. Can they be considered part of this definition of modality as referred to by one Palmer, quoted at Wikipedia?

    likelihood, ability, permission, and obligation.

    Can both be considered forms of ability, or likehood ?
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    Try has nothing to do with ability, likelihood, permission, or obligation; but neither do some of the meanings of will/would (simple future, simple conditional, customary action, willingness, etc.).

    Though try and sometimes substitutes for try to, I would not consider try (or try to) a modal verb.
     

    ThomasK

    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    Well, if you try, the likehood of things happening is affected, isn't it? I thought I was familiar with modality, but I am beginning to think it is more complex. It would really be interesting if there were some fairly easy way to see whether a verb/ ... has some 'shade of modality'.
     

    Those Who Squirm

    New Member
    English, American
    This is interesting because I didn't know that English had a cognate to dürfen. It makes a lot of sense, because one typical use of dare really implies a meaning very similar to the modern German word--namely in the phrase How dare you (he, she, they)! The person who says this implies that the subject of the statement transgressed some boundary, whether flouting the real or perceived authority of the speaker, or some other authority or moral principle which the speaker wishes to invoke.

    Though sad to say this now seems to be turning into "how dare him", "how dare them", etc., because many people think that any pronoun after the verb must be in the objective. I think this grates horribly--at least when educated adults say it, but I can't stop it.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    This is interesting because I didn't know that English had a cognate to dürfen.
    It hasn't. The Old English cognate of dürfen, þurfan, is extinct. As CapnPrep pointed out, dare and dürfen are not cognate. What they have in common is that both were originally preterite-present verbs, though English dare has been regularized, i.e. he dare > he dares.
     
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    ThomasK

    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    My reasoning was in fact based on too narrow an idea of modal verbs. I had been thinking of what are generally called 'modal auxiliaries', I now realize, some five verbs like can, must, may, should, ..., not just any kind of modal verbs, as the latter do not show up those syntactic or formal characteristics whereas those constituted my starting point as well.

    However, the fact that both dare, dürfen, are present-preterite verbs and show up certain 'deviant' syntactic traits, shows that they have some special status in those languages, which is due to their particular form of modality, which I could not define; it is not permission - is courage a form of modality??? And I had the impression that the semantic equivalent durven in Dutch has been moving in that direction. But I would like to know what you call that kind of modality.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Germanic modal auxiliary verbs are normally preterite-present verbs. Interestingly, when used as a modal verb, the preterite-present form of dare survived. E.g. you say he dare say (usually spelled he daresay) and not he *dares say.

    But not all preterite-present verbs are also modal auxiliaries, like e.g. German wissen=to know (er weiß, not er *weißt).
     
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    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    I can't see anything special about the form of modality of the verb dare. I think, what's special about dare is that can be used as a modal auxiliary and as a "normal" verb:
    I dare not say it.
    I don't dare to say it.

    BTW: The is a non-modal verb which is used as a modal auxiliary because is semantically expresses modality: need in negative sentences: He needn't come but he needs to come.
     

    ThomasK

    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    I can't see anything special about the form of modality of the verb dare. I think, what's special about dare is that can be used as a modal auxiliary and as a "normal" verb:
    I dare not say it.
    I don't dare to say it.

    Interesting observation that both can be used as modals and as 'normal' verbs. It's true, and indeed, there is no semantic difference between the two. But regarding

    BTW: The is a non-modal verb which is used as a modal auxiliary because is semantically expresses modality: need in negative sentences: He needn't come but he needs to come.

    I am not sure I quite understand. I do understand correctly that needn't is modality, isn't it, but I notice that I cannot quite come close to this idea of modality. Attitude towards reality, yes, but is the need in needs to less modal than the needn't? And especially: could I find a precise definition of this distinction?

    I always say myself that 'ik zal' in Dutch (and 'I shall') is only temporal, normally (if not a promise), not modal like the German 'ich will'.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    I am not sure I quite understand. I do understand correctly that needn't is modality, isn't it, but I notice that I cannot quite come close to this idea of modality.
    Typical modal auxiliaries are characterized by three things: 1) preterite-present conjugation, 2) followed by a mandatory infinitive and 3) this infinitive has no "to".
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    That's why CapnPrep warned you not to confuse modal verbs with verbs expressing modality. :)

    Modality in general expresses a normally subjective state about an action or state expressed by another verb. The modality dare and need express in the discussed sentences is that the verbs express subjective states in relation to objective actions: he is not in need of coming; I do not have the courage of saying.

    Preterite-present verbs also are verb which describe states rather than actions and therefore the original perfect out of which the Germanic preterite developed assumed a tenseless meaning which caused the strong preterite forms to be used in lieu of the present. The weak past tense forms these verbs have today obviously were later additions.

    This is probably the explanation why the class of preterite-present verbs has such a large overlap with the class of verbs expressing modality.
     

    Istriano

    Senior Member
    Croatian
    I can't see anything special about the form of modality of the verb dare. I think, what's special about dare is that can be used as a modal auxiliary and as a "normal" verb:
    I dare not say it.
    I don't dare to say it.

    BTW: The is a non-modal verb which is used as a modal auxiliary because is semantically expresses modality: need in negative sentences: He needn't come but he needs to come.

    But people say:
    How dare you? for Como você se atreve?

    and not How do you dare?

    :) So, in a way it's a special verb: http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=559089
     
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    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    I fail to see how this contradicts what I wrote. I wrote that the only thing special about "dare" is that it is sometimes used like a modal and sometimes like a normal verb.
     
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