"Must go" used in past tense?

Eugens

Senior Member
Argentina Spanish
<< See also The past tense form of "must" >>

When I was reading Dracula, I encountered sentences like these:

"When I told her that I must go at once, and that I was engaged on important business, she asked again."

"I therefore tried to raise her up, and said, as gravely as I could, that I thanked her, but my duty was imperative, and that I must go."

It caught my attention because it used "must go" where I would have expected to see "had to go".
Is this use of "must" old-fashioned? Was it only used with "go"? I read this on answers.com:
To be required or obliged to go: “I must from hence” (Shakespeare).
But there it is used in the present tense (I guess) and without the verb...

Edit: if you wish to check the sentences in context, you can find them here or here (search for "must go"). Thank you all!
 
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  • LV4-26

    Senior Member
    I read that as an old-fashioned way of using must as the past tense of must. Which it actually is, in theory.

    I'm not sure, but I think it can still be used in indirect speech (as in your sentences). Or is it outdated both in direct and indirect speech?
     

    skye

    Senior Member
    Slovenian
    In indirect speech "must" can remain the same ("must") or it can be changed into the past tense ("had to").

    Both examples above are used in indirect speech.
     

    bartonig

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Your sentences seem a little strange to me. I feel I want to change them in this way.

    When I told her that I had to go at once as I was engaged on important business, she asked again.

    I therefore tried to raise her up, and said, as gravely as I could, that I thanked her, but my duty was imperative, and that I had to go.
    <<Mod note - the sentences are a quotation. If you wish to take issue with the way they are written, please contact Bram Stoker directly>>

    In current usage must is used to express necessity or obligation in the present situation when the speaker is confident that the action (go) will happen. Another way has to be found to express them in past and future situations. For obligation which I think is the mode of your sentences the following would suit.

    I had to go.
    I'll have to go.
     
    Eugens said:
    When I was reading Dracula, I encountered sentences like these:

    "When I told that I must go at once and I was engaged on important business, she asked again."

    "I therefore tried to raise her up, and said, as gravely as I could, that I thanked her, but my duty was imperative, and that I must go."

    It caught my attention because it used "must go" where I would have expected to see "had to go".
    Is this use of "must" old-fashioned? Was it only used with "go"? I read this on answers.com:

    But there it is used in the present tense (I guess) and without the verb...

    Hi Eugens,

    Here are some examples which I would use.

    'I must go and visit my friend today, it's his birthday.'

    'I must have gone straight to sleep last night, I don't remember reading my book.

    LRV
     

    RobertL2

    Member
    English USA
    It's an auxiliary verb (must + infinitive, "to" being omitted as understood), and, as you know, means "have to", but it doesn't have different tense forms. Must is given its tense by context alone. So, "has to", "have to", "had to", "will have to" and "shall have to" are all expressed by "must".

    That said, there's a subtlety of usage in your example that's worth appreciating as a matter of style. By using "must", Harker's past-tense account of what he said to the vampire ("I told her...") relates the true substance of what he actually said ("I must go" or "I have to go") better than if he had used the verb phrase. If Harker were obliged to use the "have to" construction here, he would be forced to write, "I told her I had to go." Although the context is otherwise, conceivably this could mean "I told her that (then and there) I had to go" or it could mean "I told her that (at some point in the past) I had to go." The use of "must" in this instance stylistically eliminates the second possibility, so that as we read the diary entry we know Harker was saying he needed to leave. A case of a verb that has only one form conveying meaning more clearly than a grammatically tense-precise verb phrase.
     

    fate

    Member
    Native English speaker (BE)
    I think that when we say "When I told her that...." (which is in the past) we can then say "I must go at once and I was engaged on important..."
    (which is in the present) because we are just repeating the actual words we said at that time in the past.

    I speak like this all the time but I don't know what the rules are.

    Perhaps RobertL2 explains why but, to be honest I find his post a bit complicated (sorry Robert no offence intended:))

    Fate.:)







     

    bartonig

    Senior Member
    UK English
    fate said:
    I think that when we say "When I told her that...." (which is in the past) we can then say "I must go at once and I was engaged on important..."
    (which is in the present) because we are just repeating the actual words we said at that time in the past.

    I speak like this all the time but I don't know what the rules are.

    Perhaps RobertL2 explains why but, to be honest I find his post a bit complicated (sorry Robert no offence intended:))

    You're suggesting using direct speech. That is fine but the original question put the sentences under discussion in indirect speech. In indirect speech you drop back to the past and so I must is not appropriate. Must is not a multi-tense form but, rather, just a present form.
     

    fate

    Member
    Native English speaker (BE)
    Thanks bartonig, I suspected I was getting a bit out of my depth.

    Fate.:eek:
     

    bartonig

    Senior Member
    UK English
    fate said:
    Thanks bartonig, I suspected I was getting a bit out of my depth.

    Fate.:eek:

    Well, you've obviously got an interest in English. Why don't you buy yourself a grammar reference? For example, English Grammar in Use by Raymond Murphy.
     

    the-pessimist

    Senior Member
    English, United Kingdom
    "i must go" is used in the past tense, because this is what the man said in the past. i.e. "When I told that I must go" (although, after "told" there ought to be a "she"?) and, "I therefore tried to raise her up, and said, as gravely as I could, that I thanked her, but my duty was imperative, and that I must go." The 'and said' here means 'and I said' and therefore it is in the past. But, in both cases he is kind of quoting himself. So that is the reason in essence, i.e. that he is telling someone else, what he has already said.

    In both sentences which you gave, the character in the book could have said "I had to go", but I feel Bram Stoker did this to create a certain effect, something along the lines of getting the reader to picture themselves at that past event perhaps? - i'm not a literature expert per se, so i cannot say!

    it's not outdated, despite what anyone will say. the present tense is used when relating past speech to another person, but is a less common method and the past is preferred.
     

    LV4-26

    Senior Member
    Right. Now I can't wait any longer and I'll ask the question I wanted to ask from the 5th post or so.

    I find it hard to decide whether :
    - there is only one tense to "must" which is the present. Hence, must is in the present in Bram Stocker's sentences and therefore those sentences are sort of halfway between direct and indirect speech (I'm roughly summing up a few posts to the same effect).
    - must is the past form of must (as could is the past of can and let/bet the respective pasts of let/bet). So we do have a real past in those sentences. And of course this past form has a limited use (limited to indirect speech, as per my Concise Oxford Dic and should be replaced by had to, otherwise).

    So, is it a present or a past? I really read it as a past which saves me the embarassment of resorting to that complicated explanation :
    ibby said:
    but I feel Bram Stoker did this to create a certain effect, something along the lines of getting the reader to picture themselves at that past event perhaps?
    (I quoted ibby because it's the most recent post but others have said the same in several different ways).
     

    bartonig

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Grammar books are based on the work of grammarians. Modern grammarians study and describe the language as it is used today. They find that there are a number of verbs that can be used to start a complex verb phrase and give it an additional meaning. So, for example, will can express intention, can can express ability and so on. Furthermore, they find that there is a pattern to some of these verbs in that they can be paired up - can / could, will / would and so on, and that there is a distinct difference in meaning - concerning counterfactuality - when the words are swapped in a phrase (for example, could replacing can). This difference in meaning doesn't work for must. There is, therefore, only the form must and it is factual. It sits alongside can, will, shall and may which are universally called present tense.

    If Stoker wrote (100 hundred years ago) the sentence in direct speech it should read:

    When I told her "I must go at once as I'm engaged on important business", she asked again.

    If he wrote in indirect speech it should read:

    When I told her I had to go at once as I was engaged on important business, she asked again.
     

    river

    Senior Member
    U.S. English
    When expressing necessity, must can mean had to {I told him I must go. I told him I had to go}. {When I told her that I must/had to go at once
     

    Aupick

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    Personally I'm inclined to agree with LV4-26's second intuition.

    For one thing the text was written a hundred years ago, enough time for our sense about the usage of 'must' to have changed.

    Secondly, modals frequently break the rules when it comes to tenses (or anything else). 'Could' is both past and conditional, for example. 'Should' can be a tense-less surrogate subjunctive.

    Third, 'must' is derived from the past tense of the Old English word 'motan' and may not have lost all of its association with the past tense. I wouldn't go so far as to say that it is a past tense grammatically (as with set/let/bet, etc.), but the analogy is useful because that's how (I believe) it's functioning.

    Fourth, I've found over 50 examples of such use in the British National Corpus, using phrases like "said he must" to find things like "He said they must meet later, she must come and eat with him", used in ways that really don't sound like free indirect speech. I'm sure there are plenty more, too, if I could guess which words to search for. (Some of the sources are quite recent, too.)

    Fifth, (as LV mentions) the Concise OED mentions this use, specifying that it is found in indirect speech.

    And lastly, there's justification in using 'must' instead of 'had to', because there's a difference in the nature of the stated obligation, albeit one that is dropping out of the language in the 21st century. ('Must' implies the obligation comes from the speaker, 'had to' from a third party.)

    I'm wondering now if I've ever used 'must' in this way...
     

    bartonig

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Yes, I've got this wrong. I've checked the novel and found that Stoker used must twice in indirect speech and never had to. Furthermore, he uses had to for all other past constructions. Also, I've found a grammar that refers to this use of must in indirect speech (along with other modals that don't have a past form). You learn something everyday.
     

    Eugens

    Senior Member
    Argentina Spanish
    I thank you as well :). I'd like to ask another little question: should the title of this thread have been '"Must go" used in the past tense?'
     

    Aupick

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    Not necessarily. It is a title, and not a full sentence, so it's quite legitimate to use the abbreviated style of headlines (in which articles are routinely dropped).

    But, yes, the article would normally be needed and the reader should understand that there is an elided 'the' when reading the title.
     
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