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Sunday, 05 November 2006


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David, really - "my cup will overfloweth"???

Surely you know that 'overfloweth' is third person singular and therefore not to be used after a modal verb?

Are you trying to be clever? Shame on you!

"Are you trying to be clever?"

Yes and with the usual dire result! By the way, what is a 'modal' verb? (Seriously, I have never heard of it and I always fret about the sorry state of my Eng. Lang. which, as I have mentioned before, brings back the shade of Miss Wood, Eng. Lang. & Lit., c.1950-55, pinz-nez, thin lips and no discernible sense of humour apparent to an 'oikish' schoolboy.)

Shame on you, David!

Scahdenfreude is so comforting, but the booze will work best unfiltered!

'What is a modal verb' is a very good question, and one which I strive to answer on an almost daily basis. It's a toughie. However, the key modal verbs in English fall fairly neatly into:
will - would
shall - should
can - could
may - might
must, which has no 'past' or 'remote' form, at least in modern English. (We use 'had to', although older and more elegant forms of English do deploy 'must' with a past time reference).

Modal verbs in English are generally followed by the bare infinitive (i.e. without 'to'). Thus, 'he will goes' is as erroneous as 'my cup will overflowetheth'.

But it's not that simple, as 'have to', want to', 'ought to', 'need to/needn't' and 'dare/daren't' (amongst others) are all, in a sense, modal.

Briefly, a modal verb is one which alters the sense of the verb following it from a statement of bare fact to a statement which expresses something about the attitude of the speaker towards the action of which he speaks. For instance, 'I may go' is a statement about probability, whereas 'I will go'is a statement of the speaker's belief (or at least what he wants you to believe - you see how complicated this sort of thing can get). 'You ought to go' is a statement of my belief about what it is right for you to do. And so on, and on.

Why did I bother to write that? Well, a straight question deserves a straight answer. But also, because your lack of knowledge about the nuts and bolts of this beautiful language that we share is almost universal, thanks to the complete failure of our education system to teach it to us. I certainly would never have learned what a modal verb was had I not become an English teacher.

The cry that always goes up whenever the question of teaching grammar to children is raised is that there is no evidence that this improves their English. What a crock! We should teach it because without such knowledge one is disempowered. And because it is interesting. That's all.

And because I find it utterly infuriating that people seem to think that Shakespeare spoke a foreign language. And especially because when people employ archaic forms 'for a laugh' in ways which are completely ungrammatical, I just want to weep.

Enough. Now I shall buggereth off and bother thou no more. ( And there are 2 errors in that sentence - can you spot them?)

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