modal auxiliary

noun

Definition of modal auxiliary

: an auxiliary verb (such as can, must, might, may) that is characteristically used with a verb of predication and expresses a modal modification and that in English differs formally from other verbs in lacking -s and -ing forms

What is a modal verb?

A small group of auxiliary verbs, called the modal verbs (or modal auxiliary verbs, modal auxiliaries, or simply modals) are only used in combination with ordinary verbs. A modal verb changes the other verb's meaning to something different from simple fact. Modals may express permission, ability, prediction, possibility, or necessity.

The principal modal verbs are: can, could, may, might, must, ought, shall, should, will, and would.

The modal verbs are different from ordinary verbs in several ways: 1) they have no inflections at all; that is, they lack an -ing form, an -ed form, and even an -s form for the third-person singular; 2) a modal verb is always followed by the infinitive form of a verb (unless that verb has already been stated) but never follows another verb; 3) modal verbs do not follow to and are not followed by to. (Ought to, like the near-modal verb have to, is a special case.)

In their simple form, modal verbs normally refer to present or future time:

I must be nearly there by now.

I might arrive a bit later than I'd anticipated.

A trip like this can take hours more than one expects.

First Known Use of modal auxiliary

circa 1904, in the meaning defined above

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The first known use of modal auxiliary was circa 1904

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Cite this Entry

“Modal auxiliary.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/modal%20auxiliary. Accessed 21 Sep. 2020.

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