The Syntactic Evolution of Modal Verbs in the History of English

3. Middle English

3.1. A few generalizations

Let us begin by a quotation,

“Middle English” (in French) is the language which was spoken and written in Great Britain between 1150 and 1550 (...). These dates are only convenient mile stones: normally, there is no continuity solution for the evolution of a language. But if one compares the set of features caracterizing texts written during the “Middle English” period to those from the preceding period, one is struck by somes constant differences: a) vowels tend to get a standard tone (when they stil exist) e in (any) endings; b) a deep change and a great simplification of the inflection were determined by this levelling; c) as a consequence, there is a tendency (that has already begun in OE) to have recourse to analytic constructions or to prepositions instead of cases; d) finally, the lexicon has borrowed words from the French (consequences of the Norman conquest) or the Scandinavian languages (further to the Danelaw colonization) (note: ).

Compared to OE, the structure of the ME sentence is somewhat different, and tends to become the structure we know in CE. The main changes are:

Whereas in Old English, the order object-verb was very frequent, in particular in subordinate clauses and when the object was a pronoun, in Middle English this order became gradually less common, and ceased to show a correlation with clause type. (...) Another, probably related, Middle English change affected the position of particles relative to the verb. (...) such elements were also often preverbal in Old English. In the course of the Middle English period they gradually came to be restricted to postverbal position. In this case too, however, the older order continued to be used every now and then until the end of the Middle English period. (...) A further Middle English change involving verb position is the decline of the so-called `Verb-Second“ rule. (...) Verb-Second rapidly declined in the course of the last part of the fourteenth and in the fifteenth century, and saw a revival in the literary language in the sixteenth century ((21) ((21)): 82-3).

We can also quote Kroch & Taylor:

Pintzuk ((49), (50) and (51)) have shown that the transition from INFL- final to INFL-medial word order was a long-term trend characterizing the entire Old English period, so that its disappearance in Early Middle English can be taken as a continuation of Old English development rather than a break with it (...). [Early Middle English texts] exhibit all three of the base orders that have been proposed for Old English: INFL-final with an OV verb phrase, INFL-medial with an OV verb phrase, and the modern order – INFL-medial with a VO verb phrase ((38) ((38)):132-3).

These three base orders are the consequence of the different influences the ME dialects have been under. Still according to Kroch and Taylor,

Although we are not primarily concerned with the historical sociolinguistic dynamics that established the ME dialects, the sociolinguistic history of population contact and diffusion which underlie them is a matter of considerable interest (...). Specifically, we will see that the northern dialect of English most likely became a CP-V2 language under the extensive contact it had with medieval Scandinavian, contact that resulted from the Danish and Norwegian population influx into the North of England during the late OE period (...). The linguistic effect of this combination of population movement and population mixture was extensive ((39) ((39)) : 298-9).


The difference in the position to which the verb moves in different languages leads to subtle but clearly observable differences in the shape and distribution of verb second clauses. Most strikingly, while all V2 languages exhibit verb second order in main clauses, the two sub-types [IP-V2 and CP-V2] differ in the availability of this word order in subordinate clauses. The CP-V2 languages allow verb second order only in those embedded clauses that in some way have the structure of matrix clauses, either because the complementizer position is empty or because there is an additional complementizer position below the one that introduces the subordinate clause (the so-called `CP-recursion“). (...) The IP-V2 languages, on the other hand, show V2 order in a broad range of subordinate clauses. (...) We will further see that the southern dialect of ME preserves the V2 syntax of OE, despite having become, unlike OE, overwhelmingly I-medial and VO in basic order. In striking contrast to the southern dialect, however, the northern dialect of ME appears to have developed the verb-movement syntax of a standard CP-V2 language and hence to be similar in its syntax to the modern Mainland Scandinavian ((39) ((39)) : 297-8).

To sum up, we could say that the ME syntax still displays the OE syntactic order (V2 language), as well as the CE order, and that V2 rapidly declined from the end of the 14th century.

3.2. Preterite presents

The members of this specific class of verbs are the same compared to OE, apart from one member. Like in Chapter 1, they all follow Mossé“s classification ((45) ((45)))  (note: )

MON was not part of the class in OE, and is no part of it in Early Modern English nor in CE.

We shall mainly base our analysis on the following texts: the Ormulum (?c1200; East Midlands: south-west of Lincolnshire), Ancrene Riwle (1225-1230; West Midlands) and Chaucer“s The Canterbury Tales (1380-91; East Midlands: Londres) (note: ), as well as other texts from the ME corpus ((37) ((37))) if we require more specific examples.

In the last chapter, we showed the existence of the functional heads C, T, Neg and v. Our analysis led us to add some more: a second Neg head, vModal for deontic preterite presents and Mood for epistemic preterite presents (which also hosts irrealis).

Similarly to OE, we also find the following structures: the ones where there is a lexical preterite present (i.e. followed by a direct object) and the ones where there is a semi-lexical preterite present (i.e. followed by an infinitive) base-generated under vModal).

& tohh he it nowwhar funde žęr, Ne wollde he it nęfre cunnenn, ...
& although he-SUJET it-OBJET nowhere found-PRET there, NEG voulut il-SUJET cela-OBJET jamais savoir, ...

and though he did not find it anywhere, he did not want to know, ... (CMORM, I,26.318)

ant alle aʒen hire in an eauer to halden.
and all-SUJET should her-OBJET in an ever TO observe.

and everyone should observe it always in the same way. (CMANCRIW,I.44.34)

... ne nenoteš naut his wit as mon ach to donne...
... NEG knows-NEG+PRES NOT his mind-OBJET as homme-SUJET ought TO do...

... he does not know his mind as a man should... (CMANCRIW,II.48.447)

ʒef ha aʒen tobeon feor from alle worldliche men hwet hu ancren aʒen to hatien ham & schunen, ...
if they-SUJET ought TO+be far from all wordly men-PL. what how cloistered-SUJET PL. ought TO call them-OBJET & teach, ...

if they have to get away from all the worldly men, this is how the cloistered men ought to call and teach them, ... (CMANCRIW,II.67.721)

... ase hwa se žus seide, Ich nolde forto žolien deaš ...
... as as so thus said-PRET, I-SUJET NEG+would FOR+TO suffer death-OBJET ...

as he then said, I did not want to suffer death... (CMANCRIW,II.76.889)

deaš me ach to fleon ase forš se me mei-PRES wiš uten sunne.
death-OBJET one-SUJET ought TO as in as one-SUJET may with out sun.

you should flee from death as one may flee before the sun. (CMANCRIW,II.85.1029)

& tęrfore hafe icc turrnedd itt Inntill Ennglisshe spęche, Forr žatt I wollde bliželiʒ Žatt all Ennglisshe lede Wižž ęre shollde lisstenn itt...
& therefore have-PRES I-SUJET translated-P.PASSE it-OBJET until English language, for that I-SUJET would-PRET perfectly that all English people-SUJET with respect should listen it-OBJET...

and I have therefore translated it into English because I wanted all the English people to listen to it respectfully... (CMORM,DED.L113.33)

Forži ach že gode habben eauere witnesse...
Therefore ought the good-SUJET have ever witness-OBJET...

Therefore good should always have a witness... (CMANCRIW,II.56.543)

Like in OE, we find occurrences of preterite presents used lexicaly, i.e. followed by an object either direct or indirect. Yet, if we have a closer look all the different texts, we can notice that only a small number of these verbs are used this way.

3.3. State and syntactic changes

Let us recall the OE sentence when a preterite present is displayed. We shall only mention the main functional heads. SOV Sentences can be CP-V2 (direct questions, sentences introduced by a negative element or by the adverbs ža and žonne) as in Example (274) or IP(TP)-V2 as in Example (275)

Tree 79
Tree 80

Whenever no preterite present is displayed, the structures remain identical.

Before going any further in our analysis, let us go back to the structures of preterite presents in OE when they are lexical: Pret.Pres. + THAT-clause and Pret.Pres. + (FOR)TO-infinitive. In both cases, the complement of the preterite present is a CP.

When the complement is a CP-infinitive, it has a PRO subject controlling the subject of the sentence. The preterite presents are then control verbs which assign a θ-role to the subject (unlike raising verbs which do not have an external argument and do not assign external θ-role: they are one argument-verb) and to its object, the internal argument of V. The subject is case-marked nominative in all personal constructions, and mainly case-marked dative in impersonal ones.

Tree 81

Lexical preterite presents are base-generated under V, they assign a θ-role to the subject base-generated under Spec,vP. The first phase is over. The subject then raises to Spec,TP to satisfy the EPP features of T and the preterite present satisfy its tense feature under T. C then assigns nominative case under government to the subject, and Agree is done through T: the second phase is over and can be spelled out.

We have also underlined that these very verbs were semi-lexical when followed by an infinitive and they were also raising ones. Moreover, the grammatical subject of the preterite present is the semantic subject of V. They are not base-generated under V but under vModal, the functional head we introduced in the last chapter. We recall their syntactic structure:

Tree 82

In late ME, we underlined that we could already talk about grammaticalisation (note: ) since we found examples taken from (19) ((19)) displaying epistemic-reading preterite presents. Moreover, we stressed the syntactic position Mood (above T within the domain of CP) corresponding to these preterite presents. Indeed, C is a periphrastic functional head which gives some more information about the sentence, about the relation established between a subject and its predicate. As far as epistemicity is concerned, it allows the speaker to voice an opinion reflecting his/her understanding or knowledge about this pre-established relation. So, Mood expresses the additional information brought by the speaker. Nevertheless, the epistemic preterite present is generated under T, and the phonological level, the [-deont] feature of Mood will “hop” to T, following the CE Affix Hopping (note: ). On a DM point of view, the morphemes of T and Mood merge, the two nodes remaining distinct.

As for the deontic-reading preterite presents, they are generated lower than T, under vModal within the domain of vP. We then obtain the following structure in OE, and specially in ME:


CP - MoodP - TP - vModalP - (vP) - VP - (CP) - (TP) - (VP).

In ME, things change syntactically. The examples to come illustrate the major value change of the parameters: ME is now an SVO language. NP subjects and objects do not have morphological endings for person anymore; the features impoverish, triggering a change of value of the parameters, hence the structure becomes rigid. Yet, some structures remain V2. Then this syntactic competition (SOV-SVO sentences), the appearance of the dummy DO, the grammaticalisation and the epistemic readings of the preterite presents (note: ) are partially responsible for the setting of grammaticalisation. As a consequence, we shall name modal a preterite present which underwent grammaticalisation, i.e. a lexical or semi-lexical item becomes a grammatical, or functional, item.

The following examples show the ME SVO structure. As for questions or sentences beginning by a negative element (or focus), their structure is CP-V2 as we underlined in the previous chapter.

Žeʒʒ shulenn lętenn hęželiʒ Off unnkerr swinnc lef brožerr.
They-SUJET shall let honourably off their labour beloved brother.

Beloved brother, they shall let their labour go. (CMORM,DED.L53.21)

Ža seʒʒde Zacariass žuss Till Godess enngell sone; Žurrh whatt maʒʒ icc nu witenn žiss Žatt itt me muʒhe wurrženn?
Then said Zacharias thus till God“s angel soon; through what may I-SUJET now know this-OBJET That it-SUJET me-OBJET might become?

Then Zacharias said to God“s angel: “Alors Zacharie dit ą l“ange de Dieu : ” Through this, I can then know it, what might become of me?"` (CMORM,I,4.156)

ʒiff žu willt wurrženn borrʒhenn, Acc nohht onn ane wise žohh, Swa summ že boc-SUJET uss-OBJET kižežž.
If you-SUJET will be born-P.PASSE, But NOT on one way then, So some the book us becomes known-PRES.

If you want to be backed in a different way, as the book makes it known to us. (CMORM,I,172.1423)

Heo teacheš al hu me schal beoren him wišuten, ...
She-SUJET teaches-PRES all how one-SUJET INDEF shall bear him-OBJET out, ...

She teaches all about how to bring him forth, ... (CMANCRIW,I.42.17)

... žet ich mote blisfulliche grete že in heouene.
... that I-SUJET might blissfully greet him-OBJET in heaven.

... that I might greet him in heaven. (CMANCRIW,I.72. 277)

ʒef ani seiš wel ošer deš wel, ne maʒen ha nan loken židerwart wiš richt echʒe Of god heorte.
if any-SUJET says-PRES well or does-PRES well, NEG may he-SUJET none look thither with right eye of good heart.

if anyone says or does something good, he cannot look there with a rightful eye. (CMANCRIW,II.157.2133)

ant žu schalt finden in ham gretunges fiue.
and you-SUJET shall find in him greetings-OBJET PL five.

and you shall find five greetings in him. (CMANCRIW,I.74.290)

Že vres of že Hali Gast, ʒef ʒe ham wulleš seggen, seggeš bifore Vre Lauedi tiden.
The hours-SUJET PL of the holy Spirit, if you-SUJET them-OBJET will say, say-IMP before our Lady time.

If you want to say the hours of the Holy Spirit, say them before our Lady“s time. (CMANCRIW,I.74.297)

And with this swerd shal I sleen envie.
And with this sword shall I-SUJET kill envy-OBJET.

And I shall kill envy with this sword. (CMASTRO,662.C2.24)

For certes, al the sorwe that a man-SUJET myghte make fro the bigynnyng of the world...
For certain, all the sorrow that a man-SUJET might make from the beginning of the world...

For sure, all the sorrow that a man might cause from the beginning of the world... (CMCTPARS,291.C2.133)

For certes, the derke light-SUJET that shal come out of the fyr that evere shal brenne shal turne hym al to peyne that is in helle...
For certain, the dark light-SUJET that shal come out of tha fire that ever shall burn shall transform him-OBJET all to pain that is-PRES in hell...

For sure, the dark light that shall come out of the everburning fire shall transform him into all the pain that exists in hell... (CMCTPARS,291.C2.137)

And in this same wise maist thow knowe by night the altitude of the mone or of brighte sterres.
And in this same way may you-SUJET know by night the altitude-OBJET of the moon or of bright stars-PL.

By night, you can likewise know the altitude of the moon or the bright stars. (ID CMASTRO,669.C2.211)

... for thou scholdest knowe that the mowynge of schrewes, whiche mowynge the semeth to ben unworthy, nis no mowynge;
... for you-SUJET should know that the ability-SUJET of tyrants-PL, which ability you-OBJET seems-PRES TO be unworthy-OBJET, NEG+is-PRES no ability-OBJET;

... for you should know that the capacity of tyrants, which seems to be unworthy to you, is not one; (CMBOETH,448.C1.398)

If the examples have an epistemic reading, their syntactic structure is,

Tree 83

and if they have a deont reading, the structure is,

Tree 84

In a Section to come, we shall go back to these different structures to analyze them more accurately.

3.4. Grammaticalisation

The word grammaticalisation can be defined as followed ((62) ((62)): 6):

The term grammaticalisation was first introduced by Meillet (1912) to describe the development of new grammatical (functional) material out of `autonomous“ words. [...] As Hopper and Traugott (1993: 1-2) point out, the term `grammaticalisation“ can be used to either describe the framework that considers “how new grammatical forms and constructions arise” or “the processes whereby items become more grammatical through time”.

Another definition would be (from (44) ((44))):

The process by which, in the history of a language, a unit with a lexical meaning changes into one with grammatical meaning(note: ).

Concerning modal verbs, the preterite presents, which were lexical and semi-lexical items, have become grammatical items, i.e functional words. This process of grammaticalisation can be seen through the syntax of the ME sentence, as a consequence of a morphological impoverishment (especially the loss of the irrealis endings) and the setting of new values to the existing parameters (such as the grammaticalisation of the preposition TO or the gradual appearance of the dummy DO) during that period. Nevertheless, this process took place gradually, as can be shown with the examples we are to analyze.

3.4.1. Consequences on the preterite presents

Until the ME period, preterite presents are semi-lexical verbs belonging to a specific class of verbs, hence behaving differently in syntactic terms. Whether epistemic or deontic, they are now raising verbs. Epistemic modals are base-generated under T and governed by MoodP; root modals are still base-generated under vModal and then raise to T, since they are grammatical, unlike lexical verbs.

In ME, they can still be used as lexical verbs (specially WILLEN, DURREN and CUNNEN), but the great majority of them tend to be followed by an infinitive which either has an epistemic or deontic reading.

This statement is very interesting: if there is an ambiguity between epistemic and root readings, it implies that these verbs indeed grammaticalize. (note: )

We assume the ambiguous readings reflect the grammatical change of these verbs: from lexical items to grammatical items. The impoverishment of the verbal morphology, the rarer use of V2, a more rigid syntax and its relation to negation (which now does not precede the finite verb), and semantics (there are some shifting meanings for the preterite presents from the OE to the ME periods) are the reflection of the change of status of these verbs.

This grammaticalisation can also be seen morphologically: even if some forms still bear number and person, and specially 2nd person singular present or past, these verbs now only have a present and a past form. The present form is different from the form for lexical verbs since they possess the 3rd person singular in the present, as for the past form, there are no more differences between the irrealis endings.

How can grammaticalisation be visible? Within the phase theory, the chosen items from the lexicon are already inflected and they satisfy a set of features with functional heads. Within (31) ((31))“s Distributed Morphology, each morpheme corresponds to one functional head whose uninterpretable features are identical to the morphemes“s. So, when there is impoverishment, some features of the morphemes disappear, reducing then the competition between lexical items. Let us take an example: in OE, we have canst, the present form (2nd person singular) of the preterite present CUNNAN. If we use a tree structure to represent it, we obtain:

Tree 85

But we can also provide another morphological analysis of it. We can consider each morpheme on its own and say that a functional projection correponds to each of them. The structure we then get is not very different from the previous one. The main change is the status of the root <cαn> which is now one of the morpheme constituting the paradigm canst. The structure would be:

Tree 86

The V-1 notation is borrowed from (35) ((35)); it underlines that can is now a root, and it is the sum of all the morphemes which builds up the verb canst. This approach is different from Minimalism where the verb is chosen from the lexicon fully inflected. Yet this approach is not incompatible with it for it can reflect the grammaticalisation of the preterite presents in ME. Indeed, if these verbs are to be considered as paradigmas made of a root and a set of features, this phenomenom (i.e. grammaticalisation) leads to the loss of the endings and the vowel alternation (in the present indicative) of the preterite presents, that is, the morphosyntactic features of these lexical items are deleted. And it further leads to the deletion of some other features from other morphemes (what is called delinking in DM: when this delinking occurs, it entails the delinking of features which are dependent on them (the change is always from the more marked to the less marked value).

Let us take again the example žu canst and compare it with its contemporary equivalent you can (this form will be found in ME). We can note that the morphological mark of second person has disappeared and there is no longer vowel alternation (in OE, CUNNAN → can; in ME CUNNEN → can but CAN → can in CE).

Tree 87

We shall refer to this structure further on in our work, but correct it because after grammaticalisation modals are no longer semi-lexical but they are grammatical items.

Let us now go back to Examples (279) to (291), which allow us to underline the following important points for our analysis.

  1. We have an SVO surface order, even if morphology is still visible on modals for the 2nd person singular and plural (Examples (285), (286) and (290)). Our hypothesis is that these morphological marks on modals (tense, person and number) and thou/ ʒe subjects (2nd person singular and plural) do not have any influence on the SVO structure.

  2. We still find CP-V2 structures illustrating OE SOV structures. They can either be introduced by a negative element (Example (284)) or a topic (Examples (287), (290) and (291)).

  3. In Examples (280) and (286) (but there are many others), we can question the strusture: is it SOV, hence OE, or SVO, for the object is found inbetween the subject and the finite verb, as we have considered so far that the object is the internal argumant of vP.

  4. Finally, Examples (279), (282), (283), (288) and (289) display the ME SVO structures where cases are no longer morphologically visible (specially NOM and ACC, which freezes the structure), as person and number are on modal verbs.

With the coexistence of these two structures in ME, we also question the existence of the fuctional head reflecting this grammaticalisation. This point has been introduced in the previous chapter where we stessed the functional head vModal for semi-lexical preterite presents. This functional head still exists in ME, as Mood which has been introduced for epistemic modals and irrealis in OE. These two heads reflect two main types of modality in English: epistemic modality and deontic modality, even if according to (19) ((19)), epistemic readings of modals are less common than deontic readings. We could sum up this established fact saying that in the tree structure everything under T, that is vModal, is semi-grammaticalised and everything above T, that is Mood, is grammaticalised. T then marks the boundary between these two states, which means that the modal is or is not within the semantic scope of T. If it is not, the evaluation of the predicative relation is at the tense of the utterance; then it has an epistemic reading (belonging to the irrealis sphere) and the morphological past has no time value. But if tense scopes on the modal, it is deontic.

In the next sections, we shall analyze the preterite presents in relation to modality, underlining that both epistemic and deontic modals have the same syntactic structures, the only difference being that epistemic modals are base-generated under T and deontic modals under vModal. For deontic modals in particular, we shall draw a parallel with causative structures. We shall also sketch the analysis of the grammaticalisation of the preposition TO (followed by an infinitive) to relate it to the grammaticalisation of modal verbs. And we shall also go back to the notion of perfective aspect, as well as to the syntactic structure of causative verbs.

3.5. Infinitive structures: general points

In the previous chapter, we saw that according to whether we were dealing with preterite present or lexical verbs, the infinitive structure was different. Is it the same in ME? Let us recall that OE infinitives have a particular ending -an, whatever the verb. In ME, we still find this ending -en, but a great number of infinitives are now bare for the morphological mark has disappeared. But this morphological loss(note: ) is also responsible for the grammaticalisation of preterite presents, among other things.

Concerning lexical verbs, we can note different types of structures:

  1. The finite verb is followed by an inflected infinitive with TO,

    that alle schrewes ne ben worthy to han torment?
    that all tyrants-SUJET NEG are-PRES worthy TO have torment-OBJET?

    that all tyrants are unworthy to be tormented? (CMBOETH,448. C2.421)

  2. The finite verb is followed by an infinitive introduced by FORTO,

    ... he shall cumenn efft To demenn alle žede-OBJET, & forr to ʒeldenn iwhillc mann Affterr hiss aʒhenn dede.
    ... he-SUJET shall come often TO judge all-OBJET country-OBJET, & FOR TO give back each-OBJET man-OBJET after his own death.

    ... he shall often come to judge all the country and give each man back after his death. (CMORM,DED.L171.39)

    Prudence, his wyf, (...) bisoghte hym of his wepyng for to stynte.
    Prudence, his wife, (...) implored-PRET him-OBJET of his tears FOR TO stop.

    His wife Prudence implored him crying to stop. (CMCTMELI,217.C1b.10)

  3. the finite verb is followed by an infinitive without TO,

    Whan Prudence hadde herd hir housbonde avanten hym of his richesse and of his moneye, ...
    When Prudence-SUJET had-PRET heard-P.PASSE her-SUJET husband-SUJET boast him-OBJET of his wealth and of his money, ...

    When Prudence had heard her husband boast about his wealth and money, ... (CMCTMELI,232.C2.601)

    ... Ne munnde he nęfre letenn himm Žurrh rodepine cwellenn;
    ... NEG remembered he-SUJET never let him-SUJET through the torment of the cross kill;

    ... He never remembered that he had let him be executed on the cross; (CMORM,I,68.612)

  4. Finally, infinitive structures whose finite verb preceding them is let,

    žach he seo žt heo him mis paiʒe he let hire ʒete iwurden.
    although he-SUJET sees-PRES that she-SUJET him-OBJET dislikes he-SUJET lets-PRES she-SUJET yet be.

    although he realizes he dislikes her, he lets her be as she is. (CMANCRIW,II.161.2223)

Let us now give examples of infinitive structures introduced by modals:

But nathelees, men shal hope that every tyme that man falleth, be it never so ofte, that he may arise thurgh Penitence...
But nevertheless, men-SUJET PL shall hope that every time that one-SUJET falls-PRES, is-PRES it-SUJET never so often, that he-SUJET may arise through penitence...

Nevertheless, men shall hope that whenever one falls (be it rarely), he can arise through penitence... (CMCTPARS,288.C2b.21)

First a man shal remembre hym of his synnes;
First a man-SUJET shall remember himself of his sins-PL;

A man must remember his sins; (CMCTPARS,290.C1.75)

... whil that iren is hoot, men sholden smyte...
... while that iron-SUJET is-PRES hot, one-SUJET should smite...

... one should strike while the iron is hot... (CMCTMELI,219.C1.82)

And therfore, er that any werre bigynne, men moste have greet conseil and greet deliberacion.
And therefore, before that any war-SUJET begins-PRES, one-SUJET must have great advise and great deliberation.

And therefore, before any war begins, a meeting should be held to deliberate. (CMCTMELI,219.C2.90)

Forr whase mot to lęwedd follc Larspell off Goddspell tellenn, He mot wel ekenn maniʒ word Amang Goddspelless wordess.
For whoever must to simple people sermon-OBJET of Gospel tell, he-SUJET must well develop many word-OBJET among Gospel words-PL.

For, whoever must say a sermon from the gospel to the ignorant people has to explain many words from it. (CMORM,DED.L53.16)

Ža Goddspelless alle žatt icc Her o žiss boc maʒʒ findenn, Hemm alle wile icc nemmnenn her Bi žeʒʒre firrste wordess.
The gospels-PL all that I-SUJET here in this book may find, them-OBJET all FUTUR I-SUJET name here by their first words-PL.

All the gospels I can find here in this book, I will name them using their first words. (CMORM,DED.L335.65)

For uh an schal halde žuttere...
For each one-SUJET shall hold other...

Because each one must hold the other... (CMANCRIW,I.44.26)

& heo schal habbe leaue to gladien hire fere, ...
& she shall have love TO rejoice her power, ...

& she shall have (enough) love to rejoice her power, ... (CMANCRIW,II.57.552)

and ye shal fynde refresshynge for youre soules.
and you-SUJET shall find refreshment-OBJET for your souls-PL.

and you shall find refreshment for your souls. (CMCTPARS,288.C1b.10)

The common change to all these verbs is that the infinitive can take en or be bare.

With AGEN, the infinitive structure is identical to that of lexical verbs for it is also introduced by TO, which reflects the grammaticalisation of this verb (note: ), and the parallel that can be drawn with the grammaticalisation of TO.

These different examples (modals and lexical verbs) are interesting from a morphological point of view since we have a “competition” between the two structures:

  1. on the one hand, modal + INFINITIVE-en and verb + TO+ INFINITIVE-en, and

  2. on the other hand, modal + INFINITIVE-∅ and verb + TO + INFINITIF-∅.

In Section 2.5.1, we analyzed the difference between the infinitive structure of modals and lexical verbs:

- [vModal Preterite present [vP subject Infinitive]] and,

- [VP VLexical[CP [C ∅ [TP PRO [T (TO) [VP Infinitive]]]]]] ou [VP VCausative [TP (TO) Infinitive]].

So, do these structure change when the infinitives become bare, i.e. uninflected? In other words, does this morphological loss have an influence on syntax, and more accurately on the preterite presents and TO?

In (62) ((62)): 112-9, the authors claim that the loss of the subjunctive and the inflection of infinitives plays an important role in the grammaticalisation of TO (the modal content of the subjunctive ending being transferred to TO), by supposing that mood features are now realized in a higher position, and not by the ending anymore. So, they consider the verbal forms of infinitive constructions introduced by TO as “subjunctives”: they are morphologically identical and, according to the authors, the increase of this kind of structure in ME is due to the decrease of subjunctive clauses displaying a marked morphology. Even if we do not follow their analysis of the TO particle, the morphological loss of the -en ending of infinitives and the -e/-en endings of the subjunctive is part of the grammaticalisation of some items such as the preterite presents or TO. As seen previously, the preterite presents and TO particle behave syntactically the same in relation to the ellipsis of the non finite verb. We can find this fact in ME.

and gief he hadde werred wiš god alse že deuel him to eggede...
and if he-SUJET had-PRET fought-P.PASSE with god also the devil-SUJET him-OBJET TO approached-P.PASSE ...

and if he had fought God, and that he had been appraoched by the devil ... (CMTRINIT,195.2699)

to speke that thou woldist not ∅...
TO speak that you-SUJET would NOT ∅...

say what you would not ... (CMAELR4,3.64)

3.5.1. Causative structures

Compared to what we have found in OE, causative verbs in ME do not have the same structure: they now have a VP complement like preterite presents and not a TP complement anymore. It would imply that these verbs do have a different syntactic position. In OE, we showed these verbs were lexical Vs; in ME, we assume they are semi-lexical verbs for their structure is identical to the CE one, that is operator verbs, and that they are vs. We voice the hypothesis they are now base-generated under v. The grammaticalisation of causative verbs would justify the grammaticalisation of deontic modals:


causative verb: lexical (V) ⟶ semi-lexical (v),


deontic modal: semi-lexical (vModal) ⟶ grammatical (vModal: the position grammaticalised; in DM, vModal and T fuses.

Let us give some examples.

žu habbe heo idon mid že licome...
you-SUJET have-PRES them-OBJET do with the flesh...

you have them do with flesh... (CMLAMBX1,21.242)

uor uirtue makež wynne heuene, and onworži že wordle...
or virtue-SUJET makes-PRES win heaven, and be worth the world...

or virtue makes us grant paradise and deserve the world... (CMAYENBI,84.


(they sholden) at the last maken hem lesen hire lordshipes...
(they should) at the last make them-SUJET lose their powers-PL...

at last, they should make them lose their powers... (CMCTMELI,231.C1.532)

Syntactically, it implies that they do not have the same position: they change from lexical to semi-lexical verb, whereas modals change from semi-lexical to grammatical verb, as shown in Example (314) (for deontic modals).

Thanks to these different examples (except the ones illustrating the causative verbs “have” and “make”), we have shown that modals and TO syntactically behave the same way with respect to the ellipsis of the non finite verb. Then, there exists a parallel between the evolution of the preterite presents and the evolution of TO. This is why Roberts and Roussou“s idea is attractive, and we can apply it to the preterite present verbs: with the loss of the infinitive and subjunctive endings, these verbs can undergo a grammatical change. They grammaticalise, and this can be seen through a great number of forms of should and would which belong to the irrealis sphere, i.e. conditional (note: ). But we shall deal with this later on in our work.

3.6. Modality

3.6.1. Epistemicity and deonticity

Contrary to OE, epistemic and deontic readings are easier to notice in ME because of the morphological impoverishment and semantic shifts of the preterite present verbs which trigger their grammaticalisation. The notions charaterizing them (possibility, necessity and obligation) are clearer. Moreover, some verbs like SCULEN and WILLEN are more and more used to express the future (which was already the case in OE but to a lesser extent), and the conditional.

Let us take some examples of deontic modals,

ʒho ža shollde ben žurrh Godd Off Haliʒ Gast wižž childe.
you-SUJET then CONDITIONAL be through God of Holy Spirit with child.

you should bear a child from the Holy Spirit. (CMORM,I,67.609)

ʒe ne schulen, ic segge, makie na ma uuz of feste biheastes.
you-SUJET NEG FUTURE, I-SUJET say-PRES, make no more use-OBJET of feast promises-PL.

I say that you will not use the promises of feast anymore. (CMANCRIW,I.46.53)

... yet thar ye nat accomplice thilke ordinaunce but yow like.
... yet need you-SUJET NOT accomplice this decree unless you-OBJET like-PRES.

... yet, you do not need to enforce this decree, unless you want it. (CMCTMELI,220.C2.127)

then epistemic modals,

Acc žu shallt findenn žatt min word, ...
But you-SUJET FUTUR find that my word-SUJET, ...

But you shall find that my word, ... (CMORM,DED.L23.14)

[here the reading of SHALL is epistemic: I know that you will realize that...]

... michte for te serui že, wisdom for to queme že, luue ant wil to don hit; mihte, žet ich maʒe don, wisdom, žet ich cunne don, luue, žet ich wulle don al žet že is leouest.
... might FOR TO serve you-OBJET, wisdom FOR TO satisfy you-OBJET, love and will TO do it-OBJET; power, that I-SUJET can do, wisdom, that I-SUJET can do, love, that I-SUJET will do all-OBJET that this-OBJET is-PRES beloved.

... the might to serve you, the wisdom to satisfy you and the love and will to do it; the power I can use, the wisdom I can have, and love (which is everything) I want to give. (CMANCRIW,I.62.200)

The yeer of oure Lord 1391, the 12 day of March at midday, I wolde knowe the degre of the sonne.
The year of our Lord 1391, the 12 day of March at midday, I-SUJET CONDITIONAL know the degree of the sun.

In the year 1391 of our Lord, the twelfth day of March at midday, I woudl know the degree of the sun. (CMASTRO,669.C1.189)

I wolde seye, that he wolde geten hym sovereyn blisfulnesse;
I-SUJET CONDITIONNEL say, that he-SUJET CONDITIONNEL obtain him-OBJET soverein blissfulness-OBJET;

I would say that he would gain a soverein blissfulness; (CMBOETH,430.C1.82)

These examples allow us to show two things: 1) the process of grammaticalisation is set once and for all and 2) it is illustrated by the morphology of the modals which is to influence their meaning, that is past morphology but irrealis meaning (= conditional) (note: ).

Indeed, if we recall Structure (295) with the paradigm canst, we considered <cαn> to be its root which was in its turn not considered strictly speaking as a verb. From a semantic point of view, it does not imply the absence of meaning, since it means “know, be able”. But if we consider the root <cαn> as a V-1, we could be led to think it has less meaning than V but not that it has no meaning at all. Nevertheless, by becoming a V, and then a time element after grammaticalisation, the meaning is to stabilize (see (64) ((64)) for the change between OE an ME).

We shall add some more examples of epistemic modals also taken from (19) ((19)): 298-303. Examples (325) to (330) display a visible subject, Examples (331) to (339) do not.


sone hit męi ilimpen.

Soon it may happen. (a1225(?a1200) Lay.Brut 2250)


And if žou wynus it mai not be Behald že sune, and žou mai se.

And if you think it may not be behold the sun and you may see. (a1400(a1325) Cursor 289)

Vr neghburs mai žam on vs wreke.
Our neighbours may themselves on us avenge.

Our neighbours may avenge themselves on us. (a1400(a1325) Cursor 11963)


Sen žou ert both ong and fayre, žou mai haue childer to be žine aire.

since you are both young and fair you may have children to be your heir(s). (a1425(?a1350) 7 Sages(2) 2843)


žough že fflame of the ffyre of love may not breke out so žat it may be seyn, ... (1472 Stonor 123 I 126.36)

Že enbatelynge aboute... mai well be her feyned holynesse wherbi žei colouren al ere euele.
The battlements around... may well be their feigned holiness by means of which they disguise all their evil.

the battlements around ... may well be their feigned holiness by which they disguise all their evil. (?c1425(?c1400) Loll.Serm. 1.168)

grisen him mahte žet sehe hu...
feel horror him-OBL might that saw how...

He who saw how ... might feel horror. (c1225(?c1200) St.Juliana(Bod) 51.551)

ne schal him žurste neuere.
NEG shall him-OBL thirst never.

it shall never appease his thirst. (a1300 Žo ihu crist 85.24)

Vs shal euer smerte.
us-OBL shall always feel pain.

we shall always feel pain. (a1300 Sayings St.Bede(Jes-O) 83.336)

hym shall not gayne.
him shall NOT gain.

it will do him no good. (a1500(?a1300) Bevis(Cmb) p.83, textual note to 1583-1596)

Ne žurhte že neuer rewe, myhtestu do že in his ylde.
NEG needed you-OBL never rue, might you put tourself in his protection.

You would never need regret putting yourself in his protection. (a1300 A Mayde Cristes(Jes-O) 96)

Mai fall sum gast awai him ledd, And es vnto že felles fledd.
may fall some spirit away him led, and is into the hills fled.

Maybe some spirit led him away and he(?) has fled into the hills. (a1400(a1325) Cursor 17553)

Hym thar not nede to turnen ofte.
him-OBL need NEG necessarily TO turn often.

He need not necessarily turn often. (c1450(1369) Chaucer BD 256)

Him may fulofte mysbefalle.
him-OBL may very often suffer misfortune.

he may very often suffer misfortune. ((a1393) Gower CA 1.457)

Hym wolde thynke it were a disparage To his estate.
him-OBL would seem it was a disgrace to his estate.

It would seem to him a disgrace to his estate. ((c1395) Chaucer CT.C1. IV.908)

These examples underline the fact that epistemic readings increase at the ME period.

These examples also stress out the setting of the grammaticalisation of modals. This process has a very strong influence on syntax: as we have already said, the syntactic positions which are higher than T are grammaticalised, unlike the positions above T. Modals are still generated under vModal but before Vocabulary Insertion, vModal fuses with T. In the previous chapter, we underlined that Mood was “grammaticalised”; but, during the ME period vModal is to grammaticalise as well: deontic modals are grammatical items. And both epistemic and deontic modals are raising verbs.

3.6.2. Modality and syntax

Let us recall the structure of epistemic and deontic modals:

Tree 88 Tree 89

In Section 3.6.1, we stressed the existence of four functional heads Mod (according to Cinque: ModNecessity, ModPossibility, ModVolition and ModObligation. So there seems to exist functional heads for modals in ME whether they are epistemic or deontic. However, we shall not adopt Cinque“s multiplicity of functional heads, but two modal functional heads Mood and vModal. Both have the following features: [±deont], [±past], [±realis], but vModal will have a [+deont] feature and Mood a [-deont] one. The [±past] feature depends on the nature of the infinitive clause, that is whether it is a present or a past infinitive; the [±realis] is context-dependent. For each form, let us give a table where the italicized vowel represents the root and the bold morpheme the verbal (dental) inflection.

Infinitive [-past] [±irrealis] [+past] [±irrealis]
MOTEN mot moste
OWEN owe ahte
WILLEN wil wolde
CUNNEN can cuže
DURREN dar dorste
MOWEN mai mighte
SCULEN shal sholde
ŠURFEN žarf žorfte
UNNEN an uže
WITEN wot wiste

Let us take CUNNEN: with the form can, we know we have chosen a [-past] form (because of the root vowel <a>); with the form cuže, we know we have a past form thanks to the root vowel <u> and the dental suffix <že> indicating the [+past] tense. Both forms can be [±realis].

3.6.3. Modal functional heads and infinitive structures

In the previous chapter, we defined two functional heads corresponding to each reading – epistemic or deontic – that could be made of the preterite present verbs.

According to the ME examples we have just analyzed in Section 3.6.2, the head vModal governs deontic modals and the Mood epistemic ones. As far as negation is concerned, we still find ne which no longer merges onto modals, and we more and more find not.

& žach žurch me ne schulde hit neauer beon iupped.
& then because me NEG should it-SUJET never be open-P.PASSE.

and then, becuase of me, it should never be opened. (CMANCRIW,II.70.795)

Certes, quod she, the wordes of the phisiciens ne sholde nat han been understonden in thys wise.
Certainly, said-PRET she-SUJET, the words-SUJET PL of the physicians-PL NEG should NOT have been-P.PASSE understood-P.PASSE in this way.

Certainly, she said, the words of the physicians do not have to be understood this way. (CMCTMELI,226.C2.360)

And therfore seith Salomon, “The wratthe of God ne wol nat spare no wight-OBJET...”
And therefore said-PRES Salomon-SUJET, “The wrath of God-SUJET NEG will NOT spare no creature...”

And Salomon then said: “The wrath od God will not spare any creature...” (CMCTPARS,291.C1.119)

ne a more worthy thing than God mai not ben concluded.
nor a more worthy thing-SUJET than God may NOT be concluded-P.PASSE

A more worthy thing than God cannot be concluded. (CMBOETH,433.C1.178)

The serpent seyde to the womman, “Nay, nay, ye shul nat dyen of deeth.”
The serpent-SUJET said-PRET to the woman, “No, no, you-SUJET shall NOT die of death.”

The serpent said to the woman: “No, no, you shall not die.” (CMCTPARS,296.C2b.


We are then confronted with two types of examples: examples where the main negation of the sentence is the negative adverbial particle ne, either used alone or conjointly with another negative element like not. In this case, ne is the head of Neg1P and not belongs to a second negative projection Neg2P which is lower in the structure (Neg1P-T-Neg2P) and where the head Neg is not realized but controlled by ne: negative concord then applies. Other examples display the structure where the main negation is not (note: ) which remains base-generated under Spec,Neg2P. As for Neg, it is not realized and controlled by ne anymore since it has disappeared. The grammaticalisation of modals and predominancy of not over ne then seem to be linked: in terms of Distributed Morphology, the head Neg2 is adjacent to T which merges with vModal. As a consequence, the linearization of the inserted lexical items is [T - NOT - vModal]; and yet, within the ME corpus, the main negation not does not precede the finite verb, whatever the type of verb.

It implies an impoverishment of some sort: with the disappearence of the functional node Neg1, there is the delinking of the second functional node; as it is positioned in between T and V, V can no longer be c-commanded by the T morpheme since there is no more adjacency of V and T: Fusion cannot be done, hence the disappearance of V2 sentences with lexical verbs.

During the ME period, we have underlined that two functional heads for modals coexist. Examples from the corpus have allowed us to note the [+neg] feature to be weaker since the cliticization of ne could also happen on lexical verbs (and not only modal verbs): we have found examples in all texts (except in Chaucer) and cliticization always happens when the verb begins by a vowel. This feature is also less strong because not tends to replace the negative adverbial particle ne which immediately preceded the finite verb (we refer the reader to Section 3.7).

ne Preche ʒe to nan mon ne naske ʒe of counseil.
NEG preach-IMP you-SUJET to no man nor NEG+ask-IMP you-SUJET of advice.

do not preach to any man nor ask for advice. (CMANCRIW,II.58.569)

... Žatt tu ʒet nunnderrstanndesst nohht, Forr žatt tu narrt nohht fullhtnedd,
... that you-SUJET yet NEG+understand-PRES NOT, for that you-SUJET NEG+is-PRES NOT encouraged-P.PASSE...

... the one that you do not understand yet because you are not encouraged... (CMORM,II, 241.2494)

Let us take some examples of epistemic and deontic modals again and analyze them.

Examples (349) and (350) are epistemic, Examples (351) and (352) are deontic.

And if žou wynus it mai not be Behald že sune, and žou mai se.
et si tu penses cela peut NOT źtre Regarde le soleil, et tu pourras voir.

And if you think it may not be behold the sun, and you may see. (a1400(a1325) Cursor 289)

Vr neghburs mai žam on vs wreke.
Our neighbours may themselves on us avenge.

Our neighbours may avenge themselves on us. (a1400(a1325) Cursor 11963)

Acc žu shallt findenn žatt min word, Eʒʒwhęr žęr itt iss ekedd, ...
But you-SUJET shall find that my word-SUJET, everywhere there it-SUJET is-PRES developed-P.PASSE, ...

But you shall find that my word, wherever it is developed, ... (CMORM, DED.L23.14)

And for he shal be verray penitent, he shal first biwaylen The synnes that he hath doon...
And for he-SUJET shall be very penitent-OBJET, he-SUJET shall first wash the sins-OBJET PL that he-SUJET has-PRES done...

And because he must be penitent, he shall wash his sins away... (CMCTPARS,288.C2b.17)

Let us first focus on the structure of infinitive clauses when the modal is epistemic with Example (349):

Tree 90

The semantic subject of be raises to Spec,TP to become the grammatical subject of mei, which has an epistemic reading. The modal is base-generated under T and satisfies its [-deont] feature with Mood within the domain of CP. On a semantic ground, this does not question the subject-predicate relation, it only questions the truth/falsehood of this relation.

Before giving the structure of deontic modals again, let us give some more examples which will help us to demonstrate that they are indeed raising verbs. In these examples, the object between square brackets.

and yf they knewen that thei shuld [no thinge] resceyue...
and if they-SUJET knew-PRET that they-SUJET should no thing-OBJET receive...

and they knew they should not receive anythinge... (CMAELR4,3.49)

for eauer me schal [že cheorl] polkin & pilien.
fro ever one-SUJET shall the slave-OBJET rob & plunder.

because the slave shall always be robbed and plundered. (CMANCRIW,II.69.773)

Žis zenne him to-delž and spret ine zuo uele deles žet onneaže, me may [hise] telle.
This sin-SUJET him-OBJET distributes-PRES and spreads-PRES in so well parts-PL that with difficulty, one-SUJET may theirs-OBJET tell.

This sin distributes and spreads him so that it is difficult to recognize theirs. (CMAYENBI,17.251)

ʒif žei wolde not be chastised, žei schulde [his loue] lese for euermore.
if they would NOT be chatised-P.PASSE, they-SUJET they should his love lost for ever more.

if they had not been chastised, they should not have lost his love for ever. (CMBRUT3,3.40)

for they ne kan [no conseil] hyde.
for they-SUJET NEG can no secret-OBJET hide.

because they cannot hide any secret. (CMCTMELI,224.C1.281)

... žat he louež or scholde [him] seruen.
... that he-SUJET loves or should him serve.

... that he loves or should serve him (CMEDVERN,248.363)

žt me schulde [katerine] bringe biuoren him.
that one-SUJET should Catherine-OBJET bring before him.

that Catherine should be brought before him. (CMKATHE,35.260)

These examples show that all these objects are semantically bound to the finite verbs, which proves that deontic modals are raising verbs like epistemic ones.

3.6.4. Consequences on the functional heads T and Mood

We do not really know whether the grammaticalisation of modal verbs and TO) took place before or after the loss of verbal morphology in ME, or whether this loss triggers the grammaticalisation of modals and TO. Yet, let us recall that CE still has the subjunctive mood, even if it has become rarer. Moreover, we have underlined that the loss of the -en morpheme both for infinitives and subjunctives has triggered the grammaticalisation of the particle TO (and preterite present verbs) which could play the role of modal head, that is “mood”, for the subjunctive, according to (62) ((62))“s analysis. So, some modals like SCULEN and WILLEN can have a past form but a conditional value, placing them within the irrealis sphere (note: ). Then, if a dissociation exists between morphological tense and syntactic tense, there is grammaticalisation of these very forms, where the morphological form becomes a modal form. Let us check if these examples confirm this statement.

“Though I wiste that neither God ne man ne sholde nevere knowe it, yet wolde I have desdayn for to do synne.”
“Though I-SUJET know-PRES that neither God nor man NEG should never know it-OBJET, yet would I-SUJET have disdain-OBJET FOR TO do sin-OBJET.”

“Although I know that neither God nor man should ever know it, Bien que je sache que ni Dieu ni l“homme ne devra jamais le savoir, however, I would never despise to sin.” (CMCTPARS,290.C2.94)

[“Although” takes roots in the irrealis, so sholde and wolde both belong to the irrealis sphere, their morphological forms are no longer a past one.]

And for as muche as a man may acquiten hymself biforn God by penitence in this world, and nat by tresor, therfore sholde he preye to God to yeve hym respit a while to biwepe and biwaillen his trespas.
And for as much as a-SUJET man-SUJET may fulfill himself-OBJET before God by penitence in this world, and NEG by treasure, therefore should he-SUJET pray to God TO give him-OBJET respite-OBJET a while TO regret and wail his death-OBJET.

And for as much as a man may fulfill before God through penitence, not treasure, he should therefore pray him to give him a moment of respite te regret and cry over his death. (CMCTPARS,291.C2.132)

[same thing as the preceding example, “for as much as” fixes the utterance into the irrealis.]

but, certes, he sholde suffren it in pacience as wel as he abideth the deeth of his owene propre persone.
but, certainly, he-SUJET should suffer it-OBJET in patience as well as he-SUJET waits-PRES the death-OBJET of his own propre person.

but it is certain that he should have to suffer it patiently, as he awaits his own death. (CMCTMELI,217.C1b.20)

[the time of the utterance is the present, but sholde does not have a past value; it has a prospective value, as the death to come, it is a “future” tense.]

The yeer of oure Lord 1391, the 12 day of March at midday, I wolde knowe the degre of the sonne.
The year of our Lord 1391, the 12 day of March at midday, I-SUJET would know the degree-OBJET of the sun.

In the year 1391 of our Lord, the twelfth day of March at midday, I woudl know the degree of the sun. (CMASTRO,669.C1.189)

[wolde has a conditional meaning (which implies here: if all the conditions are fulfilled, that very day, I will know it).]

Žu žohhtesst tatt itt mihhte wel Till mikell frame turrnenn, ʒiff Ennglissh follc, forr lufe off Crist, Itt wollde ʒerne lernenn & follʒhenn itt...
You-SUJET thought-PRET that it-SUJET might well till great from translate, if English people-SUJET, for love of Christ, it-OBJET would willingly learn & follow it-OBJET...

You thought that it could be wholly translated if the English people had willingly learnt and followed it fro the love of Christ... (CMORM,DED.1.5)

[for this example, the form mihhte belongs to the past, but we can question wollde, because it is introduced by “if” which expresses a condition.]

... Forr žatt he wollde uss waterrkinn Till ure fulluhht hallʒhenn, Žurrh žatt he wollde ben himm sellf Onn erže i waterr fullhtnedd.
... For that he-SUJET would us-OBJET water-follower till our baptism consacrate, because that he-SUJET would be him-OBJET self on earth in water baptised-P.PASSE.

... so that he would consacrate us at our christening because he would himself be christened on earth and in water. (CMORM,DED.L171.44)

[in this example, “for” roots the utterance in the irrealis sphere, the two of forms of wollde are only morphological past forms.]

... hit walde to swiše hurten ower heorte ant maken ou swa offered žet ʒe muhten sone, as God forbeode, fallen i desesperance, ...
... it-SUJET would too much hurt your heart-OBJET and make you-SUJET so offered-P.PASSE that you-SUJET might soon, as God-SUJET forbidden-PRET, fall in despair, ...

... it would hurt your heart too much and expose yourself, as a consequence you might become desesperate... (CMANCRIW,I.46.65)

[the forms walde and muhten both belong to the irrealis.]

“hwerof chalengest žu me, že appel žt ich loki on is for bode me to eoten, naut to bi halden”, žus walde eve inoche raše habben i onswered.
“whereof defies-PRES you-SUJET me-OBJET, the apple-SUJET that I-SUJET look-PRES on is-PRES forbidden-P.PASSE me-OBJET TO eat, NOT TO contemplate”, thus would Eve-SUJET enough quick have answered-P.PASSE.

“What are you challenging me of, the apple I am looking at, I am forbidden to eat it but no to look at it”, it is how Eve would have quickly liked to answer. (CMANCRIW,II.44.405)

[walde has a conditional meaning according to the context; moreover, it is the complex structure MD + HAVE + V + EN, where walde functions as a modal, but the tense of the sentence is expressed through HAVE + EN, as in contemporary English.]

forži wes ihaten on godes laʒe žt put were iwriʒen eauer. & ʒef ani were vnwriʒen & beast feolle žer in he hit schulde ʒelden.
because was-PRET called-P.PASSE on god“s law that holes-SUJET were-PRET hidden-P.PASSE ever & if any was-PRET no hidden-P.PASSE & beast-SUJET fell-PRET therein he-SUJET it-OBJET should give back.

because God“s law said that the holes were still hidden, and if none of them were found and a beast fell in one of them, it had to be given back. (CMANCRIW,II.47.440)

[here again, “if” roots the utterance displaying schulde in the irrealis sphere, giving a conditional meaning to it.]

According to the texts, the two structures for modal verbs coexist whereas the morphological marks for the subjunctive do not appear anymore, since they merge with the morphological marks for the present. Then the context will help us know if we are dealing with Mood [+irrealis] or not.

Like in OE, ME has two tenses: present ([-past]) and past ([+past]). Once again, morphology will tell us the tense of the finite verb. But unlike OE, morphology is less marked since we can only find the 2nd person singular and plural inflections (present and past) and sometimes the plural inflection. There is no vowel alternation anymore for modal verbs between the infinitive and the present form, the only vowel alternation remaining is between the present and past form. Yet, as Examples (361) to (369) have shown, a past form does not necessarily have a past value.

The following examples illustrate the present forms of (shall, mei and moot) and the past forms of (walde/wollde, mihhte, cuže/koude, shollde and must).

For uh an schal halde žuttere efter žet heo best mei wiš hire seruin žeo inre.
For each one-SUJET shall support the whole to get that they best may with their accomplish this inside.

Because each of them must support the others so that they can inwardly accomplish this. (CMANCRIW,I.44.26)

“Thanne moot it nedis be that verray blisfulnesse is set in sovereyn God.”
“Then must it-SUJET necessarily be that very blissfulness-SUJET is-PRES set-P.PASSIF in sovereign God.”

“The the real blissfulness must necessarily set into the sovereign God.” (CMBOETH,432.C1.148)

he cuže ben Himm ane bi himm sellfenn.
he-SUJET could be him-OBJET one by him self.

he could finally be on his own. (CMORM,I,26.314)

By thise resons that I have seid unto yow, and by manye othere resons that I koude seye, I graunte yow that richesses been goode to hem...
By these reasons-PL that I-SUJET have-PRES said-P.PASSE unto you, and by many other reasons-PL that I-SUJET could say, I-SUJET promise-PRES you-OBJET that riches-PL are-PRES good to them...

For all the reasons I said to you, and for many more that I could add, I promise you that the riches are good for them... (CMCTMELI,233.C1.623)

These examples allow us to notice two things: first, there is a morphological standardization of past forms of SHALL, WILL and CAN; secondly, MUST still has two morphological forms, but only the past one will remain in CE (with a present meaning). So, we have the following syntactic structures for the second person of the present and past:

Tree 91 Tree 92
Tree 93 Tree 94

If we compare the verbal forms of structures (374) and (374.b), we can notice that there is a vowel alternation between the present and past forms of OWEN, CUNNEN, ŠURVEN, SCULEN and WILLEN. But it is no longer the case for MOTEN et MOWE. Their only other morphological mark is the present and past plural endings, which is identical for all the persons: -en, but this ending is not always identified. Moreover, this mark, as well as the infinitive and subjunctive ones are also identical, as a consequence, they disappear. But, still, we can question whether a past morphological form is a past tense. When we deal with the perfective aspect, we shall see that we can partly answer this question. However, the choice between past and conditional will always be context-dependent.

Now, what about the functional head Mood which has been introduced in the last chapter?

As we have mentioned it, the indicative and subjunctive morphological endings become identical, and for the preterite presents, we have three types of verbs: preterite presents whose ending is identical for both present indicative and subjunctive, preterite presents which do not have a subjunctive form and verbs whose present indicative and subjunctive are different. In all these cases, past subjunctive does no longer exist (see Appendix A for more details). In the following table, the root vowel is italicized and the ending in bold.

Verbe -irréel sg-pl +irréel sg-pl
Formes identiques OWEN owe/ owe(n) owe/(owen)
DURREN dar/– dar/–
MOTEN mote/mote(n) mote/moten
Pas de subjonctif DUGEN dowe/dowen
Formes différentes UNNEN an/– unnen/–
CUNNEN can/cunnen cunne/cunnen
ŠURFEN žarf/žurfon žurveurven
SCULEN shal/shulen shule/shulen
MOWE mei/mugen mowe/mowen
WILLEN wil/wilen wille/willen

This table highlights two things: in ME, a functional head Mood exists, which is only realized in the singular by now (for verbs having distinct forms). For the other verbs, it will depend on the context to know whether it is an indicative or a subjunctive form. But, above all, it means that as the subjunctive mood disappears morphologically, the position Mood is left empty for epistemis modals. Let us take some examples.

... mihte, žet ich maʒe don, wisdom, žet ich cunne don, luue, žet ich wulle don al žet že is leouest.
... might FOR TO serve you-OBJET, wisdom FOR TO satisfy you-OBJET, love and will TO do it-OBJET; power, that I-SUJET can do, wisdom, that I-SUJET can do, love, that I-SUJET will do all-OBJET that this-OBJET is-PRES beloved.

... the might to serve you, the wisdom to satisfy you and the love and will to do it; the power I can use, the wisdom I can have, and love (which is everything) I want to give. (CMANCRIW,I.62.200)

... Butt iff itt shule tacnenn, Whatt weorrc himm is žurrh Drihhtin sett To forženn her onn eorže.
... But if it-SUJET shall mean, what work him-OBJET is-PRES through Lord set-P.PASSE TO accomplish here on earth.

except that he has to say what work is set by God so that he can accomplish iti on earth. (CMORM,I,61.559)

ant alle aʒen hire in an eauer to halden.
and all-SUJET ought them-OBJET in an ever TO hold.

and that all should always hold it. (CMANCRIW,I.44.34)

ne ne žurue naut, ne ne ahʒe naut halden on ane wise že vtterre riwle...
nor NEG need NOT, nor NEG ought NOT hold in one way the whole rule-OBJET...

neither need it nor should it hold the whole rule in any way... (CMANCRIW,I.44.36)

but that schal he nat fynde in tho thynges that I have schewed that ne mowen nat yeven that thei byheeten?
but that-OBJET shall he-SUJET NOT find in the things-PL that I-SUJET have-PRES showed-P.PASSE that NEG might NOT give that they promise?

but does he have to find that in the things I have showed him that he cannot give what they are promising? (CMBOETH,430.C1.83)

that right as maladies been cured by hir contraries, right so shul men warisshe werre by vengeaunce.
that right as illnesses-SUJET PL was-PRET healed-P.PASSE by their opposites-PL, right so should one cure war by vengeance.

as all illnesses are cured by their opposites, one should likewise cure war by vengeance. (CMCTMELI,218.C2.62)

Example (376) illustrates the [-irrealis] mood, as for Examples (377) to (381), they illustrate the [+rrealis] mood. Let us now give the structures of (376) (now numbered (382)) and (381) (now numbered (383)) to exemplify our analysis.

Tree 95
Tree 96

The preceding examples underline that the [-irrealis] and [+irrealis] features of the functional head Mood are present in ME, regardless of the morphological marks. In (46) ((46)), the author underlines the fact that the “modal” past firmly sets at that period. Then, even if the subjunctive ending is lacking, the [+irrealis] feature of the Mood head exists, as Examples (361) to (369) have exemplified. And this fact still continues in CE. The perfective aspect HAVE + EN

Let us first define aspect:

General term for verbal categories that distinguish the status of events, etc. in relation to specific periods of time, as opposed to their simple location in the present, past, or future. (...) I have read the paper means that, at the moment of speaking, the reading has been completed: it is therefore present in tense but perfect in aspect. ((44) ((44)))

By the end of the OE period, corresponding to the appearance of the epistemic preterite presents, we noticed the less common use of aspect in the corpora ((52) ((52)) and (67) ((67))) motivating then the presence of the functional head Mood for epistemic modals and aspect. However, in the very late OE period (around the XIIth c.), aspect appears again, but syntactically lower in the structure.

This fact continues on in ME, and we have found many examples of structures displaying MD + HAVE + EN (the modals are either epistemic or deontic), where the perfective aspect reflects a temporal landmark, as is the case in CE.

He moghte hafe boghte vs agayne on ožer manere.
he-SUJET might have bought us-OBJET again on other manner.

He might have bought it from us somehow or other. (CMEDTHOR,43.631)

ženne we mihten more han loued vre buggere žen vre makere;
then we-SUJET might more have loved our buyer than our maker;

then we might have loved more our buyer that oiur maker; (CMEDVERN,256.691)

sche cowd or ellys mygth a schewyd as sche felt.
she-SUJET could or else might have showed as she-SUJET felt-PRET.

she could, or at least might, have showed what she felt. (CMKEMPE,39.871)

he wolde sone a revenged us.
he-SUJET would soon have revenged us-OBJET.

he would have soon revenged us. (CMMALORY,32.1005)

for haddest thow not shewed me that syght I shold have passed my sorow.
for had-PRET you-SUJET NOT showed me-OBJET2 that sight-OBJET1 I should have surpassed my sorrow-OBJET.

because if you had not showed me this sight, I should have surpassed my sorrow. (CMMALORY,66.2249)

Here are some examples of structures for epistemic ((384)) and deontic ((388)) modals.

Tree 97
Tree 98

These two examples demonstrate that Aspect is now to be found under a specific functional head which is different from the head Mood, but we shall not go into detail for now.

3.7. Syntax and negation

During the ME period, not prevails over ne even if ne does not disappear totally in early ME. The predominance of not allows us to underline the scope of the negation when it concerns epistemic or deontic modals.

3.7.1. Negative concord and Neg criterion ?

In the last chapter, we underlined the two phenomena of negative concord (when there are two negative elements within a single sentence, they do not cancel each other out but they express a single negation) and Neg criterion (every negative head must be in a head-head relation with a negative operator within its minimal research domain). But in ME, can we still talk about these two processes? The following examples illustrate that point: as in OE, there is still negative concord when the principal negation of the sentence remains the negative adverbial particle ne; but when the principal negation becomes not, the process of negative concord tends to disappear but Neg criterion does not, since the relation with a covert negative operator takes place whenever not is the only negation of the sentence.

Ne munnde he nęfre letenn himm Žurrh rodepine cwellenn;
... NEG remembered he-SUJET never let him-SUJET through the torment of the cross kill;

... He never remembered that he had let him be executed on the cross; (CMORM,I,68.612)

... forrži žatt ʒho Ne maʒʒ himm nowwhar findenn.
... therefore that you-SUJET NEG may him-OBJET nowhere finden.

... therefore you cannot find him anywhere. (CMORM,I,42.435)

... ža ne cušen ha neauer stutten hare cleppen.
... then NEG could they-SUJET never answer his call-OBJET.

... they could never be able to answer his call. (CMANCRIW,II.59.589)

& žach žurch me ne schulde hit neauer beon iupped.
& then because me NEG should it-SUJET never be opened-P.PASSE.

an then, because of me, it should never be opened. (CMANCRIW,II.70.795)

thanne ne mowen neither of hem ben parfit, so as eyther of hem lakketh to othir.
than NEG might neither of them-SUJET be perfect, so as either of them-SUJET find fault with-PRES to other.

... none of them could be perfect, so that none of them would find fault with the other. (CMBOETH,432.C2.172)

and certes, that ne may nevere been accompliced;
and certainly, that-SUJET NEG may never be accomplished-P.PASSE;

and that certainly cannot be accomplished; (CMCTMELI,222.C1.201)

Besides the examples that can be found with the particle ne, we can also find some where ne is used conjointly with not (see the next section) or a negative element different from not (Example (395)). Both negative concord and Neg criterion apply. As for the OE period, let us illustrate this in ME with Structures (397.b) (which refers to Example (391) for early ME) and (398.b) (refering to Example (396) for late ME):

Ne munnde he nęfre letenn himm Žurrh rodepine cwellenn;
... NEG remembered he-SUJET never let him-SUJET through the torment of the cross kill;

... He never remembered that he had let him be executed on the cross; (CMORM,I,68.612)

Tree 99
and certes, that ne may nevere been accompliced;
and certainly, that-SUJET NEG may never be accomplished-P.PASSE;

and that certainly cannot be accomplished; (CMCTMELI,222.C1.201)

Tree 100

For both examples, the analysis is the following: the Neg criterion establishes a relation between Neg and T, then there is morphological merge between Neg and T, and finally there is an overt merge of ne with the modals after Vocabulary Insertion.

3.7.2. Coexistence of ne and not ne and not

In ME, the coexistence of ne and not is more frequent, even if not prevails over ne. As we have just mentioned, when they coexist within a single sentence, they are to be analyzed as occurrences of negative concord and Neg criterion (as in OE). The following examples illustrate the existence of a second functional head Neg2 which is lower in the structure than Neg1: the latter hosts ne, Neg2, not. Their structure is then:

Tree 101
& we ne maʒe naut žolien žt že-SUJET wint of anword beore-PRES us-OBJET towart heouene.
& we-SUJET NEG may NOT suffer that the wind of calumny takes ustoward heaven.

& we cannot bear the wind of calumny to take us to heaven. (CMANCRIW,II.100.1203)

ne žarf žu naut dreden žt attri neddre of helle.
NEG need you-SUJET NOT dread the poison adder-OBJET of hell.

you need not fear the poison of the adder of hell. (CMANCRIW,II.108.1355)

for he ne kan noght conseille but after his owene lust and his affeccioun.
for he-SUJET NEG can NOT advise but fir his own lust and his affection.

for he is unable to give advice but for his own pleasure and affection. (CMCTMELI,223.C2.251)

Certes, quod she, the wordes of the phisiciens ne sholde nat han been understonden in thys wise.
Certainly, said-PRET she-SUJET, the words-SUJET PL of the physicians-PL NEG should NOT have been-P.PASSE understood-P.PASSE in this way.

Certainly, she said, the words of the physicians do not have to be understood this way. (CMCTMELI,226.C2.360)

And therfore seith Salomon, “The wratthe of God ne wol nat spare no wight...”
And therefore said-PRES Salomon-SUJET, “The wrath of God-SUJET NEG will NOT spare no creature...”

And Salomon then said: “The wrath of God will not spare any creature...” (CMCTPARS,291.C1.119)

Let us take Example (402) and give its structure (now numbered (405.a)).

for he ne kan noght conseille but after his owene lust and his affeccioun.
for he-SUJET NEG can NOT advise but fir his own lust and his affection.

for he is unable to give advice but for his own pleasure and affection. (CMCTMELI,223.C2.251)

Tree 102

Examples (406) to (411.a) are interesting because they display the negative adverb not which is generated (in situ) higher than the negative adverbial particle ne. Still, can we claim the existence of a third functional head Neg, or is this adverb the Spec of de Neg1,P, or is this adverb an Adv head of an AdvP adjoined above de Neg1,P? We point out that this structure is only found in two texts from the first half of the ME period.

All wollde he shędenn fra žatt žing Žatt he nohht off ne wisste.
All would he-SUJET hide from that thing that he-SUJET NOT nothing NEG knew-PRET.

He wanted to hide anything about it which he knew nothing. (CMORM,I,106. 910)

Swa žatt he nohht ne cuže ʒet Gastlike lare findenn Inn all žatt alde laʒheboc Žatt he wass lęredd...
So that he-SUJET NOT NEG could yet piously knowledge-OBJET find in all the old book of law that he-SUJET was-PRET taught-P.PASSE...

So that he could not piously find the wisdom yet in that old book of law that was taught... (CMORM,II,249.2530)

Žohh žatt itt nohht ne shollde ben O faderr hallfe streonedd...
Tough that it-SUJET NOT NEG should be of father name get-P.PASSE...

although it should not be gained in the name of the father... (CMORM,I,68.615)

If we have a closer look at Example (406), it is noteworthy that another adverb off is adjoined between nohht and ne. This example then dismisses the hypothesis of a Spec,NegP: an adverb can only be adjoined to a maximal projection (which is not the case here). It also rules out the hypothesis of a third negative functional head: this negative operator is no longer within the minimal domain of search of the head ne. As a consequence, this particular not is an adjunct to the left periphery of Neg1P.

Tree 103

Let us illustrate with Example (407), now numbered (410.a).

Swa žatt he nohht ne cuže ʒet Gastlike lare findenn Inn all žatt alde laʒheboc Žatt he wass lęredd...
So that he-SUJET NOT NEG could yet piously knowledge-OBJET find in all the old book of law that he-SUJET was-PRET taught-P.PASSE...

So that he could not piously find the wisdom yet in that old book of law that was taught... (CMORM,II,249.2530)

Tree 104

Then, let us illustrate this structure with Example (411.a) displaying the verb WITEN which no longer belongs to the class of preterite present verbs in CE. This example allows us to highlight that this not is hierarchically higher than the head Neg1 and that it is an adjunct (like the adverb off).

All wollde he shędenn fra žatt žing Žatt he nohht off ne wisste.
All would he-SUJET hide from that thing that he-SUJET NOT nothing NEG knew-PRET.

He wanted to hide anything about it which he knew nothing. (CMORM,I,106.


Tree 105

In the texts we have chosen, we have not found other examples of this kind, where an adverb occurs between not and ne. not becomes the main negation

At the late ME period (for instance Chaucer), we can find examples where the main negation is now not: it will always follow the modal verb. Hence, Neg1 is no longer realized (even if some instances displaying both not and ne exist, but they are less and less numerous).

The serpent seyde to the womman, “Nay, nay, ye shul nat dyen of deeth.”
The serpent-SUJET said-PRET to the woman, “No, no, you-SUJET shall NOT die of death.”

The serpent said to the woman: “No, no, you shall not die.” (CMCTPARS,296.C2b.362)

Presumpcioun is whan a man undertaketh an emprise that hym oghte nat do, or elles that he may nat do;
Presumption is when a man undertakes-PRES an enterprise that him-OBJET doit NOT do, or else that he may NOT do;

Presumption is when a man undertakes something he should not, or cannot do; (CMCTPARS,300.C1.487)

therfore shal ye nat suffren that they serve yow for noght,
therefore shall you-SUJET NOT suffer that they-SUJET serve-PRES you-OBJET for nothing,

therefore you shall not suffer because they do not serve you, (CMCTMELI,226.C1.353)

... that every conseil that is affermed so strongly that it may nat be chaunged...
... that every advice that is-PRES claimed-P.PASSE so strongly it-SUJET may NOT be changed-P.PASSE ...

... that every advice so strongly claimed cannot be changed... (CMCTMELI,225.C1.317)

I seye thanne that ye shul fleen avarice, usynge youre richesses in swich manere that men seye nat that youre richesses been yburyed, ...
I-SUJET say-PRES then that you shall flee avarice, using your riches-PL in such manner that one-SUJET says-PRES NOT that your riches-SUJET PL are-PRES buried-P.PASSE, ...

I then sya that you must flee avarice through your riches so that they cannot be said to be buried, ... (CMCTMELI,234.C1.653)

In Examples (412), (413), (414) and (415), we assume not to be base-generated under the functional head Neg2 (cf Structure (409)). Neg1 being now covert, does it imply it no longer exists? For ME, we have explained there was a syntactic competition between two clause structures. In one of these structures, Neg1 (and Neg2) has a [+neg] feature; moreover, when Neg1 was overt, we were dealing with an OE structure and both negative concord and Neg criterion applied. The non-realization of this head Neg1, that is its diasappearance in terms of Distributed Morphology, would then imply that one of these two processes, i.e. negative concord, would disappear, or would not take this shape but the one of negative polarity items. The [+neg] feature of negation and modal verbs would then be less marked (there is no merge of not nor n“t with modal verbs in ME). The examples we have just mentioned would imply that fact. As for Example (416), it also shows that the negation not is indeed base-generated under Neg2 and the use of the dummy-DO has not occurred yet seeing that, at that period (and to a greater extent at the EME period), the finite verb can happen to be before not. When the dummy-DO is used, not will indeed be base-generated under Neg2 and [T-Neg2] will morphologically merge and not (and n“t) will cliticize onto DO and modals.

But, above all, the selection of not as the main negative head goes along with the grammaticalisation of preterite presents: they now are modal verbs, that is functional items.

Thus, we have the following points: ne + V et ne + V + not in OE, and now, V/MD + not in ME. The structure ne + V + not reminds us of the structure for the French negation (ne ... pas : “je ne comprends pas la question” (I don“t understand the question)); as for the structure V/MD + not it reminds us of the Contemporary French structure V + pas as in “j“ai pas vu le facteur aujourd“hui” (I didn“t see the postman today). Both in English and French, the negations not and pas are hierarchically below T. It would thus be relevant to claim that not is base-generated under the head Neg2 in ME, even if we can find negative adverbs to which Neg criterion could apply.

As the main negation is now not and as it immediately follows T (in the linear order), it could merge with modals. Yet, we have found no such examples in ME (i.e. contraction of the negation). Moreover, preterite present verbs such as sholde and wolde are now mainly used as irrealis forms, like the particle TO (see (62) ((62))). This is the result of the morphological loss of infinitive and subjunctive endings. But it is to be noticed that not can also immediately follow a finite lexical verb, even if there are some differences.

According to us, the following examples underline the fact that modals and verbs do not have the same syntactic position in ME, despite the position of the negation. We have two kinds of examples:

  1. imperative sentences (examples (417), (419) and (420)),

    Forget not thys, litel Lowys.
    Forget-IMP NEG this-OBJET, little Lowys.

    Do not forget this little Lowys. (CMASTRO,664.C2.59)

    ... forasmyche as his men wist it not,
    ... for as much as his men-SUJET PL knew-PRET it NEG,

    ... for as much as his men did not know it, (CMBRUT3,13.347)

    “Desmaye you not,” said the kyng,
    “Dismay-IMP you NEG ,” said-PRET the king-SUJET,

    “Do not dismay,” said the king, (CMMALORY,5.123)

    Syr" said Merlyn to Arthur," fyghte not with the swerde that ye had by myracle..."
    Sire," said-PRET Merlin-SUJET to Arthur,“Fight-IMP NEG with the sword you-SUJET had-PRET by miracle...”

    “Sire,” said Merlin to Arthur, " do not fight with the sword you miraculously got..." (CMMALORY,13.393)

  2. and negative sentences (examples (421) and (422)),

    and when thaye came to more aige it grevyd theym not.
    and when they-SUJET came-PRET to more possession it-SUJET grieved-PRET them-OBJET NEG.

    and when they gained more possessions, it did not grieve them. (CMEDMUND,164.23)

    And Merlion was so disgysed that kynge Arthure knewe hym nat,
    And Merlin-SUJET was-PRET so disguised-P.PASSE that king Arthur-SUJET knew-PRET him-OBJET NEG,

    And Merlin was so well disguised that King Arthur did not recognize him, (CMMALORY,30.939)

Why are these examples interesting? Imperative forms can only be found with lexical verbs in ME; and in negative sentences, a constituent, that is an object pronoun, can be inserted in between the finite lexical verb and the negation. Neither fact has been found for modals. As a syntactic consequence, a different position for lexical and modal verbs would exist. That is the reason why not is part of the grammaticalisation of modal verbs in ME.

Let us now take Examples (415) and (416) again and give their structures (they are now numbered (423.a) and (424.a)).

... that it may nat be chaunged for no condicioun, ...
... that it-SUJET may NOT be changed-P.PASSE for no condition, ...

... that this advice cannot be changed at any rate, ... (CMCTMELI,225. C1.317)

Tree 106
I seye thanne that ye shul fleen avarice, usynge youre richesses in swich manere that men seye nat that youre richesses been yburyed, ...
I-SUJET say-PRES then that you shall flee avarice, using your riches-PL in such manner that one-SUJET says-PRES NOT that your riches-SUJET PL are-PRES buried-P.PASSE, ...

I then say that you must flee avarice through your riches so that they cannot be said to be buried, ... (CMCTMELI,234.C1.653)

Tree 107

Our feeling is that when we find a deontic modal, the scope of the negation is on this modal because negation is generated above it.

Likewise, when we find an epistemic modal, we could believe the scope of the negation is first on the relation between the subject and the predicate, since epistemic reading belongs to the CP domain.

Let us have a look at examples we have already mentioned. Examples (425) and (426) display epistemic modals and Examples (427) and (428) deontic ones.


žough že fflame of the ffyre of love may not breke out so žat it may be seyn, ... (1472 Stonor 123 I 126.36)

hym shall not gayne.
him shall NEG gain.

it will not do him any good. (a1500(?a1300) Bevis(Cmb) p.83, textual note to 1583-1596)

ne a more worthy thing than God mai not ben concluded.
nor a more worthy thing-SUJET than God may NOT be concluded-P.PASSE

A more worthy thing than God cannot be concluded. (CMBOETH,433.C1.178)

The serpent seyde to the womman, “Nay, nay, ye shul nat dyen of deeth.”
The serpent-SUJET said-PRET to the woman, “No, no, you-SUJET shall NOT die of death.”

The serpent said to the woman: “No, no, you shall not die.” (CMCTPARS,296.C2b.


We could represent these for examples in the following way:


MAY NOT [že fflame of the fyre of love - breke out]


SHALL NOT [gayne - him]


[God] MAI NOT [ben concluded]


[You] SHUL NOT [dyen]

If we stick to syntax, the scope of the negation is on the predicative relation in Examples (429) and (430, but on the modals in Examples (431) and (432). If we now look at these examples from a semantic point of view, it coincides with syntax: in Examples (429) and (430, MAY and SHALL express the degree of implication of the speaker in the NOT/Subject-Predicate relation; whereas in Examples (431) and (432), MAI and SHUL negatively establish the relation between the subject and the predicate.

3.7.3. Negation and adverbs

We have just put forward that the predominance of the head Neg2 over the others would imply the loss of negative concord and/or Neg criterion. To that extent, does ME behave the same way? To analyze that, let us have a look at the distribution of negative constituents to stress out the presence or absence of these processes.

žatt ʒho Ne maʒʒ himm nowwhar findenn...
that you-SUJET NEG may him-OBJET nowhere find...

that you cannot find him anywhere... (CMORM,I,42.435)

swa summ itt wollde Godd, Ne mihhte nęfręr tęmenn.
so some-OBJET wolde-PRET God-SUJET, NEG might never tame.

So as God wanted, he could have never been tamed. (CMORM,I,23.294)

ne schule flesches fondunges namare ženne gastliche Meistri že neaure...
NEG shall fleshes fundations-SUJET PL no more then piously master you-OBJET never...

The fundations of the flesh shall never master you... (CMANCRIW,II.208.2989)

Edmodnesse ne mei beon neauer ful preiset.
Edmondness-SUJET NEG may be never fully praised-P.PASSE.

Edmodness coudl never be fully praised. (CMANCRIW,II.206.2966)

and certes, that ne may nevere been accompliced;
and certainly, that-SUJET NEG may never be accomplished-P.PASSE;

and that certainly cannot be accomplished; (CMCTMELI,222.C1.201)

For certes, thyng that nevere hadde lyf may nevere quykene;
For certainly, thing-SUJET that never had-PRET life-OBJET may never rise;

For it is certain that a thing that had never lived can never rise; (CMCTPARS,293.C2.238)

For certes, sire, oure Lord Jhesu Crist wolde nevere have descended to be born of a womman, if alle wommen hadden been wikke.
For certainly, sire, our lord Jesus Christ-SUJET would never have came down-P.PASSE TO be born-P.PASSE of a woman, if all women-SUJET PL had-PRET been-P.PASSE wicked.

For it is certain that our lord Jesus Christ would never have come amongst us to be born out of woman if all women had been wicked. (CMCTMELI,220.C2.135)

For right as the body of a man may nat lyven withoute the soule, namoore may it lyve withouten temporeel goodes.
For right as the body of a man-SUJET may NOT live without the soul, no more may it-SUJET live without temporal goods-PL.

As the body of a man cannot live without soul, he cannot live without temporal goods either. (CMCTMELI,232.C2.604)

Examples (433) to (437) are illustrations of the negative concord and Neg criterion, as in OE. In Examples (438) and (439), the adverb nevere is the only negation of the sentence, hence the main negation. Moreover, this adverb, like not, immediately follows the modal verb: we can then deduce that that adverb is base-generated under the functional head Neg2. As for Example (440), the main negation is namoore.

As the adverb is a functional head, there is Agree between this head and Neg2.

3.7.4. Negative polarity?

As far as negative polarity is concerned, we have found very few examples from 1350 to 1450, that is late ME, which implies that negative concord does not apply any longer at that period.

ne žey schulle not apele fro eny vnrytful dom;
nor they-SUJET shall NEG call from any unrightful realm;

nor shall they call any unrightful kingdom; (CMAELR3,57.986)

& cramme it riʒt wel so žat že hole skyn be not I-hurte with eny hot žyng žat schal be y-layd žer-to.
& cram-IMP it-OBJET right well so that the perfect skin-SUJET is-PRES NEG hurt-P.PASSE with any hot thing that shall be laid there to.

and cram it weel so that the skin is not damaged by something hot that could be laid unto it. (CMHORSES,111.259)

and he seide, “If eny man seekith not the Lord God of Israel, diʒe he, fro the leeste til to the meeste, fro man til to womman.”
and he-SUJET said-PRET, “if any man-SUJET seeks-PRES NEG the lord God of Israel-OBJET, dies-PRES he-SUJET, from the smallest to the biggest, from man to woman.”

and he said: “if no man seeks the God of Israel, he shall die, from the smallest to the biggest, from man to woman.” (CMPURVEY,I,22.1045)

žai er not stirred for any worde žat man may say.
they-SUJET are-PRES NEG governed-P.PASSE for any word that man-SUJET may say.

they are not governed by any word that man can say. (CMROLLEP,112.844)

Even if they are very few, these examples show that any is a negative polarity item from late ME. And perhaps it is responsible for the loss of negative concord at that period: if negative polarity items expressing negation conjointly with not (semi negation + negation) exist, it means that the two negations do cancel each other out and negative concord does not exist anymore.

3.8. Adverbs and functional heads

Let us recall for the reader the adverb hierarchy we established for OE, following (12) ((12)):


[sweotole/sweotollice clearly, precisely, fullice perfectly, fully, gewislicost certainly, surely, gerisenlice honorably, conveniently, huru yet, certainly, openlicor obviously, hluttorlice sincerely, clearly, rihtlice right, well, smealice precisely, subtly MoodEvidential [eft again, nu now, iu precedingly, eac since T(Past) [ža/žonne then, nu now, teowardlice towards T(Future) [nede necessarily, aninga willingly ModNecessity [eaš willingly, lustlice willingly ModVolitional [swa thus, consequently ModObligation [hioweslice? informally AspHabitual [eft again, gelomlice frequently AspRepetitive(I) [eft again, gelomlice frequently AspFrequentative(I) [aninga rapidly AspCelerative(I) [emb before, after, iu precedingly, syššan since, now, then, eac? since T(Anterior) [get yet, again, gen already, now, again, swa thus, consequently AspContinuative [a/(n)ęfre never, always, simble always, constantly AspPerfect[ęr before, once AspRetros- pective [sona soon, sel/selust soon, hrędlicor suddenly AspProximative [leng long AspDurative [neah near, almost AspProspective [fullice perfectly, completely AspSg.Completive(I) [wel well, sel/selust soon, geara formerly, once Voice [aninga rapidly, geara formerly, once AspCelerative(II) [fullice perfectly, completely AspSg.Completive(II) [eft again, gelomlice frequently AspRepetitive(II) [eft again, gelomlice frequently AspFrequentative(II)]]...

and let us see if new functional, that is new modal, heads appear in ME.

Compared to OE, we have not found great differences in use concerning adverbs: there are still lots of time, place and manner adverbs, and the hierarchy previously establish does not change. However, unlike OE, we have found more instances of modality adverbs, particularly in texts from the late ME period (Chaucer).

ant forži mot vh mon neodeliche ham holden.
and therefore must each one-SUJET necessarily them-OBJET hold.

and that is why one must necessarily hold them. (CMANCRIW,I.46.60)


The first cause is

this: truste wel that alle the conclusions that han be founde, or ellys possibly might be founde in so noble an instrument...
The first cause-SUJET is-PRES this: trust-IMP well that all the conclusions that have-PRES been found-P.PASSE, or else possibly might be found in so noble an instrument...

The first reason is the following: believe rightly that all the conclusions that have been found, or could have been found in such a noble instrument... (CMASTRO,662.C1.9)

And as verraily shalt thou fynde upon thin est orisonte thin ascendent.
And as really shall you-SUJET find upon yours is horizon your ascent-OBJET.

and you shall certainly find your (own) ascent on the horizon. (CMASTRO,671.


and certes also mote we graunten that suffisaunce, power, noblesse, reverence, and gladnesse be oonly diverse by names...
and certainly also must we-SUJET grant that smugness, power, nobleness, reverence and joy-SUJET are-PRES only differentby names-PL...

and we obviously have to admit that smugness, power, nobleness, reverence and joy are only different in name... (CMBOETH,429.C2.50)

It moot nedly ben so, quod I.
It-SUJET must necessarily be so, said-PRET I-SUJET.

It should necessarily be so, said I. (CMBOETH,429.C2.53)

And therfore resonably may be seyd of Jhesu in this manere...
And therefore reasonably may be said-P.PASSE of Jesus in this manner...

And it can reasonably told about Jesus in this way... (CMCTPARS,294.C2.273)

What can be added to this hierarchy (445)? Only one functional head is to be added: ModPossibility which goes along with ModNecessity. Because of a more important use of modality adverbs, preterite presents grammaticalise (note: ) to become modal verbs.

3.9. Summary of the chapter

In Section 3.1, we presented what is called the Middle English language, that is, the English language spoken and written in Great-Britain between 1150 and 1550, as well as the different influences this language underwent throughout this period of time.

In Section 3.2, we then recalled what preterite presents were, as well as their syntactic structure in OE.

In Section 3.3, we highlighted the syntactic changes peculiar to this class of verbs: when they are lexical, they are base-generated under V, but when they are semi-lexical, that is, taking an infinitive clause as a complement, they are raising verbs base-generated under the specific syntactic position vModal. As a consequence, we can say that they function as causative verbs. The other syntactic change is the reparametering of the canonical form of the OE sentence: from SOV to SVO, which contributes to the process of grammaticalisation of preterite present verbs.

In Section 3.4, we dealt with grammaticalisation. We first gave a definition of it and then we stressed the importance it had concerning the syntax of preterite presents. Moreover, in the light of Distributed Morphology, we noticed this process was morphologically visible on modals, but also on TO and on causative verbs.

In Section 3.5, we focused on infinitive structures which allowed us to understand the morphological impoverishment of non finite verbs; that also reflected the grammaticalisation of TO and the status of preterite present verbs: from semi-lexical to functional items, and thus they have a structure different from the lexical verbs. We have analyzed the structure of causative verbs as well during that period, because they grammaticalised, from a lexical V to a semi-lexical v.

In Section 3.6, we focused on modality. We noticed that epistemic modals were more numerous in ME and that we still had two functional heads for them, that is vModal and Mood, which governs epistemic modals. Moreover, infinitive structures allowed us to claim more strongly that both epistemic and deontic modals were raising verbs.

In Section 3.7, we highlighted the fact that negative concord still existed in ME, as well as Neg criterion when the main negation of a sentence was ne. Yet, then not became the main negation, which is linked to grammaticalisation, by the end of the ME period, there is no longer negative concord: it then questions the scope of negation over epistemic and deontic modals. We also put forward that the coexistence of ne and not implied the syntactic existence of a second functional head Neg. Finally, despite the disappearance of negative concord, we noticed that the use of negative polarity remained marginal by the end of the ME period; still these two phenomena are linked.

Finally, in Section 3.8, we stressed the more important use of modality adverbs (compared to OE), which is also linked to the process of grammaticalisation of modal verbs.

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