Linguistics and Philosophy

, 32:279

On the interaction of aspect and modal auxiliaries

Research Article

DOI: 10.1007/s10988-009-9061-6

Cite this article as:
Hacquard, V. Linguist and Philos (2009) 32: 279. doi:10.1007/s10988-009-9061-6


This paper discusses the interaction of aspect and modality, and focuses on the puzzling implicative effect that arises when perfective aspect appears on certain modals: perfective somehow seems to force the proposition expressed by the complement of the modal to hold in the actual world, and not merely in some possible world. I show that this puzzling behavior, originally discussed in Bhatt (1999, Covert modality in non-finite contexts) for the ability modal, extends to all modal auxiliaries with a circumstantial modal base (i.e., root modals), while epistemic interpretations of the same modals are immune to the effect. I propose that implicative readings are contingent on the relative position of the modal w.r.t. aspect: when aspect scopes over the modal (as I argue is the case for root modals), it forces an actual event, thereby yielding an implicative reading. When a modal element scopes over aspect, no actual event is forced. This happens (i) with epistemics, which structurally appear above tense and aspect; (ii) with imperfective on a root modal: imperfective brings in an additional layer of modality, itself responsible for removing the necessity for an actual event. This proposal enables us to solve the puzzle while maintaining a standardized semantics for aspects and modals.


ModalityAspectEventActuality entailments

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of MarylandCollege ParkUSA