How to Say Ought in Foreign: The Composition of Weak Necessity Modals

  • Kai von Fintel
  • Sabine Iatridou
Part of the Studies in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory book series (SNLT, volume 75)


In this article, we draw attention to the fact that what English expresses by the use of the weak necessity modal ought, many other languages express by combining a strong necessity modal with the morphology that appears in the consequent of a counterfactual conditional. On the hypothesis that there should be a compositional form-to-meaning mapping, we explore the semantics of weak necessity modals and propose how to derive this semantics from the combination of a strong necessity modal and counterfactual marking. Specifically, building on the semantics for weak necessity modals proposed by Sloman, we propose that weak necessity modals are the result of the promotion of a secondary ordering source of a strong necessity modal. This meta-linguistic operation is signaled or effected by counterfactual marking. The fact that it is a strong necessity modal that is counterfactually marked crosslinguistically, shows that even with weak necessity modals the quantificational force is universal.


Modals epistemic deontic goal-oriented counterfactuals wishes ordering source 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kai von Fintel
    • 1
  • Sabine Iatridou
    • 1
  1. 1.Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyUSA

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