lemÌc. Lemizh grammar and dictionary

Unit 13. Modal verbs

‘Will to Truth’ do you call it, you wisest ones, that which impels you and makes you ardent?
Will for the thinkableness of all being: thus do I call your will!
All being would you make thinkable: for you doubt with good reason whether it can already be thought.

(Friedrich Nietzsche. Also sprach Zarathustra)

Dependent clauses

A dependent clause (in English and other languages) is, roughly speaking, a sentence fragment that cannot stand on its own, but nevertheless contains a verb and possibly some other parts such as a subject, objects or adverbials. We have already seen dependent clauses in passing (‘I want to hear Socrates’, ‘a man speaking to a child about elephants’). Here are some more examples:

Dependent clauses are also called subordinate clauses, but we will reserve the term ‘subordinate’ for Lemizh sentence grammar (Rules One and Two).

Depending on the grammatical form of the verb, we distinguish non-finite and finite clauses. Non-finite clauses are formed with infinitives (‘[to] write’), gerunds (‘writing’) or participles (‘speaking, spilt’); finite clauses are introduced with conjunctions (‘that’), relative or interrogative pronouns (‘who’), or relative or interrogative adverbs (‘when, why’).

We will start the last quarter of this tutorial with a discussion of a type of verbs that frequently employs non-finite clauses, namely the modals (‘can, may, shall, will, must’). The next three units are dedicated to non-finite clauses, clauses introduced with conjunctions, and those introduced with pronouns or adverbs, respectively.

Overview of the modals

Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a modal verb in Lemizh. The grammar treats the verbs ‘can, may, shall, must’ just like all others. Nonetheless, the five verbs discussed here were chosen with some care: they translate the most important English modals, as well as ‘want’, which plays a similar role. Even more importantly, they merit some discussion because their translation depends on their nominative object. To be accurate, it depends on the relationship between their nominative object and their dependent verb’s (i.e. their accusative object’s) agent:

VerbGlossDescribesTranslation. Nominative object is
a. the same as the agent of the accusative objectb. someone elsec. undefined/irrelevant
opportunityà.opportunityopportunity, chanceI give myself the chance to …You give me the chance to …I can / have the opportunity to … (Ital potere)
allowà.allowpermissionI allow myself to …You allow me to …I am allowed to / I may …
làxt.wantwishI want to …You want me to …People want me to …
Ràks.shouldrecommendation, suggestionI should … (in my opinion)You recommend / suggest me to …I should …
mustà.mustnecessityI must / have to … (in my opinion)
[‘A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do’]
You tell me / order me to …I must / have to / It is necessary for me to …

The sender is the one who gives the opportunity, who gives/utters the permission, who utters/thinks the wish, who utters/makes the suggestion, who makes something necessary … Well, you should already have a pretty good idea of how the nominative works. The recipient of the wish, the suggestion, etc., is of course in the dative, and the wish or suggestion itself is in the accusative.

the one who wishes somethingthe wishthe recipient of the wish

However, it is often clearer to include the recipient in the accusative object, as we will see in a moment.

A long time ago we learned that infinitives and gerunds correspond to the inner factive, just like the main verb in most sentences (unless there is a reason to topicalise some other case, but let’s start simple). This comes in handy now, because we can translate the dependent verb, which is an infinitive (‘I can do …’, ‘I have to do …’), with an inner factive, and the dependent clause like a whole (finite) sentence.

But note that the accusative object of a modal verb isn’t necessarily an action; it can also be a thing or living being as in ‘Zarathustra wants wine’.

a. The nominative object is the same as the agent of the accusative object

It is usually enough to name the nominative object of the modal verb once. Rule Six allows us, no, forces us, to omit the agent of the accusative object (who is the same person) most of the time. An agentive of the modal indicates an intention of the sender, in contrast to a non-agentive form.

  láxt zaraqyhtè dràwy.Zarathustra wants to dance. [It is his decision.]
want-fact1 Zarathustra-acc-nom2a dance-fact-acc2.
mustà veè speakày.I must speak in my opinion. [I haven’t got any choice.]
must-fact1 PIn−2-nom-nom2 speak-fact-acc2.

In ambiguous situations, if the agent might be someone else, we can use a pronoun.

  wantá eaglefondleáy vèe.The eagle wants to fondle someone.
want-fact1 eagle-acc-nom2a fondle-fact-acc2 PIn−2-nom-nom3a.
wantá eaglefondleày vèi.The eagle wants to be fondled.
want-fact1 eagle-acc-nom2a fondle-fact-acc2 PIn−2-nom-dat3.

b. The nominative object is someone else

  With the eagle as the agent of the accusative object:
wantá zaraqyhtè flyáy eagleÌy zèU.Zarathustra wants his eagle to fly.
want-fact1 Zarathustra-acc-nom2a fly-fact-acc2 eagle-acc-acc3a PIn−3-nom-ben4.
  With the eagle as the recipient of the wish:
wantá zaraqyhtè eagleÌi veÚ flyày.Zarathustra wants flying of his eagle.Zarathustra wants his eagle to fly.
want-fact1 Zarathustra-acc-nom2a eagle-acc-dat2 PIn−2-nom-ben3 fly-fact-acc2.

While the second phrasing is unambiguous in this example, it cannot in general express differences in case, as in ‘Zarathustra wants his eagle to give him something’ vs. ‘Zarathustra wants his eagle to take something from him’. A pronoun can combine the two types of phrasing if necessary.

c. The nominative object is undefined or irrelevant

The English modal verbs – ‘can/could, may/might, shall/should, will/would’ and ‘must’ – are most commonly translated like this. Since the modal verb has no other objects besides its accusative, we can easily form a compound. These constructions might remind you of the negators and other weighting numerals, which are formed the same way, and for exactly the same reason. The difference between uncompounded and compounded forms is somewhat like English ‘I would like to speak’ (a word in its own right) vs. ‘I’d speak’ (just a modifier).

  mustà speakáy zèe. speakamustá vèe.I must speak. It is necessary for me to speak.
must-fact1 speak-fact-acc2 PIn−3-nom-nom3a. speak-fact-must-fact1 PIn−2-nom-nom2a.
shouldà openày doorÌy. openashouldà doorÌy.Someone should open the door. The door should be opened.
should-fact1 open-fact-acc2 door-acc-acc3. open-fact-should-fact1 door-acc-acc2.

According to Rule Six, the missing nominative only indicates that the sender is irrelevant, not necessarily undefined. speakamustá vèe. might also mean ‘You ordered me to speak’, but only if it is clear from context that you issued the order. On the other hand, if I say ‘You must do this’ and mean ‘I order you to do this’, the nominative object is me; and unless this fact can be treated as irrelevant, this sentence has to be translated with construction b. Or, to put it the other way round: if ‘You must’ is translated with a compound, it follows that the speaker considers the sender to be irrelevant.

Verbs of certainty

These are verbs that often behave similarly to the discussed modals. With the nominative object given, they correspond to situations a or b above, otherwise to situation c. With only the dative object given, the receptive translation is usually superior, especially if the consecutive case is topicalised (i.e. in the perfect).

VerbDescribesTranslation. Given object:
nominativedative (receptive perfect translation)neither (perfect translation)
certainà.certaintyI assure / make someone certainI am sure / certainIt is certain
evidentà.evidenceI present evidenceI consider it evidentIt is evident
believeà.beliefI assure / make someone believeI believeIt is believed
hopeà.hopeI give someone hopeI hopeIt is hoped
assumeà.assumption (what is usually the case in such circumstances)I lead someone to the assumptionI assumeIt is to be assumed
claimà.claimI claimI am / have been toldIt is said to

The modal verbs above more or less express deontic modalities (how the world ought to be, according to the sender), while the verbs of certainty express epistemic modalities (how the world may be, according to the sender’s judgement). Again, this is not a grammatical distinction but just a way of describing or organising words.

The fuzziness of English modals

Think before you translate an English modal verb (and don’t take it for granted that the following table is complete).

English modalMeaningExampleLemizh translation(s)
canopportunity (Ital potere)I can come tomorrow.opportunityà.
ability (Ital sapere)I can dance. (= I am able to dance.)teachìl.*
couldpossibilityThis could be right.certainil1/2ìl.
wish, suggestionWe could as well go.wantà. shouldà.
opportunityWe could go now.opportunityà.
maypermissionYou may go now.allowà.
or similar meanings as ‘could’ (‘This may be right’, ‘We may as well go’, ‘May he come soon!’)
mightrecommendationYou might help me.shouldà.
or weaker variant of ‘may’†
shallrecommendation, suggestionShall we go?shouldà.
shouldweaker variant of ‘shall’ (‘You should go now’)†
willwish, (self-)recommendation, decisionWill you open the door? I won’t go there again. I’ll help you.wantà. shouldà. decideà.
belief, supposition†, assumptionThat will be my eagle.believeà. assumeà.
futureMy eagle will come tomorrow.frontÌaR.
wouldpolite wish†Would you open the door?wantà.
decision in the pastHe wouldn’t tell us.decideà — frontilkÌaR.
repetition in the pastI would drink my coffe black back then.habità — frontilkÌaR.
mustnecessityYou must speak.mustà.
evidence, assumptionThat must be my eagle.evidentà. assumeà.

* ‘having been taught something (= know how to = can)’, a receptive perfect.

† To express finer differences, as ‘Would you open the door’ vs. ‘Will you open the door’ or ‘This might be right’ vs. ‘This may be right’, the modals can be weighted.

  wanta1/2á veè openáy ziè doorÌy.I half-want you to open the door.Would you open the door?
want-fact-1/2-fact1 PIn−2-nom-nom2a open-fact-acc2 PIn−3-dat-nom3a door-acc-acc3.
openashoulda3/4á viè doorÌy.You should really open the door.Will you open the door!
open-fact-should-fact-3/4-fact1 PIn−2-dat-nom2a door-acc-acc2.
certainil1/4ìl veì correctìly.I am a bit certain about the correctness (abstract noun).This might be right.
certain-cons-1/4-cons1 PIn−2-nom-dat2 correct-cons-acc2.
correctilcertainil1/4ìl.The correctness is a bit certain.

Negation of modals

Often there are two ways to combine negators with modal verbs, either by negating the modal’s accusative object or by negating the modal itself. This difference can (but need not necessarily) influence the choice of the modal. The modal generally has to be negated with the opposition verb kà., as wantanà. merely means ‘be indifferent about’ and allowanà. means ‘not be given permission’.

  mustà speakanáy zìe. speakanamustá vìe.It is necessary for you – not to speak.You must not speak.
must-fact1 speak-fact-not-fact-acc2 PIn−3-dat-nom3a. speak-fact-not-fact-must-fact1 PIn−2-dat-nom2a.
allowakà speakáy zìe. speakaallowaká vìe.You are forbidden – to speak.
allow-fact-opposition-fact1 speak-fact-acc2 PIn−3-dat-nom3a. speak-fact-allow-fact-opposition-fact1 PIn−2-dat-nom2a.

Adjectives in -able and -ible derived from verbs – including Latin ones – (‘understandable, thinkable, regrettable, visible, edible’) can be translated as compounds with teachìl., shouldà. or mustà..

  teachìl seeày. seeateachè.something that someone has bee taught / is able to seevisible
teach-cons1 see-fact-acc2. see-fact-teach-nom1.
shouldà regretày. regretashouldÌ.something that should be regrettedregrettable
should-fact1 regret-fact-acc2. regret-fact-should-acc1.
regretamustÌ.something that must be regretted

A number of adjectives expressing predilection (‘warlike, helpful [ready to help]’) are similar constructions with wantà. and an inner nominative.

  warawantè.someone wanting to make warwarlike

Modal adverbs

Object vs. predicate

‘I’ll gladly speak’ means ‘I want to speak’, but additionally claims the reality of the speaking. So all we need is an inversion.

  wantá veè speakày.I want to speak.
want-fact1 PIn−2-nom-nom2a speak-fact-acc2.
speaká veè wantÌa.(pronoun moved to first verb in sentence)I’ll gladly speak.
speak-fact1 PIn−2-nom-nom2a want-acc-fact2.

Note the parallelism to the adverbial adjective in ‘He behaves strangely’. That sentence was translated with exactly the same pattern of cases – most importantly a factive bracket –, although we arrived there by a different reasoning. This is also a good example of how to confer reality: while the inversion puts the wanting below the speaking (at second level, that is), the bracket in the inverted sentence makes sure that the wanting is still asserted.

On the other hand, adverbs such as ‘certainly, possibly, hopefully’ usually cause a sentence not to claim the reality of its predicate, so we need to translate the English predicate with a second-level word. This results in a construction with a verb of certainty having an irrelevant nominative object, and possibly compounded.

  certainil1/2ìl speakáy zaraqÌhte. speakacertainil1/2á zaraqÌhte.Zarathustra will possibly speak.
certain-cons-1/2-cons1 speak-fact-acc2 Zarathustra-acc-nom3a. speak-fact-certain-cons-1/2-fact1 Zarathustra-acc-nom2a.

Factive vs. affirmative

Sentence adverbs (adverbs that modify a whole sentence) are arguably better translated with the affirmative case (al, fact). We will elaborate on the difference between factive and affirmative in unit 15. Watch the degrees of reality.

  wantá venè speakáy zaraqÌhte.We want Zarathustra to speak.
want-fact1 PIn−2-partnom-nom2a speak-fact-acc2 Zarathustra-acc-nom3a.
speaká zaraqyhtè wantýa(l) zène.(object)Luckily for us, Zarathustra speaks.
speak-fact1 Zarathustra-acc-nom2a want-acc-fact/aff2 PIn−3-partnom-nom3a.
behaveà strangeyà sadÌal.(object)Sadly [enough], he is behaving strangely.
behave-fact1 strange-acc-fact2 sad-acc-aff2.
  certainil1/2à speaká(l)y zaraqÌhte. speaka(l)certainil1/2á zaraqÌhte.(predicate)Possibly, Zarathustra will speak.
certain-cons-1/2-fact1 speak-fact/aff-acc2 Zarathustra-acc-nom3a. speak-fact/aff-certain-cons-1/2-fact1 Zarathustra-acc-nom2a.

Similar adverbs translated as (affirmative) objects include ‘admittedly, mercifully, oddly, regrettably’. The latter, in contrast to the adjective ‘regrettable’ above, is used to express actual regret (‘Regrettably, Zarathustra will not be able to speak’) instead of recommending regret.

Modified objects

If a modal verb or adverb that reduces degree of reality only refers to one object, we use a modified object. Recall that the accusative object of a modal verb can be a thing: shouldà vitaminÌy. vitaminyshouldÌ. ‘something that should be vitamins’.

  Mark the differences:
avRàks vitaminÌOl.She should eat it, because of the vitamins.
eat-fact-should-fact1 vitamin-acc-psu2.
àv vitaminyRÌksOl.She eats it because of what should be vitamins. (modified object)She should eat it because of the vitamins [and not just because of the taste].
eat-fact1 vitamin-acc-should-acc-psu2.
  avcertainilbvà vitaminÌOl.Maybe she eats it, because of the vitamins.
eat-fact-certain-cons-1/2-fact1 vitamin-acc-psu2.
àv vitaminycertainilbvÌOl.She eats it because of what are possibly vitamins. (modified object)Maybe she eats it because of the vitamins [and not …].
eat-fact1 vitamin-acc-certain-cons-1/2-acc-psu2.
  But don’t do this with adverbs that leave the predicate in place:
àv lyxtà vitaminÌOl.Luckily she eats it, because of the vitamins.
eat-fact1 want-acc-fact2 vitamin-acc-psu2.
àv vitaminÌOl lÌxty.She eats it because of the wanted vitamins. (not a modified object)Luckily she eats it because of the vitamins [and not …].
eat-fact1 vitamin-acc-psu2 want-acc-acc3.

The latter type of construction readily accepts objects of the modal (‘Luckily for me, she eats it because of the vitamins’). To express objects of the modifier in a modified object (‘I recommend her to eat it because of the vitamins’), we need weak linking, which we will learn in unit 15.

‘enough’ and ‘too’

‘enough’ is translated as a (mostly partitive) bracket with various modal verbs. If necessary for context, anountÌ. can be used to specify.

  mustÌ lightìlyn.what is necessary of the light (brightness)enough light
must-acc1 light-cons-partacc2.
wantý (veè) lightìlyn.what is wanted of the lightenough light (for me)
want-acc1 (PIn−2-nom-nom2a) light-cons-partacc2.
wantÌ amountÌy personÌyn.the wanted amount of people [as opposed to those who are wanted of the people]enough people
want-acc1 amount-acc-acc2 person-acc-partacc3.
wantý veè fastìlyn horseÌy.There is what I want of the horse’s speed.The horse is fast enough for me.
want-acc1 PIn−2-nom-nom2a fast-cons-partacc2 horse-acc-acc3.

‘too much/many’ is a comparative. (See the adjectival usage of the verbs of comparison.)

  moreÌ lightilÌ shouldÌym.more light than the recommended onetoo much light
more-acc1 light-cons-acc2 should-acc-qualacc2.
moreÌ personyÌ wantÌym.more people than the wanted onestoo many people
more-acc1 person-acc-acc2 want-acc-qualacc2.
fastilmoreìl horseyÌ wantÌym.The horse is faster than a wanted one.The horse is too fast.
fast-cons-more-cons1 horse-acc-acc2 want-acc-qualacc2.


The beaver can swim.Solve
Zarathustra orders his eagle not to fly.
(four possibilities)
Zarathustra wants the eagle to give [him] something drinkable.
(two or four possibilities?)
Zarathustra wants to take something from the helpful eagle.
(two or four possibilities?)
Luckily for me, she eats it because of the vitamins.Solve
She gladly eats it, possibly because of the vitamins.
(Can you spot the ambiguity in this sentence?)
He is fast enough for a tortoise.Solve
  Why isn’t ‘enough’ translated parallel to ‘too’ (e.g. amountÌ personyÌ lÌxtym.)?Solve

Last significant change: 28 Nov 2012

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