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 (in Lemizh, their accusative object’s) agent:

VerbGlossDescribesTranslation. Nominative object is
a. the same as the agent of the accusative objectb. someone elsec. undefined
màqk.opportunityopportunity, chanceI give myself the chance to …You give me the chance to …I can / have the opportunity to … (Ital potere)
kmà.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 …
dàxt.mustnecessityI must / have to … (in my opinion)
[‘A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do’]
You command/order/tell 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 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 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.

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. Rule Six allows us to omit the agent of the accusative object (who is the same person) most of the time. An agentive of the modal verb 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.
dàxt veè wàxy.I must speak in my opinion. [I haven’t got any choice.]
must-fact1 PIn−2-nom-nom2 speak-fact-acc2.

If the agent might be someone else, we can use a pronoun.

láxt ftnykè kráxy vèe.The eagle wants to scratch someone.
want-fact1 eagle-acc-nom2a scratch-fact-acc2 PIn−2-nom-nom3a.
láxt ftnykè kràxy vèi.The eagle wants to be scratched.
want-fact1 eagle-acc-nom2a scratch-fact-acc2 PIn−2-nom-dat3.

b. The nominative object is someone else

With the eagle as the agent of the accusative object:
láxt zaraqyhtè qáxky ftnÌky 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:
láxt zaraqyhtè qaxkÌ ftnÌki vèU.Zarathustra wants flying of his eagle.Zarathustra wants his eagle to fly.
want-fact1 Zarathustra-acc-nom2a fly-fact-acc2 eagle-acc-dat2 PIn−2-nom-ben3.

Naming the eagle as the recipient makes the second phrasing more personal: Zarathustra addresses his wish to the eagle. While this phrasing is unambiguous here, 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 if necessary.

c. The nominative object is undefined

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.

dàxt wáxy zèe. waxdáxt 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.
Ràks nàty jmÌsy. natRàks jmÌsy.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 information about the sender is absent, not necessarily that he is undefined. The first example 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 is clear from context or irrelevant, this sentence has to be translated with construction b.

Verbs of certainty

These verbs behave similarly to the modals. With the nominative object given, they correspond to situation b above, otherwise to situation c. When only the dative object is given, the receptive translation is usually superior, especially if the consecutive case is topicalised (i.e. in the perfect). Situation a translates as ‘I assure myself’ etc.

VerbGlossDescribesTranslation. Given objects and topicalisation:
b. nominative (and optionally dative)
c. only dative (receptive)
c. neither
dnàs.certaincertaintyI assure / convince / make someone certainI am sure / certainIt is certain
khàv.evidentevidenceI present evidence to someoneI consider it evidentIt is evident
swnàt.believebeliefI make someone believeI believe*It is believed*
ràtx.hopehopeI give someone hopeI hope*It is hoped*
tàp.assumeassumption†I lead someone to the assumptionI assumeIt is to be assumed
kfràjd.claimclaimI claimI am / have been toldIt is said to

* Receptive ‘believe’ and ‘hope’ can be phrased as a perfect (‘having been made believe, having been given hope’) or untopicalised (‘being made believe, being given hope’) to describe a person’s belief or hope either as a state or as an activity. The untopicalised phrasing is less likely for the other verbs.
† what is typically the case under such circumstances; what seems to follow from the present circumstances

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, permission (Ital potere)I can come tomorrow.màqk. opportunity-fact1. kmà. allow-fact1.
ability (Ital sapere)I can dance. (= I am able to dance.)gwìlt. teach-cons1.*
couldpossibilityThis could be right.dnilsbvìl. certain-cons-1/2-cons1.
wish, suggestionWe could as well go.làxt. want-fact1. Ràks. should-fact1.
opportunityWe could go now.màqk. opportunity-fact1.
maypermissionYou may go now.kmà. allow-fact1.
or similar meanings as ‘could’ (‘This may be right’, ‘We may as well go’, ‘May he come soon!’)
mightrecommendationYou might help me.Ràks. should-fact1.
or weaker variant of ‘may’†
shallnecessityYou shall not pass!dàxt. must-fact1.
recommendation, suggestionShall we go?Ràks. should-fact1.
future (first person)I shall come tomorrow.— prÌaR. … front-acc-temp2.
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.làxt. want-fact1. Ràks. should-fact1. wàv. decide-fact1.
belief, supposition†, assumptionThat will be my eagle.swnàt. believe-fact1. qàzg. think-fact1. tàp. assume-fact1.
futureMy eagle will come tomorrow.— prÌaR. … front-acc-temp2.
wouldpolite wish†Would you open the door?làxt. want-fact1.
decision in the pastHe wouldn’t tell us.wàv — prilkÌaR. decide-fact1 … front-cons-opposition-acc-temp3.
repetition in the pastI would drink my coffe black back then.nàjw — prilkÌaR. habit-fact1 … front-cons-opposition-acc-temp3.
mustnecessityYou must speak.dàxt. must-fact1.
evidence, assumptionThat must be my eagle.khàv. evident-fact1. tàp. assume-fact1.

* ‘having been taught something (= know how to = can)’, a receptive perfect.
To express finer differences, as ‘This could be right’ vs. ‘This might be right’ or ‘Would you open the door’ vs. ‘Will you open the door’, these verbs can be weighted. In addition, placing the recipient of a modal in the dependent clause makes the phrasing more detached and less personal, which sounds more polite.

laxtbvá veè náty ziè jmÌsy.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.
natRaksdmá viè jmÌsy.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.
dnilscrìl piltÌ vèi.I am a bit certain about the correctness (abstract noun).This might be right.
certain-cons-1/4-cons1 correct-cons-acc2 PIn−2-nom-dat2.
piltdnilscrìl.The correctness is a bit certain.

Adjectives in -able and -ible derived from verbs, including Latin ones, (‘understandable, thinkable, regrettable, visible, edible’) are translated as compounds with gwìlt. teach-cons1., Ràks. should-fact1. or dàxt. must-fact1..

gwìlt dmàty. dmatgwèt.something that someone has been taught / is able to seevisible
teach-cons1 see-fact-acc2. see-fact-teach-nom1.
kaxkRÌks.something that should be regrettedregrettable
kaxkdÌxt.something that must be regretted

Some adjectives expressing predilection (‘warlike’) are similar constructions with làxt. ‘want’. We need to make the modal the compound’s head because someone warlike is one wanting to make war, whereas the previous adjectives have modals with undefined nominative objects.

làxt nàgcy. nàgc lÌxta. lyxtnègc.someone wanting to make warwarlike
want-fact1 war-fact-acc2. war-fact1 want-acc-fact2. want-acc-war-nom1.

Modal adverbs

Object vs. predicate

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

láxt veè wàxy.I want to speak.
want-fact1 PIn−2-nom-nom2a speak-fact-acc2.
wáx veè lÌxta.(pronoun moved to first verb in sentence)I’ll gladly speak.
speak-fact1 PIn−2-nom-nom2a want-acc-fact2.
dàxt wáxy zèe.I must speak.
must-fact1 speak-fact-acc2 PIn−3-nom-nom3a.
wáx veè lÌxta.I speak of necessity.
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 makes sure that the sentence still claims the wanting.

On the other hand, adverbs such as ‘certainly, possibly, hopefully’ cause a sentence not to claim reality of the English verb, so we need to translate it as a second-level word and the adverb as the predicate with an undefined nominative object.

dnilsbvìl wáxy zaraqÌhte. waxdnilsbvá 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.

láxt venè wáxy zaraqÌhte.We want Zarathustra to speak.
want-fact1 PIn−2-partnom-nom2a speak-fact-acc2 Zarathustra-acc-nom3a.
wáx zaraqyhtè lýxta(l) zène.(translated as object: The action / the fact of speaking is a wanted thing.)Luckily for us, Zarathustra speaks.
speak-fact1 Zarathustra-acc-nom2a want-acc-fact/aff2 PIn−3-partnom-nom3a.
là xlyjà spÌjal.(translated as object)Sadly [enough], he is behaving strangely.
do-fact1 strange-acc-fact2 sad-acc-aff2.
dnilsbvà wá(l)xy zaraqÌhte. wa(l)xdnilsbvá zaraqÌhte.(translated as 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 or factive objects include ‘admittedly, mercifully, oddly, regrettably’. The latter, in contrast to the adjective ‘regrettable’ above, expresses actual regret (‘Regrettably, Zarathustra will not be able to speak’) instead of recommending regret and is therefore not a compound with a modal verb.

Modified objects and topics

If a modal verb or adverb that reduces the degree of reality only refers to a single object, we modify this object with a modal verb. Recall that the accusative object of a modal can be a thing: Ràks crURÌjgy. should-fact1 vitamin-acc-acc2. ‘There should be vitamins’ crURyjgRÌks. vitamin-acc-should-acc1. ‘something that should be vitamins’.

àv crURyjg-RÌksOl.She eats it because of something that 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.
àv crURyjg-dnilsbvÌOl.She eats it because of something that is 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 are translated as objects:
àv crURÌjgOl lÌxty.She eats it because of the wanted vitamins. (not a modified object as the vitamins have a higher degree of reality)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.

We can now also modify topics with modals.

Ràks ganìRy. ganiRRàks.She should stop singing.
should-fact1 sing-egr-acc2. sing-egr-should-fact1.

On a related note: modified topics that are objects of modal verbs typically need an additional topicalisation, resulting in repetition of the case marker. This is a consequence of the bracket in the inverted and uncompounded sentence.

làxt ganiRnìRy.She wants to not stop singing.She doesn’t want to stop singing.
want-fact1 sing-egr-not-egr-acc2.
ganiRnà lÌxtiR. nà ganìRy lÌxtiR.There is no wanted end of singing.She doesn’t gladly stop singing.
sing-egr-not-fact1 want-acc-egr2. not-fact1 sing-egr-acc2 want-acc-egr3.

Negation of modals; modification raising

Often there are two ways to combine negators with modal verbs, either by negating the modal itself or by negating its accusative object. 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 laxtnà. want-fact-not-fact1. merely means ‘be indifferent about’, and kmanà. allow-fact-not-fact1. means ‘not (explicitly) be given permission’.

kmakà wáxy zìe. waxkmaká vìe.You are forbidden to speak.You must not speak.
allow-fact-opposition-fact1 speak-fact-acc2 PIn−3-dat-nom3a. speak-fact-allow-fact-opposition-fact1 PIn−2-dat-nom2a.
dàxt này wáxy cìe.It is necessary for you not to speak. You must ‘not speak’.
must-fact1 not-fact-acc2 speak-fact-acc3 PIn−4-dat-nom4a.
dàxt waxnáy zìe. waxnadáxt vìe.You must do something that is not speaking. You don’t have to speak. (modified object)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.

The first and second phrasings are explicit in forbidding someone to speak. The third differs from the second only in that the negator is compounded – resulting in a modified object and, taken literally, only demanding that the addressee do something that is not speaking (which could be doing nothing, or doing something besides speaking). This is a polite way to tell someone not to speak and is called negation raising or ‘neg-raising’ for short. Neg-raising is a cross-linguistic phenomenon: compare English ‘I don’t want to speak’, which is understood as, and more polite than, ‘I want not to speak’. See the pragmatics pages for more on this.

For being explicit, the first phrasing is preferred over the second because of its compoundability.

A short but very close look at the mechanism of modified objects: inverting and uncompounding the third phrasing gives nà wáxy ziè dÌxta. not-fact1 speak-fact-acc2 PIn−3-dat-nom3a must-acc-fact3. ‘It is not true that you speak by necessity’. Together with ‘You must do something’, which follows from Rule Seven applied to the original sentence, we get the meaning ‘You must do something that is not speaking’.
Calling this a neg-raising is licensed by the fact that the negator is a second-level word in the unraised sentence but the modifier of a second-level word in the raised version and thus has a higher degree of reality; and ‘speak’ accordingly rises from third level to the head of the second-level compound.

He got lost despite his compass’ could have been translated as a neg-raising: vàsk jirxì xiskrucnùelm. err-fact1 move-ill-dat2 compass-ins-not-ins-qualcaus2.. For an example of modification raising or ‘mod-raising’ with the modal ‘should’, see the Babel Text in the appendix.

Counterfactual statements

To express that something is not the case although it is desired, would have been possible, etc., we negate the content of the modal verb, resulting in an accusative bracket from which we form a compound. Also note the different ways to mark the past tense in the third and fourth examples.

nà lýxty zaraqyhtè dràwy. lyxtná zaraqyhtè dràwy.(The wanted action, the dancing, doesn’t exist.)Zarathustra wants to dance (but he doesn’t).
not-fact1 want-acc-acc2 Zarathustra-acc-nom3a dance-fact-acc3. want-acc-not-fact1 Zarathustra-acc-nom2a dance-fact-acc2.
lyxtná veè wáxy zìe.If only you would speak!
want-acc-not-fact1 PIn−2-nom-nom2a speak-fact-acc2 PIn−3-dat-nom3a.
lyxtná veè wìlxy.I wish the consequence of speaking existed. (perfect)I wish I had spoken.
want-acc-not-fact1 PIn−2-nom-nom2a speak-cons-acc2.
myqknà veì lacwÌ prilkÌaR.In the past I had the opportunity to help him.I could have helped him.
opportunity-acc-not-fact1 PIn−2-nom-dat2 help-fact-acc2 front-cons-opposition-acc-temp2.

‘enough’ and ‘too’

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

dÌxt xÌcgyn.what is necessary of the lightenough light
must-acc1 light-acc-partacc2.
lýxt (veè) xÌcgyn.what is wanted of the lightenough light (for me)
want-acc1 (PIn−2-nom-nom2a) light-acc-partacc2.
lÌxt rÌwy cOÌcyn.the wanted amount of people [as opposed to those who are wanted of the people]enough people
want-acc1 amount-acc-acc2 human-acc-partacc3.
lýxt veè fátyn Ìhwe.There is what I want of the horse’s speed.The horse is fast enough for me.
want-acc1 PIn−2-nom-nom2a fast-fact-partacc2 horse-acc-nom3a.

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

tÌcd xycgÌ RÌksym.more light than the recommended onetoo much light
more-acc1 light-acc-acc2 should-acc-qualacc2.
tÌcd cOycÌ lýxtym (zèe).more people than the wanted onestoo many people (for me)
more-acc1 human-acc-acc2 want-acc-qualacc2 (PIn−3-nom-nom3a).
fattácd yhwè lÌxtem.The horse is faster than a wanted one.The horse is too fast.
fast-fact-more-fact1 horse-acc-nom2a want-acc-qualnom2.


The beaver can swim.Solve
Zarathustra wants the eagle to give [him] something drinkable.
(two or four possibilities? What are the differences?)
Zarathustra wants to take something from the eagle.
(two or four possibilities? What are the differences?)
Zarathustra orders his eagle not to fly.
(four possibilities; what are the differences?)
You would have had to help him, I tell you!Solve
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’?:
rÌw cOycÌ lÌxtym.Solve
amount-acc1 human-acc-acc2 want-acc-qualacc2.