grammar talk

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Friday, February 25, 2005

Modals and tense


1. He may be eating- pres. prog. cond.

2. He may have been eating- pres. perf. prog.

3. He might be eating- pres. prog. cond.

4. He might have been eating- past or pres? perf. prog. cond.

may- pres.
might- past

so what is indicating the tense in #4?
I have been told that modals do not carry tense

He had been eating is past because of the had
but then we have no modal.
Can we not have modals in past? Or only past perf? or prog?

He could have gone yesterday is past.


Blogger tom said...

Good question!
The modals are very old words and in the old time, may was present, might was past; in the same way shall/should, can/could, etc. But this remains in only a few places, for example, in recorded speech, where you have to use the past "might" when you say,
He said that he might go.
because you put present verbs in the "recorded" sentence into past.

For all practical purposes, both may and might can be present (I may go, I might go) or past (He may have gone, He might have gone). Past is shown by HAVE + VPP. This is a tense that means "finished before now" with other verbs; with modals it is the entire past time. In effect, modals have a simpler time system; they have a past; they have an unfinished aspect (BE + VING); but it's different from regular verbs.

Hope that helps! Tom

2:11 PM  

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