Modality and the Expression of Future Time in English: 'Will', 'Would', 'Shall' & 'Should'

Essay by bobwatsonUniversity, Master'sB, April 2006

download word file, 19 pages 4.0

I. Introduction

1.1 It is impossible to make definite reliable statements about future happenings as

is the case in statements about the past and present. For this reason all future

forms express certain attitudes or speakers' intentions.

Therefore futurity, modality, and aspect are closely interrelated, and this is

reflected in the fact that future time is rendered by means of modal auxiliaries,

by semi-auxiliaries, etc.

Since future reference is a dangerous and controversial area, some scholars

who talk of 'will' and 'shall' alone, speak of a maze through which the native

speaker seems miraculously to be able to walk with a kind of "sixth organ"

(Poutsma 1928:11) which enables him to know exactly when to use them.

Jesperson 1909, revised 1961:24) attributes this inherent complexity to the

fact that the future by its nature is uncertain. R.A. Close, when considering the

use of 'shall' and 'will' is provoked to admit the "tangle of idiomatic and

conflicting usage among native speakers.

The content of this paper will deal with an attempt to try to untangle the

difficulties and to break down 'myths' which have come into being over the

time, by examining historical and present day approaches to 'shall' and 'will',

and further, by looking at common use of both, as well as special cases, and

finally by considering and comparing the approaches of scholars like Quirk,

Leech, and Smith.

II. Definitions

2.1 In order to illustrate the difficulty that automatically arises when we try to deal

with the presentation of future reference, it is helpful to define some of

the terms that create the problems we have expressing futurity.

2.2 Modality may be defined as the manner in which the meaning of a clause is

qualified so as to reflect the speaker's judgement of the likelihood of the

proposition it...