Modal Combinations in the English-Speaking World

This is a contemporary dialectal phenomenon spoken in many parts of the English-Speaking World, viz. Northern Great Britain, Ulster, the Southern United States and in some Jamaican-Belizean creoles. Modal combinations are of two types: Double Modals and Triple Modals.

Double Modals are composed of two modal forms:

Might could, might can, will can, would could, should could, used to could, have (got) to can, may can, may should, might better, ought to should, might ought to.

Whereas Triple Modals contain three modal forms:

Will might can, will should can, should might better, might used to could, might will can’t.

When talking about modal forms, it is necessary to refer to Randolph Quirk’s terminology of modal expressions. He conceived a scale in which Central Modals (can, could, will, must, shall, should, would, may, might) are located at the top of the scale. By going down the scale, you find other modal expressions such as:

Marginal Modals: used to, need, dare and ought to

Semi Modals or Auxiliaries: be going to, be able to, be allowed to, be compelled to have to, would like to

Modal Idioms: would rather, have got to, be to, had better

  • Comparative Modals: would rather, would sooner, (had) better, would better
  • By combining different types of modal expressions, hundreds of Multiple Modal sequences can be created. Since the 1970’s, researchers have classified over 256 different sequences. A great number of them have been detected in the United States since that period thanks in great part to the massive Scots & Scotch-Irish immigration (250,000 people) arriving in the 13 colonies between 1712 and 1775.

Since 2008 my research has been focussing on the current syntactic and semantic state of modal combinations in the places where this dialectal phenomenon originates, viz. the Lowland Scots area. It covers Central and Southern Scotland. With more research taking place in Northern Great Britain in the following decades, an equally important quantity of data on European MMs may be found out. Since this dialectal phenomenon is more used in the spoken than in the written media, increasing the number of field enquiries and proposing diverse field linguistic methodologies remain the most efficient research techniques to grasp the reality of Multiple Modality.

By going through my website, you will have access to the contents of my research work with reports, research summaries, detailed theoretical manuscripts on modal combinations published in famous linguistics  journals and the geographical locations of my four field surveys carried out in the Scottish Borders’ region since March 2010.

My professional activities are also shown on the website. I am currently looking for a post-doctoral position in a university that would be interested in this type of research dealing with vernacular syntactic varieties of English. Do not hesitate to contact me via my e-mail address:

This website also proposes to directly communicate with English natives who have some knowledge about Double and Triple Modals. You can share your knowledge with me, which can give me the opportunity to enlarge my research vision of these combinations and to even more communicate these data with other dialectologists and (socio)linguists in the near future.

I am looking forward to hearing from you!

Anthony BOUR

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