Number and modals

Hartmut Haberland hartmut at RUC.DK
Tue Apr 21 19:28:50 UTC 1998

> Frans Plank wrote:
> "In English,
> --- the regular PLURAL of nouns is /iz, z, s/;
> --- the 3rd person SINGULAR present INDICATIVE of verbs is /iz, z, s/;
> --- what MODALS lack, among other things, is /iz, z, s/ for 3rd person
> This can't be coincidence."
> In Danish (similarly in the other Mainland Scandinavian
> languages, but  different in the Atlantic Scandinavian languages, i.e.
> Icelandic and Faroese),

> --- the regular (= most common and only productive) PLURAL of nouns is /(e)r/ (/(V)r in Norwegian and
> Swedish)),

> --- the finite present of verbs ("INDICATIVE")  ends in /(e)r/ (both
> --- MODALs have no /(e)r/. (The imperative MOOD has no /(e)r/ either,
> neither has the (largely obsolete) optative MOOD.)
> Synchronically, this is certainly an interesting pattern.
> Historically, these endings have various sources, /-r/ mostly or
> perhaps always - I'm no expert - going back to /-z/ with a lot of analogical
> generalization, but this is of course no counterargument - if there
> is a pattern it doesn't have to be old, and it is interesting that
> the /-(e)r/ endings have been a preferred target for generalization.
> I'm not so sure about the modals (modal verbs). Strictly speaking,
> there is no class of modal verb inflection in Danish, rather one of
> old preteritopresents, since the verb 'at vide' (to know) which is
> not a modal inflects the same way: jeg (du, ...) ved 'I (you ...)
> know', without in /-(e)r/. But of course all other preteritopresents
> are modal verbs, so there is a strong connection between modals and
> this r-less type of present tense marking.
> For what it's worth!

Hartmut Haberland
tlf. (+45) 4632 0035
fax (+45) 4632 5535

-------------- next part --------------
An embedded message was scrubbed...
From: Margaret Malone <malone at>
Subject: [Fwd: Rejected posting to LINGTYP at LINGUIST.LDC.UPENN.EDU]
Date: Tue, 21 Apr 1998 16:37:33 +0200
Size: 5880
URL: <>
-------------- next part --------------
A non-text attachment was scrubbed...
Name: vcard.vcf
Type: text/x-vcard
Size: 225 bytes
Desc: Visitkort til Hartmut Haberland
URL: <>

More information about the Lingtyp mailing list