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As far as I know, there is no difference in meaning between and , since mood in English always refers to a verbal category [Edit: I was wrong; F.E. has pointed out the application of "modal" to adjectives, adverbs and nouns in English grammar]. I think should be a synonym of , but I don't have enough rep in the tag to suggest a synonym on my own.

Why "modal-verbs" should be the main tag, and "modals" the synonym

There are no followers for either tag, so we don't have to worry about disrupting distinct communities. Since has many more questions (283), it seems like it should be the main tag. However, does have 23 questions, enough that I'm not comfortable deleting it from questions one-by-one, and also I think enough to show that it is a tag that is likely to be used again in the future if we don't make it a synonym.

The wording also seems to me to be more parallel with other existing tags: we have a tag called , but not .

It is true that some linguists refer to modal adjectives, adverbs and nouns. However, I haven't seen any questions about these on ELU, and I just looked through the entirety of the tag.

Side-question: what should we with the tag "semi-modals"?

Since only five questions were tagged with , all of them were also tagged with and/or , and the tag has no followers, I just went ahead and deleted this tag from all questions.

F.E. disagreed with my removal of and rolled back my edits to the relevant questions. F.E. has explained the reason for this as follows:

Just because the line between core modals and non-core modals might be hazy, that doesn't mean that the label "semi-modal" is not useful. The class of core modals (or central modals, or whatever term your grammar uses) is in general mostly consistent no matter which grammar framework you use. The non-core modals are on a gradient, and often have different classifications w.r.t. the various grammars out there. Non-core modals--such as "BE going to V", "had better", "dare", "need", etc.--shouldn't be grouped with the core modals (e.g. WILL, CAN, etc.).

However, I still think that the tag should be eliminated. Here's my argument against the tag :

  • It is not used much; currently it only has 5 questions
  • It is generally always accompanied by the tag and/or ; this makes the tags on a question more cluttered
  • the above is also evidence that regardless of what is technically correct, in practice question-writers already do group non-core modals with core modals
  • the people interested in questions about semi-modals, both from an asking and an answering perspective, are likely to also be interested in questions about core modal verbs
  • Different sources have different definitions of the dividing line between true modals and semi-modals; not all sources use the classification of "semi-modal." (I don't have any direct examples right now, but there is some discussion of this on the Wikipedia article about English auxiliaries that has citations said to support this.)

Alternate proposals of mine

Above, I propose merging and , and deleting . However, as you can see, there are also arguments for keeping these as separate tags.

If the community decides to keep the tag "modal-verbs" restricted to the core modal auxiliaries, as its tag wiki suggests, it seems to me it might be more clearly named or something like that.

The tag wiki for should probably also mention as an overarching category tag and as a tag for other non-auxiliary verbs or phrases that are similar to modal verbs. These two tags also need tag wikis written for them that describe their scope.

There are also a few incorrectly tagged questions that we would need to retag. (Some questions currently tagged "modal-verbs" deal exclusively with semi-modal expressions.)

I guess I would also like a policy on whether double-tagging questions with both and , or both and , is encouraged, discouraged, or up to the preferences of the individual tagger. If double-tagging is discouraged, I don't even know which questions would use the tag , as the more specific tags and completely cover all the questions to date. I don't think double-tagging should be encouraged because, as I said earlier, it clutters up the tags beneath questions, and it is also hard to do consistently. And if it's up to each individual tagger (the usual de facto case even if there is a policy) then there is certainly going to be inconsistency.

A similar issue: there are a number of questions that deal with both core modal auxiliaries and semi-modals. How should these be tagged: a) with only b) with , and c) with and .

In sum, if we keep all three tags, I'd propose changing their names to , and , and coming up with a clearer policy of where each should be used and how they differ from one another.

  • Just because the line between core modals and non-core modals might be hazy, that doesn't mean that the label "semi-modal" is not useful. The class of core modals (or central modals, or whatever term your grammar uses) is in general mostly consistent no matter which grammar framework you use. The non-core modals are on a gradient, and often have different classifications w.r.t. the various grammars out there. Non-core modals--such as "BE going to V", "had better", "dare", "need", etc.--shouldn't be grouped with the core modals (e.g. WILL, CAN, etc.). – F.E. Aug 4 '15 at 4:47
  • @F.E.: Thanks for replying. – sumelic Aug 4 '15 at 4:51
  • Also, be aware that not all modals are auxiliary verbs. – F.E. Aug 4 '15 at 4:52
  • @F.E.: The worry I have with the "semi-modal" tag is that in practice, it tends to always be used with a "modal-verb" or "modal" tag, so clearly question-askers see these as belonging to the same general category. Aren't all modals verbs, though? That's all I was saying. – sumelic Aug 4 '15 at 4:52
  • The use of the semi-modal tag is that if a user is interested in some specific non-core modal, e.g. "BE going to V", "need", then they could search the semi-modal tag to start their research. The semi-modal tag will give a smaller list of related threads; but the general modal tag will return a whole bunch of stuff, most of which involves core modals (e.g. WILL, CAN, etc.). – F.E. Aug 5 '15 at 3:45
  • @F.E: but, can't a user just use the "search" function, either on the site or through Google, to locate threads about specific expressions? I think many people are not even familiar with the terminology "semi-modal." – sumelic Aug 5 '15 at 3:50
  • Not all models are auxiliary verbs. Besides the core modal auxiliary verbs, there's also stuff like modal idioms (e.g. "had better", "BE to", "HAVE got to"), semi-auxiliaries (e.g. "HAVE to", "BE about to"), and other subcategories -- borrowing info from page 92 in Leech, Hundt, Mair, Smith, 2009 book, Change in Contemporary English. (cont.) – F.E. Aug 5 '15 at 3:56
  • (cont.) In the 2002 reference grammar, H&P CGEL, page 173, (a) Lexical modals: "We use this term for items expressing the same kind of meaning as the modal auxiliaries, but which do not belong to the syntactic class of auxiliary verbs. It covers adjectives like possible, necessary, likely, probable, bound, supposed, adverbs like perhaps, possibly, necessarily, probably, certainly, surely, verbs like insist, permit, require, and nouns like possibility, necessity, permission, and similar derivatives." – F.E. Aug 5 '15 at 3:57
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    The topic of semi-modals (e.g. semi-auxiliaries) is a hot topic right now in the linguistic community, as those kinds of expressions are kinda going through a relatively rapid change (compared to the slow natural change that is typical of the grammar of a language) w.r.t. their meanings and usage. And so, a person interested in that topic would probably like to grab a whole bunch of related threads via that one tag. – F.E. Aug 5 '15 at 4:08
  • As to the term "semi-modal", it seems to be rather easy to use, and we usually use it for non-core modals and expressions that often involve auxiliary verbs -- that is, when we specifically don't want to include the core auxiliary modals. – F.E. Aug 5 '15 at 4:13
  • I think the merge makes sense. Those with the knowledge/experience to debate the finer points of mood, modality and "semi-modals" can have more fine grained tags at Linguistics. – curiousdannii Aug 8 '15 at 6:50
  • All the tags here are useless because they're random names and descriptions with different meanings for everybody. I never pay any attention to them, because of that. As for "semi-modal", it makes sense to use that term in English for need and dare, which can swing either way in negative contexts: He doesn't need/dare to VP vs He need/dare not VP are both fine, but *He need/dare VP is ungrammatical. Of course that's not an argument for using it as a tag -- as I said, the tags are at best confusing. – John Lawler Aug 14 '15 at 18:59
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I’ve made a synonym for .

I’ve leaving based on Professor Lawler’s comment that makes sense for need and dare:

All the tags here are useless because they're random names and descriptions with different meanings for everybody. I never pay any attention to them, because of that. As for "semi-modal", it makes sense to use that term in English for need and dare, which can swing either way in negative contexts: He doesn't need/dare to VP vs He need/dare not VP are both fine, but *He need/dare VP is ungrammatical. Of course that's not an argument for using it as a tag — as I said, the tags are at best confusing.

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