The changing verb phrase in present-day British English

Findings

Modal Auxiliaries: A Case Study of MUST, HAVE TO and HAVE GOT TO

Research questions:

  • Is there evidence that the core modals in Present-Day English are decreasing?
  • If MUST is found to be decreasing can this be related to an increase in "rival" semi-modal forms?
  • Is there support for the idea that core modals are becoming monosemous?

Summary of main findings:

  • There is a statistically significant decline in the frequency of MUST and a statistically significant rise in the frequency of HAVE TO.
  • HAVE GOT TO has decreased over the thirty year period (this is not statistically significant).
(Semi-) modal LLC frequency ICE-GB frequency Change in frequency
raw per 100,000 words raw per 100,000 words % chi-square score
MUST 427 92.01 172 40.82 -55.64 36.29
HAVE GOT TO 187 40.30 156 37.02 -8.14 3.10
HAVE TO 188 40.51 225 53.40 +31.82 31.94
TOTAL 802 172.82 553 131.24 -24.06 71.32

Table 1. Frequencies of MUST, HAVE GOT TO and HAVE TO in DCPSE
(figures in bold are significant at p<0.01).

  • When viewed as proportions of total MUST, root uses remain constant (around 39%) snd epistemic uses show a slight increase; there is no evidence that MUST is becoming monosemous.
Source corpus Epistemic Root Performative Ambiguous Total
N % N % N % N % N
LLC 43.96 47.78 36.63 39.81 9.48 10.30 1.94 2.11 92.01
ICE-GB 21.12 51.74 16.14 39.53 2.37 5.81 1.19 2.91 40.82
TOTAL 65.08 48.99 52.77 39.73 11.85 8.92 3.13 2.35 132.83

Table 2. Distribution of semantic types of MUST in DCPSE (N=frequency per 100,000 words).

  • In root contexts, HAVE TO is more frequent than MUST even in the 1960s corpus (LLC). By the 1990s, HAVE TO is more than twice as frequent as MUST, suggesting that HAVE TO is taking over some of the uses of root MUST.
(Semi-) modal LLC frequency ICE-GB frequency Change in frequency
raw per 100,000 words raw per 100,000 words % chi-square score
MUST 174 37.49 70 16.61 -55.69 23.61
HAVE GOT TO 184 39.65 151 35.84 -9.61 0.12
HAVE TO 185 39.86 208 49.36 +23.83 12.32
TOTAL 543 117 429 101.81 -12.98 36.05

Table 3. Frequencies of root MUST, HAVE GOT TO and HAVE TO in DCPSE
(figures in bold are significant at p<0.01).

  • Epistemic uses of HAVE TO and HAVE GOT TO are rare throughout the thirty year period.
(Semi-) modal LLC frequency ICE-GB frequency Change in frequency
raw per 100,000 words raw per 100,000 words % chi-square score
MUST 206 44.39 91 21.60 -51.34 0.19
HAVE GOT TO 2 0.43 4 0.95 +120.93 3.36
HAVE TO 2 0.43 3 0.71 +65.12 1.83
TOTAL 210 45.25 98 23.26 -48.60 5.38

Table 4. Frequencies of epistemic MUST, HAVE GOT TO and HAVE TO in DCPSE.

These results were presented at ICEHL 15, Munich, and ISLE 1, Freiburg, in 2008, and published as Close and Aarts (2010). The paper and conference handouts can be downloaded from the main page for the project, The changing verb phrase in present-day British English.

This page last modified 12 June, 2013 by Jill Bowie.