Events

The most influential approach to modals tells us that the force of modals (existential vs. universal) is lexically encoded into its semantics (at least in English) (Kratzer, 1977, 1991). However, there seems to be reasons to doubt this analysis for so-called ability modals (eg. ‘I can see you’). Two sets of facts make identifying the force of ability modals a challenge: first, the meaning of able(p) sometimes seems closer to a necessity (eg. ‘I can swim’); second, it sometimes seems closer to an assertion of bare (p), requiring p to be true in the actual world. I will discuss three related puzzles that have led either to a treatment of ability modals as necessity (universal) modals (Kenny, 1976; Brown, 1988; Giannakidou, 2001; Giannakidou & Staraki, 2010), or as not modal at all (eg. Bhatt, 1999), and focus on two cases where the modal component seems to ‘disappear’ from an ability claim and the differences between them: Actuality Entailments (eg. ‘Yesterday, Rebecca was able to cross the lake’ leads to the inference that she actually did) and what I will call ‘and p-strengthening’ (eg. ‘Rebecca can see the summit’ leads to the inference that she does see it). We will further show that even if particularly salient with ability modals, these problems are not specific to ability modals. They can be accounted for by keeping an analysis of ‘ability can’ as an existential quantifier over possible worlds, not fundamentally different from other root modals.