On the Interaction of Aspect and Modal Auxiliaries

Valentine Hacquard

This paper discusses the interaction of aspect and modality, and focuses on the puzzling implicative effect that arises when perfective aspect appears on certain modals: perfective somehow seems to force the proposition expressed by the complement of the modal to hold in the actual world, and not merely in some possible world. I show that this puzzling behavior, originally discussed in Bhatt (1999) for the ability modal, extends to all modal auxiliaries with a circumstantial modal base (i.e., root modals), while epistemic interpretations of the same modals are immune to the effect. I propose that implicative readings are contingent on the relative position of the modal w.r.t. aspect: when aspect scopes over the modal (as I argue is the case for root modals), it forces an actual event, thereby yielding an implicative reading. When a modal element scopes over aspect, no actual event is forced. This happens (i) with epistemics, which structurally appear above tense and aspect; (ii) with imperfective on a root modal: imperfective brings in an additional layer of modality, itself responsible for removing the necessity for an actual event. This proposal enables us to solve the puzzle while maintaining a standardized semantics for aspects and modals.