One of my favorite nonstandard bits of English is the double modal, as exemplified by sentences like “You might should do that.” They are a peripheral part of my dialect thanks to my Ozark ancestors, and while I don’t use them on a daily basis, I delight in tossing them into the mix once in a while; they give me that warm down-home feeling. A few years ago the Log had a post on them (with some followups linked in the “Updates” at the bottom); now they’ve become all the rage in the linguablogosphere (Lingua Franca, Sentence first), thanks to the appearance on the scene of MultiMo, the Database of Multiple Modals, created by Paul Reed and Michael Montgomery of the University of South Carolina. The database “brings together the research and investigations from more than forty years of scholarship, primarily in the Southern United States, Scotland, and Northern England” and “includes almost 2000 examples, nearly all documented MMs, in a manner designed to spur further research using them”; it is accompanied by “a comprehensive annotated bibliography of the published scholarly research” and “a commentary section that provides pertinent comments on MMs from scholars and a variety of other sources either printed or online.” If you want to take part, contact one of the administrators for a username and password. You might could enjoy it.


  1. They spawned a discussion at Arlo & Janis recently as well.

  2. michael farris says

    Might could be this one comment could use some company….

  3. Double modals aren’t natural for me but I admire their compactness and occasionally use them. Also ‘useta could’. Not, however, ‘usen’t to could’.

  4. Trond Engen says

    I have suggested a couple of times that the second element of the doble modal is an innovated infinitive for the modal verb, making English double modals parallel with the other Germanic languages, but I’ve been sadly lacking in evidence except my own feel for it. Now, useta could is evidence.

  5. However, they don’t come from varieties influenced by Germanic languages which have full inflections for modals, but from Scots — which has no more inflections in its modals than English does.

  6. Trond Engen says

    John C: I know, but the analogy with might be/have/come/etcc. would force the search for an infinitive on an English speaker too. And infinitives identical to the past forms is regular enough to work.

  7. Past forms? Might could is more common than may can in America, but I don’t know what the statistics look like in Ulster or Scotland. English modals are only historically tensed, except in subordinate clauses where “sequence of tenses” applies: I think he can do it becomes I thought he could do it.

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