Shades of Modality

by • November 07, 2011

“Writers should learn to properly use auxiliary modal verbs.”

Even if a reader has no idea what a modal verb is, this statement is more likely to agitate than inform, and it would start any other article on a sour note. Lurking at the beginning of the sentence, the modal verb “should” is responsible for this agitation.

What are Auxiliary and Modal Verbs?

Auxiliary verbs are “helper verbs” used in combination with other verbs to assist in stating tone, tense, condition/state, voice or mood. A modal verb is a type of auxiliary verb that expresses possibility, necessity or obligation. Because of their commanding tone, modals must be used carefully, and some writers attempt to avoid them entirely.

Nobody likes to be told what to do. If a reader senses this is happening, he becomes defensive and reads more skeptically. Sometimes, this is completely subconscious, but it is no less of a problem. Limiting those bullying, bossy modals can make writing more pleasant.