Modality and embedded temporal operators

Peter Klecha


This paper presents a relative theory of tense which accounts for tense behaviors in English in both matrix and embedded contexts. Crucial to this proposal is novel data which shows that the temporal orientation of finite embedded clauses is constrained by the attitude verbs which embed them. While such constraints have been observed in modal auxiliaries and non-finite-embedding attitude verbs, finite-embedding-attitudes present an important new perspective because they show that whatever constraints are introduced by the modal must be able to coexist with a tensed prejacent. This proposal is compositional, and a formal analysis is given, by which modals, including attitude verbs, may constrain the temporal possibilities of an embedded clause, without themselves introducing a reference time argument. The constraining effect of attitude verbs also eliminates the need to stipulate a general Upper Limit Constraint, and allows for a means to capture correspondences between modal flavor and temporal orientation. The result is an elegant accounting of embedded tense with empirical coverage superior to previous proposals.

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tense; embedded tense; modality; embedding; sequence of tense

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ISSN: 1937-8912

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