Syntactic Theory


  • Examples: may, can, will, shall, might, could
  • English auxiliaries differ from verbs in that they show the following properties, the NICE properties:
    • Negation:
      A finite auxiliary precedes the negation particle not to negate a sentence.
      1. Pat will not walk home.
      2. *Pat walked not home.
    • Inversion:
      A finite auxiliary stands at the beginning of a sentence in yes/no-questions.
      1. Will Pat walk home?
      2. Walked Pat home?
    • Contraction:
      There is an idiosyncratic contraction form of the auxiliary and the negation particle.
      1. won't, can't
    • Ellipsis:
      An auxiliary can occur in VP ellipsis, i.e. at the end of a sentence when a VP is missing.
      1. Pat should walk home and Mary might, too.
      2. *Pat walked home and Mary, too.
  • General properties of the modal auxiliaries:
    • no inflection for 3rd singular
    • only a finite form
  • Problematic cases:
    • The verbs be and have have the properties of both verbs and auxiliaries.
    • The support verb do is similar to be and have, but only has a finite form.
    • Infinitival to shows many properties of auxiliaries, and is considered an auxiliary in many theories of grammar.

Categories: Glossary