Lexical and Grammatical Means of Expressing Supposition in Modern English

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The subject of our course paper is how to express supposition in Modern English. Supposition expresses the degree of certainty that something is correct. In grammar the term supposition is closely associated with the category of Modality. By its nature modality expresses an action which depends on the attitude of the speaker, it does not refer directly to any characteristics of the event, but simply to the status of the proposition. Modality can easily express supposition, an action which is not real, but is/was supposed to happen and the realization of which depends on some conditions.


Introduction ..3
Lexical and Grammatical Means of Expressing Supposition in Modern English ..4
Conclusion 15
References 16

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Must, ought and should serve to express supposition implying strong probability. Must, however, seems to be in more frequent use than the other two verbs.

And finally about will and would. While shall and should are treated as two different verbs in modern English, will and would are considered to be forms of the same verb. But, however, it is to be noted, that in some of their meanings the use of will is parallel only to would which denotes an actual fact in the past; in other meanings will is found alongside of would which expresses unreality in the present or serves as a milder or more polite form of will.

The use of will and would are parallel in the following cases.

  1. Will may be used to express supposition with reference to the present or to the future in combination with the simple infinitive, or to the past in combination with the perfect infinitive. This meaning is found with the second and third persons.

For example:

This will be the school, I believe.(Dewey, 231)

  1. Would may be used rather sarcastically to express that something was to be expected. It is found in affirmative and negative sentences.

For example:

“Auntie Meg has been very brave.” “Yes. She would be brave.”(Alcott, 156).

So as we see the modals must, should, may/might, can/could, will/would, ought, besides their other meanings, have their obvious suppositional meanings.

Modal words are the lexical means of expressing supposition. They serve to express the relation between the statement made in the sentence and reality as established by the speaker. With the help of these words the speaker expresses various degrees of certainty, supposition, desirability or undesirability of the action indicated in the sentence. Modal words are invariable parts of speech.

Semantically modal words may be divided into some groups.

  1. those expressing supposition (e.g. maybe, perhaps, possibly, presumably, probably, evidently, obviously, apparently, etc.)

For example:

Perhaps I’ll be able to trace the murderers.(Paterson, 171)

Maybe this is the end.(Gakeri,37)

Probably he was not so young as he looked (Conrad,107)

  1. those expressing certainty (e.g. certainly, of course, undoubtedly, no noubt, surely, decidedly, definitely, really, in fact, indeed, naturally, and some others).

For example:

It was indeed an unusual situation for him to find himself in (Boyle, 448)

  1. those expressing (un)desirability (e.g. (un)luckily, (un)happily)

For example:

Fortunately, the men were genuine patriots and did not betray me. (Waldie, 189).

Luckily, found the man in the office and we quickly settled the difficulty. (Postley, 73)

So, like modal verbs, modal words also have their suppositional meanings.





After a deep analysis, we can conclude:

  • Supposition expresses the degree of certainty, whether something is correct, real or not.
  • Supposition is closely connected with modality, which expresses the attitude of the speaker and differs from tense and aspect from that it does not refer directly to any characteristics of the event.
  • The Subjunctive and Conditional moods express supposition, with the help of auxiliary verbs should and would+ indefinite infinitive or perfect infinitive (depending on tense).
  • The unreality of an action expressed by the Conditional mood is a dependent unreality: the realization of the action depends on the condition expressed in the subordinate clause (if clause).
  • The unreality of an action expressed by the Subjunctive mood expresses a condition, the realization of which may depend on certain circumstances.
  • The lexico- grammatical means of expressing supposition is actualized by the help of modal verbs can/could, may/might, will/would, should, must and ought.
  • The specific meaning of these verbs is as follows: they denote neither actions nor states but combined with the infinitive of a notional verb they show that the action or state expressed by the infinitive is considered as possible, desirable, necessary, suppositional etc.
  • The lexical means of expressing supposition is actualized by the help of modal words, such as maybe, perhaps, possibly, presumably, probably, evidently, obviously, apparently, etc.

Besides all above mentioned points it should be also said that modality, for all the positive linguistic work performed upon it, continues to be a tremendously interesting field of analytical observation. There is no doubt that it will be further exposed, clarified, and paradigmatically ordered in the course of continued linguistic research.




  1. M.Y.Blokh “A Course of Theoretical English Grammar” Москва, 1983
  2. B.Ilysh “The Structure of Modern English”, Ленинград, “Просвещение”, 1971
  3. F.R.Palmer, “Mood and Modality” 2nd ed. Cambridge Univ. Press. 2001
  4. Master P. “Grammar and Technical Writing” Washington, 2004
  5. Ganshina M.A., Vasilevskaya N.M. “English Grammar” Moscow, 1964
  6. Gordon E.M., Krylova I.P. “A Grammar of present-day English”1985
  7. G.Radden and R. Dirven, “Cognitive English Grammar”, John Benjamins, 2007
  8. Kaushanskaya, Kovner, Korzhevnikova “A Grammar of the English Language”, Москва, 2009
  9. Л.С. Бархударов, Д.А. Штеллинг “Грамматика английского языка” Москва1973


  1. http://grammar.about.com/od/mo/g/modalityterm.htm
  2. http://belozerovaineng.blogspot.com/
  3. http://usefulenglish.ru/grammar/subjunctive-mood-summary

Fiction cited

  1. Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. United Kingdom, 1813
  2. Shakespeare, William. Julius Caesar. (ed. John Dover Wilson) The New Shakespeare Edition. Cambridge University Press, 1968
  3. Galsworthy, John. Indian Summer of a Forsyte, United Kingdom, 1918
  4. Maugham, Somerset. Rain. New York, 1923

Dictionaries cited

  1. Collins English Dictionary. 1979. London: Collins





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