Evaluate the arguments for and against the hypothesis that Modals may head their own functional projection, requiring a revision of the Hierarchy of Projections suggested for English in Adger (2003).

Adger assumes that modals, periphrastic do and infinitivals ‘to’ are types of T and proposes the following Hierarchy of Projections (HoP) for English:


  • T> (Neg)> (Perf)> (Prog) > v >V


One of the reason for assuming this is that in English modals always precede negation:


(2)     a. John might not have been eating.

b.*John not might have been eating.


However, Adger shows that negation can precede infinitival to, as shown in (3), and that some dialects of English allow multiple modals in a clause, as shown in (4) and (5).


  • Not to go to her party would be an insult.
  • I would like to could swim.
  • He should can go tomorrow.


(Until now I have only referenced the assignment handout)


In (3) the infinitive is used as a noun. ‘To go to her party’ is a nominal constituent which is the subject of the sentence and so it is in the specifier of T. Since the negation precedes this constituent the negation is constituent and not sentential. Therefore, the fact that the negation precedes the ‘to’ does not undermine the HoP since the HoP takes into account only the sentential negation.


About double modals, considering the data from Hawick in Scotland, we have seen that ‘can’ is the only modal which can follow another modal. This is the case in the examples (4) and (5). In these two examples the verb ‘can’ should be interpreted as ‘to be able’.


Since in (4) ‘to be able’ can be substituted with ‘the ability’, the constituent ‘to could’ behaves as a nominal constituent i.e. NP which satisfies the uN features of the verb ‘to like’. Therefore, even in this example the HoP is not violated.


In (5) the modal ‘should’ expresses subjectivity and/or lack of certainty but not objectivity and/or necessity. Therefore the modality is not deontic, but epistemic, according to a distinction made by Max Bocchiola and Ludovico Geroli in ‘Practical Italian grammar from A to Z’. Since the first modal is not deontic but epistemic it can be substituted with the adverb ‘most probably’ > ‘most probably he can go tomorrow’. Therefore (5) does not properly violate HoP.

As the assignment handout says, despite of what is predicted by the HoP proposed by Adger, in Mandarin Chinese negation can appear before or after some modals, which are auxiliaries, as shown in (6)


(6) a.  ta bu   keyi qu

he NEG can go

‘He is not able to go’


  1. ta keyi bu     qu

he can NEG go

‘He is able to not go’


(a) and (b) show clearly the difference between sentential negation and constituent negation, respectively. It is a matter of scope.


In (a) the negation has a wide scope because it covers the whole sentence, that is why we could translate it as ‘it is not the case that he can go’. Therefore it is a sentential negation.


In (b) the negation has a narrow scope because it covers only the constituent ‘go’. Therefore it is a constituent negation.


Since the HoP takes into account only the sentential negation we will consider only (a). In this case the negation precedes the modal. This is a problematic example for the HoP. According to the HoP negation (Neg) follows T. Since ‘Adger assumes that modals (…) are types of T’ negation should follow the modal. However, in (6a) the negation precedes the modal. Therefore we need to revise the HoP proposed by Adger, considering also the examples in Swedish given in the assignment handout.


Let’s assume that Modal is a head. If we assume that the negation is the NEG head, it follows that the modal is to the right of Neg and that it therefore Merges before Neg. Given that it is to the left of Perf, it merges after Perf.




(8) Hierarchy of Projections


T ñ (Neg) ñ (Modal) ñ (Perf)ñ (Prog) ñ v ñ V


But if negation is Merged higher up than Modal, how can we ever generate sentences where it follows Modal? That is:


(9) John might not have been watching the tv.


As Adger says in Core Syntax, ‘the simple answer is that, in English, the highest auxiliary verb moves and adjoins to T, in the same way that V moves and adjoins to v’. Therefore, since the modal is an auxiliary, this gives us the following structure:


(9) John might not have been watching the tv.

As in the case of the tensed auxiliary, the reason why modal raises to T is that the tense value of the uninterpretable Infl feature on Modal (or Perf or Prog) is strong. This will mean that when [uInfl] on a modal is checked by the tense feature of T, the modal needs to get into a local relationship with T. This need for locality then triggers movement of Modal to adjoin to T.

First, the inflectional features on T and Modal Agree, and the uninterpretable inflectional feature on Modal is valued. Secondly, Modal must raise to adjoin to T, so that the checker and the checkee are local’ (sisters)’. (Adger, David. 2003. Core Syntax: A Minimalist approach. Oxford: OUP).


(12) ‘However, when there is a modal to bear the tense features of the sentence, the main verb remains uninflected for tense’. Therefore the tense on modals does not match with the tense on T and the tense on v ® the checking operation (13) is violated.


(13) T[tense : past] … v[utense : ] ® T [tense : past] … v[utense : past]


Anyway, in conclusion, in this system the advantages compensate this disadvantage. If we consider only verbs with verbal value, sentential negation and deontic modals, the hypothesis that Modals may head their own functional projection and that this projection follows Negation allows us to account for the languages where the negation precedes modal. This was not the case if modals were considered types of T, as Adger assumed, since T must be the first projection since it contains the subject. At the same time, the strength would explain why in English the modal-which is the first auxiliary- raises to T and precedes the negation. Another advantage of this system, a part from covering many languages, is that when modals precede negation, there is an upward movement, preferable to the downward one. Moreover, in English, the movement operation of modals would be perfectly coherent with the fact that the leftmost auxiliary moves to T.



Adger, David. 2003. Core Syntax: A Minimalist approach. Oxford: OUP.

  1. Bocchiola and L. Gerolin. 1999. Grammatica pratica dell’italiano dalla A alla Z’. Hoepli edition.


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