Modal past tense: An applied linguistics approach

Whitney R. L Krause, University of Texas at El Paso


This paper investigates the ways in which English employs non-temporal past tense morphology to convey a modal meaning (modal past) and then applies this analysis to the development of English language pedagogy. I have endeavored to produce an account of modal past which is based in the scientific principles of linguistics while also remaining accessible to practitioners such as language teachers. I argue that modal past is an element of the Universal Grammar of human language, and - following the Full Transfer / Full Access Hypothesis of Second Language Acquisition - that all students have inherent access to this principle, whether or not their native language exhibits it. However, the status of modal past in the students' L1 will dictate how they approach the task of mastering its use in English. The implication for EFL practitioners is that an effective approach for teaching modal past will involve 1) treating it as a coherent linguistic device for signaling hypotheticality rather than a list of ad-hoc mechanical rules, and 2) designing teaching materials which address either the Full Transfer or the Full Access circumstances of acquisition.

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Recommended Citation

Krause, Whitney R. L, "Modal past tense: An applied linguistics approach" (2011). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI1494359.