Mood and Modality: Conditional Clauses

Seminar Paper, 2002

15 Pages, Grade: 2-


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Mood and Modality: Modal Verbs – The Core Notions of Modality

3. Conditionals
3.1. General Ideas
3.2. Real Conditions
3.3. Unreal Conditions

4. Modality in an Academic Text -
Analysis of Conditional Clauses in Text 6: “Mood and Modality:
Basic Principles” by F.R. Palmer

5. Summary

6. References

1. Introduction

When Frank Jackson in the introductory passage of “Conditionals” questions the theory of conditionals the answer is given with “ there is no theory of conditionals which has won general acceptance. Instead there are a number of competing theories” (Jackson, 1991: 3). The following pages of the book present such competing theories, all searching for the logic in conditional clauses.

However the understanding of conditional clauses in languages, e.g. in the English language, can be very difficult regarding to the different types and their functions.

One the one hand functional Grammar declares the facts of grammar, which are connected with conditional clauses but the main focus is on its usage and the function. Therefore this dissertation investigates mood and modality, which can be expressed by conditional clauses but is also connected with modal verbs, first in a declarative and secondly in an analysing way in order to find out, what the importance especially of conditional clauses and modal verbs for the language is.

In the first part after this introduction, modal verbs as the core notions of modality are presented regarding their meaning and importance to express mood and modality, judgements and attitudes. The next part presents an attempt of understanding the complex theory of conditional clauses as a basis for analysing an academic text. An analysis of how modality, judgements and attitudes are expressed in an academic text follows in the next part focusing on the use of conditional clauses. Although the theory and use of conditional clauses with reference to mood and modality are not exhausted with this dissertation, the last part tries to summarize how mood and modality, judgements and attitudes of speakers can be expressed with the help of conditionals.

2. Mood and Modality: Modal Verbs – The Core Notions of Modality

Expressing judgements and attitudes are strictly connected with terms like ´mood´ and ´modality´; the first term seen as a verbal and the second one more as a semantic, subjective one referring to interpersonal meaning. F. R. Palmer tries to explain both ideas with “Modality is proposed for the grammatical category under consideration, but traditional studies talk of ´mood´. In its traditional sense mood is a purely morphological category of the verb…will here be restricted to that sense… Mood is therefore one way in which modality may be expressed”

(Palmer, 1986: 229). On the whole both terms refer to the fact of expressing certain attitudes of the speaker towards the contents of the sentence.

Besides this explanation of ´mood´ and ´modality´ Palmer uses the term “core notions of modality” to show the importance of modal verbs in order to express ´modality´ where three types are distinguished. Non-factuality and subjectivity are mentioned as two characteristics of epistemic modality, “the modes of knowing”(Palmer, 1986: 230), including the subjective view of the speaker in natural language. It is also performative with regard to the modal verbs that are used for this kind of modality “expressing judgements that it is possible or necessary that a certain state of affairs exists”(Palmer, 1986: 230). While ´may´ and ´must´ in epistemic use express these performative judgements that can only be made in the present, that means they do not normally occur in past tense with past time reference, they can also be used for giving permission, laying obligation for a performance of actions in the future and therefore refer to deontic modality, “the modes of obligation”(Palmer, 1986: 230). Although this type of modality is non-factual, performative and often subjective, too, the usage of ´must´ expressing deontic modality can also be fairly neutral, that means without any obligation, but mostly with an interest in commenting on conditions etc. Besides the modal verbs ´must´ and ´may´, ´will´ is also used to express epistemic modality or a reasonable conclusion. The modal verb ´shall´ with its sense of guarantee or commitment refers to deontic modality.

When Palmer presents the epistemic and deontic form expressed by modal verbs as the core notions of modality, another type, dynamic modality, is also mentioned and mostly expressed with the help of ´can ´(or ´will´) because their use reveals willingness and ability.

In order to understand the usage of conditional clauses in oral statements or academic texts and make use of them, it is very important to distinguish the forms of modality, the modal verbs and their functions to express different attitudes or judge situations, e.g. commenting on hypothetical or possible situations.

Therefore the next part takes the conditionals into consideration and investigates the usage of different modal verbs and what is possibly more important the usage of tenses with these modals.

3. Conditionals

3.1 General Ideas

As it was already noticed by Frank Jackson, there are a lot of competing theories of conditional clauses. According to David Christal, a conditional is “ a term used in grammatical description to refer to clauses whose semantic role is the expression of hypothesis or condition” while Palmer himself claims “ conditional sentences are unlike all others in that both the subordinate clause… and the main clause… are non-factual.”(F. R. Palmer, 1986: 189).

Although there are different ways to deal with the theories of conditionals, most of the authors relate them to ´modality and tense´ and reveal certain basic principles in the theory of grammar, usage of tenses and according to functional grammar their function in sentences with regard to the speakers relationship to what is said and therefore as a means of expressing judgements and attitudes.

Conditional clauses consist of two parts: a main clause (result clause) and the subordinate clause (mostly introduced by a conjunction, e.g. if, expressing the condition). Both together as a sentence express the relationship between a condition and an outcome where the occurrence of the result depends on the accomplishment of the condition.

Dealing with mood and modality and its basic principles, F. R. Palmer declares two types of conditionals, one ´real´ and the other ´unreal´ and claims that “ neither indicates that an event has occurred (or is occurring or will occur); the sentence merely indicates the dependence of the truth of one proposition upon the truth of another” (F. R. Palmer, 1986: 189).

The distinction between unreal and real conditionals are made in all works referring to conditional clauses in connection with the use of tenses in English and the basic principles of mood and modality. Therefore the next step is to deal with the distinction of unreal and real conditions and what seems to be more important, the question, how mood and modality are expressed with the help of conditionals.

3.2. Real Conditions

With regard to reality and existence, possible situations real conditions are

presented in the declarative form and express on the one hand facts,

universals, general habits and on the other hand are often used to refer to future events and “ predict that if one takes place, some other will follow, often with some kind of causal relationship between the two” (F. R. Palmer, 1986: 190).

Such predictions could refer to future events, open situations and express non-factuality and potentiality. With regard to the speaker's attitude the “judgement about the likelihood of some unknown event in the future depending on some other”(Palmer), which is the most useful function of conditionals, is implied. Assuming that an event at any time can depend upon any other and therefore any proposition concerning such an event can do, there exists potentially considerable freedom in the choice of tenses in both parts of the conditional clause. Nevertheless, the main basic characteristic for real conditions is the speaker's offer of two possible, non- factual (sometimes facts) proportions, where one is dependent for its truth or factuality upon the other.


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Mood and Modality: Conditional Clauses
University of Potsdam
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Mood, Modality, Conditional, Clauses
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Liane Weigel (Author), 2002, Mood and Modality: Conditional Clauses, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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