Letter: Flexible grammar

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The Independent Culture
Sir: I can - or should, must - not be surprised at the reported decline in the use of modal verbs and their replacement by Americanisms such as "gotta" and "gonna". It is somehow very difficult to see the exact meaning of a modal.

To take an example: "I should tell my parents first." Does should indicate obligation or advisability? Hard to tell. A teenager would be on much safer parental ground with "have got to". The use of may can express possibility or permission. Should someone use would when they mean will?

The vast majority of people are not grammarians and don't speak like characters in a classic novel. They want to express clearly and succinctly - albeit ungrammatically - their intentions. "Gotta" and "gonna" have the advantage of being direct and unambiguous. After all, might is not always right.

JOHN O'BYRNE

Dublin

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