Binary tense and modality

H. Broekhuis, H.J Verkuyl

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
547 Downloads (Pure)


The present paper adopts as its point of departure the claim by Te Winkel (1866) and Verkuyl (2008) that mental temporal representations are built on the basis of three binary oppositions: Present/Past, Synchronous/Posterior and Imperfect/Perfect. Te Winkel took the second opposition in terms of the absence or presence of a temporal auxiliary zullen ‘will’. However, in a binary system Future loses the status it has in a ternary analysis as being at the same level as Past and Present. The present paper shows that Present and Past already may express posterior information, there being no temporal role for zullen ‘will’. Grice’s Maxim of Quantity determines which sort of interpretation (current or posterior) is to be associated with Present or Past. The infinitival form of zullen ‘will’ should be seen as an epistemic modal operator with a specific role in the interaction between speaker and hearer. This operator will be argued to be positioned between the first and the third opposition. The binary approach is not restricted to Dutch and so it points to a fundamental flaw in Kissine (2008) which proposed that the English auxiliary will is (only) temporal.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)973-1009
Number of pages37
JournalNatural Language & Linguistic Theory
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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