LINGUIST List 6.1485

Mon Oct 23 1995

Sum: Can't / must not / mustn't

Editor for this issue: Ljuba Veselinova <>


  1. hiro-t, Summary: can't / must not / mustn't

Message 1: Summary: can't / must not / mustn't

Date: Mon, 23 Oct 1995 11:19:53 Summary: can't / must not / mustn't
From: hiro-t <>
Subject: Summary: can't / must not / mustn't

Dear Linguists,
 I received a summary from my senior colleague who posted a query
on epistemic English modals. Here is his summary:

 At the end of August, I raised a query about the English modals through
Prof. Tanaka's e-mail. I asked you what is the most suitable modal
in the following chocies.

 (1) Sam isn't eating his food. He {can't / must not / musn't} be hungry.

 (2) A: I saw Prof. Smith in the dining room.
 B: He {can't / must not / mustn't} be there. I just saw him in his office

 (3) A: Who are you calling?
 B: Dick. The phone is ringing, but there's no answer. He
 {can't / must not / mustn't} be home.

 (4) A: Someone is knaocking at the door. It may be Mary.
 B: It {can't / must not / mustn't} be Mary. She went to a movie[

 (5) A: Sally has flunked every test so far this semester.
 B: She {can't / must not / mustn't} have studies very hard.

 (6) A: Someone told me that jane quit school.
 B: You're kidding! That {can't / must not / mustn't} be true.

 I got 29 repondences. Thank you very much for answering my query.
I would express my sincere thanks to the following people who supplied
useful data:

 D. Yeager, S. thibault, S. Schaufle, T. Wilmott. B.T. Bruening,
 L. Colvin, M. Johnson, T. Lander, D.A. Schneider, r. DcArrmond,
 A.F. Gupta, S. Fleischman, J. Kirchner, J. DeChicchis, P.M. Jacobson,
 P. Foulkes, L. Trask. M.R. West, N. Ostler, M. Egan, S. Nicolle,
 M. Jackman, N. Stenson, M. Abramovich, K. Barskaitiki, A. Sherwood,
 Gladney, S. Seemiller, and Anonymous.

 The result of this inquiry is as follows. I will show it in percentages:

 can't must not mustn't
 (1) 22% 61% 17%
 (2) 96 4 0
 (3) 22 66 12
 (4) 96 4 0
 (5) 32 53 15
 (6) 92 8 0

 As you can see from his table above, _must not_ is more likely to be
used in negative context of previous utterances. _Can't_ is vice versa.
The result is as expected, he said. If you have any comments on this
result, please don't hesitate to e-mail me (Tanaka) diurectly. I will
send him your message.

Best Wishes,
Hiroaki Tanaka, Tokushima University, Japan.
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