Literary Stylistics:
Workshop Notes No. 7

Mood and Modality I

Page Index
Mood and Modality and the Clause
The Finite Element

      Table of Finite Verbal Operators
Some Considerations in the Analysis of Mood
Some Problems in Halliday's Approach
      WH-element in Interrogatives
      The Imperative


You should read chapter four of Halliday's Introduction in relation to the analysis of mood and modality.

Mood and Modality and the Clause

One way by which one can glimpse at some of the preliminary issues in Halliday's approach to mood and modality, which are regarded by Halliday as belonging to the interpersonal metafunction of language, is by looking at a modification of the simple grammatical illustration below, which has been used in the previous workshop notes:

Table 6.3
I am writing handouts for my students
Subject Finite Predicator Complement Adjunct
Mood Residue

As you can see from the above table, we have added two more general categories:
Mood and Residue, and that

The verb may thus not only be divided into Finite and Predicator, but if these two elements are present, the verb is in turn split between the two major divisions of the clause: The Predicator, unlike the Finite, is present in most content verbs (as opposed to auxiliary verbs), whether they be finite or non-finite, but may be missing, according to Halliday, from clauses which have the verbs to be and to have (in the sense of 'to possess'), even if they are content verbs (pp. 78-9; 79-80; 121-2).**

The Finite Element

The Finite element of the clause involves what is called a finite verbal operator. The finite verbal operator, as you can see in the tables below (from p. 75 of the first edition of Halliday's Introduction), can be     
(Cf. p. 76 of the second edition or p. 116 of the third).

If the finite verbal operator is Temporal, it can represent
    or (according to Halliday) Future.
If it is Modal, it can be
    Low, or

Table of Finite Verbal Operators

There is a revised and in some ways more useful version of the tables on p. 76 of the second edition or p. 116 of the third, which also deals with the positive and negative versions of these operators. By looking at the tables below, it should be obvious to most of you that the past, present, and future, which are used to describe the temporal operators, are indicators of tense (to be more precise, we can describe it as primary tense [pp. 75; 75; 115-16]). It should also be obvious that the modal operators are identical with the modal auxiliaries of traditional grammar. There is a difference of terminology here, with the word operator being used to indicate that each of these verbs performs a function on another verb, and does not stand alone.

Table 6.4:
a) Temporal operators b) Modal operators
past present future low median high
did, was,
used to
does, is,
will, shall,
can, may,
would, should,
is to, was to
must, ought to,
has to, had to
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** I do not know if Halliday is consistent here, as the Predicator is crucial for the analysis of transitivity, and the verbs to be and to have (in the sense of 'to possess') can be analysed as relational process verbs, and are not simply left aside in transitivity analysis.

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Some Problems You May Face in the Analysis of Clausal Mood

In relation to clausal mood, one feature of Halliday's analysis which may differ from traditional approaches to the topic, is the non-presence of the subjunctive mood. In spite of its non-presence, you may want to include the subjunctive in your analysis in stylistics, as it may indicate the speaker/writer's uncertainty about something, or his/her description of a hypothetical situation. The subjunctive is present in the very first sentence of one of the extracts (by T.H. Huxley) to be discussed in the present workshop notes:

'Suppose it were perfectly certain that the life and fortune of every one of us would, one day or other, depend upon his winning or losing a game of chess.'
[Note the relationship of the finite verb 'were' with its subject in the clause following the verb 'Suppose'].

One reason why the subjunctive is excluded from the analysis of mood by some modern grammarians of English, may lie with the fact that many clauses which can be classified as subjunctive can also be analysed in terms of one of the other types of clausal mood. The main clause of the above sentence ('Suppose'), for example, can be analysed in terms of the imperative mood, while the subordinate clause following it ('it were perfectly certain') can be analysed in terms of the declarative mood.

Grammatical Classification of the 'WH' element

Some of you may face problems with the grammatical classification of the WH-element in WH interrogatives (also known as 'open' interrogatives), as it can function as
    complement or

This is of some interest to us, as the classification of the WH-element as subject, complement or adjunct may be of stylistic consequence. Examples of wh-elements functioning as subject, complement or adjunct are given below.

Table 6.5
what caused the accident
Subject/WH- '(past)
Mood Residue

Table 6.6
which road is it
Complement/WH- Finite Subject
Residue Mood

Table 6.7
where did you see it
Adjunct/WH- Finite Subject Predicator Complement
Residue Mood Residue

The above examples however, should not present too great a problem for those of you who have done some exercises in WH- movement in transformational grammar. By transforming a question to a declarative clause, for instance (or, in other words, by deriving the d-structure [which is always declarative in orthodox transformational grammar] from the given s-structure of the question), the reason why the WH-element is a subject or complement will become more apparent to you (e.g. from 'Which road is it?' to 'It is which road').

That 'where' in 'where have you been' (table 6.7) is an adjunct however, may seem less apparent. You may wonder for example, why it is an adjunct when what in 'what have the elephants done to the pier' is a complement. But where in the first clause clearly forms a locative function (possible d-structure: 'you have been [to] where'), and is thus an adjunct, whereas what in the second clause refers to something which the elephants have done, and thus has a direct object relationship with have . . . done, and is thus a complement.

Some Problems with the Imperative

There may also be some problems in relation to the analysis of the imperative mood. Examples which have a close relationship to Halliday's examples (pp. 85; 88; 140), are given below.

Table 6.8
come into the lecture theatre will you
Predicator Adjunct Finite Subject
Residue Mood tag

Table 6.9
do consider my application won't you
Predicator Predicator Complement Finite Subject
Residue Mood tag

Table 6.10
let's walk home shall we
Predicator Subject Predicator Adjunct Finite Subject
Residue Mood tag

Table 6.11
don't you trust him
Predicator Subject Predicator Complement

Example d) does seem to be problematic, as it could also be an interrogative:

Table 6.12
don't you trust him?
Finite Subject Predicator Complement
Mood Residue

There are at least two ways to analyse sentences a) - c) . We can either analyse the whole of each of sentences a) - c) in terms of the imperative mood, which seems to be Halliday's position, or we can regard Halliday's 'mood tags' as interrogatives, and the clauses before the tags as imperatives. The tags at the end of sentences a) - c) seem to be examples of yes-no interrogatives, and are not only grammatically quite unlike the clauses preceding the tags (note the use of the grammatically significant modal operators), but from a functional perspective, they also seem to moderate the imperative nature of the antecedent clauses.

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Texts to Analyse

Extract from Katherine Mansfield's 'Feuille d'Album'
Extract from T. H. Huxley
Blake's 'The Tyger'

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Last revised: 10 May 2017
Ismail S. Talib 1996-2017.