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This study approaches newly observed phraseological units (PUs) in contemporary English from semantic and corpus perspectives. The discussion focuses on PUs shoulds and oughts, oughts and musts, and shoulds and musts. One of the interesting phenomena observed in contemporary English is the appearance of the noun forms of modal verbs. Examples include should, shoulds, oughts, and ought to’s, which resemble must. Adopting a quantitative perspective based on contemporary English corpora, I argue that not all modal verbs evolve into nouns and that past noun forms (e.g., could, should) and plural forms (e.g., shoulds, oughts) appear most frequently in contemporary English. I also demonstrate that plural forms (e.g., shoulds, oughts, and ought to’s) function as ‘‘obligations’’ because of their semantic analogy to must. This function reflects the essential functions of each modal verb. Regardless of whether they are singular or plural, the
noun forms of modal verbs also serve meta-linguistic functions, as they raise awareness of the essential functions of each modal verb. Using examples from corpora, I demonstrate that PUs consisting of the noun forms of modal verbs such as shoulds and oughts, oughts and musts, and shoulds and musts are used more commonly than are the separate noun forms. The results also indicate that the functions of PUs differ from those of must (i.e., obligation) and that each PU retains its own function, which is derived from its components.
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