1

While giving an answer to an EL&U member's question just now, I had written

"although you would certainly submit a project report,"

but then somebody said it is not always done; I instinctively edited it to

"...although you might certainly submit..."

before wondering whether it is grammatically sound.

Here I have used 'might' in the sense 'you may or may not want to submit' rather than 'you can submit.' That set me to wondering whether such a sense of uncertainty can be juxtaposed with the word 'certainly' and still remain sound usage.

Other examples:

  1. I am not surprised you didn't use a thesaurus straightaway -- I am aware that for such purposes you might certainly consult the dictionary first.

(it is quite possible you may consult the dictionary first)

  1. I suggest you don't try to avoid your ex-spouse, though you might certainly feel the urge to do so.

(You are likely to feel the urge to do so)

  1. You may certainly feel apprehensive facing your first driving test, but the key is to be calm and make well-considered decisions.

(you are likely to feel apprehensive...)

Point to ponder: does any ordinary citizen take a second driving test, unless he or she has failed the first one!

Added after 20 hours by edit:

I got no answer or comment in nearly 20 hours, which is highly unusual on English Stack Exchange where 12 seconds after asking seems to be the mean delay for getting a reply!

migrated from english.stackexchange.com May 7 '17 at 6:24

This question came from our site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts.

  • You may consider posting a bounty. – choster Apr 24 '17 at 18:53
  • Thanks for the suggestion. I shall consider it. What puzzles me is why there is no response -- most questions here including my own other questions have received a very quick reply -- if not a full answer then at least knowledgeable comments! – English Student Apr 24 '17 at 21:35
2

The issue here is what you want the modal verbs "might" or "may" to modify. In your examples, because "might" comes before the adverb "certainly," it seems to paradoxically indicate a level of possibility that modifies certainty.

I would suggest swapping the modal verb with the adverb.

In the sentence

You might certainly submit...

the adverb "certainly" modifies the verb "submit," and the modal "might" modifies "certainly." That's where you run into a paradox. If you switch the two, then "certainly" modifies the modal verb "might," which is fine. You can say that there is certainly a possibility of something.

So I would write your original phrase like this:

although you certainly might submit a project report...

Or in another of your examples:

I suggest you don't try to avoid your ex-spouse, though you certainly might feel the urge to do so.

Having said all this, I'm sure that any reader or listener would understand what you mean in either case, the distinction is certainly subtle.

  • Thanks a lot for answering and explaining the difference! – English Student Apr 25 '17 at 0:48

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