I’ve read CGEL says have to has three meanings: deontic, dynamic, and epistemic (p205) But when it comes to a negation example below, it’s not easy what to take from the three. How do I understand this have to example combined with negation?

Ayrton Senna did not have to die.

This came to me in a flash as I lay, whimpering in pain, in the backseat of Denny’s car on the way to the animal hospital that night. It came to me: on the Grand Prix circuit in the town of Imola. In the Tamburello corner. Senna did not have to die. He could have walked away.

Saturday, the day before the race, Senna’s friend and protege Rubens Barrichello was seriously injured in an accident. Another driver, Roland Ratzenberger, was killed during a practice session. Senna was very upset about the safety conditions of the track. He spent Sunday, race morning, assembling the other drivers to form a new driver’s safety group; Senna was elected the head of the group.

People say that he was so ambivalent about that race, the San Marino Grand Prix, that he thought seriously of retiring as a driver on Sunday morning. He almost quit. He almost walked away.

But he did not walk away. He raced, that fateful first day of May in 1994. And when his car failed to turn in at the fabled Tamburello corner, a corner known for its excessive danger and speed, his car left the track at nearly one hundred ninety miles per hour and struck a concrete barrier; he was killed instantly by a piece of suspension that penetrated his helmet.

Or he died in the helicopter on the way to the hospital.

Or he died on the track, after they had pulled him out of the wreckage.

Enigmatic is Ayrton Senna, in death as well as in life.

To this day, there is still great controversy over his death. On-board camera footage mysteriously disappeared. Accounts of his death differed. The politics of the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile came into play. It is true that, in Italy, if a driver dies while on the track, the death is investigated immediately and the race is stopped. It is true that, if a race were to be stopped in such a way, millions of dollars would be lost by the FIA, its sponsors, the track, television revenue, and so forth. Commerce would be affected. Whereas if that same driver were to die in a helicopter, for instance, en route to the hospital, the race could continue.

It is also true that the first man to reach Senna after that moment, Sidney Watkins, said: “We lifted him from the cockpit and laid him on the ground. As we did, he sighed and, although I am totally agnostic, I felt his soul departed at that moment.”

What is the real truth regarding the death of Ayrton Senna, who was only thirty-four years old?

I know the truth, and I will tell you now:

He was admired, loved, cheered, honored, respected. In life as well as in death. A great man, he is. A great man, he was. A great man, he will be.

He died that day because his body had served its purpose. His soul had done what it came to do, learned what it came to learn, and then was free to leave. And I knew, as Denny sped me toward the doctor who would fix me, that if I had already accomplished what I set out to accomplish here on earth, if I had already learned what I was meant to learn, I would have left the curb one second later than I had, and I would have been killed instantly by that car.

But I was not killed. Because I was not finished. I still had work to do.

(Garth Stein, The Art of Racing in the Rain)

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    This is interesting. I don't even know the terms epistemic, deontic, and dynamic modality until today. After I read a bit about them from Wikipedia (I don't have CGEL), I believe that Senna did not have to die was used in epistemic sense, i.e. it is [concerned with the theoretical possibility of propositions being true or not true (including likelihood and certainty)]. Nov 24, 2013 at 6:26
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    The cited text is unnecessarily long.
    – Kaz
    Nov 24, 2013 at 7:42
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    Speculation vs. obligation
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 24, 2013 at 9:12
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    It was not necessary for Senna to die.
    – Jim
    Nov 24, 2013 at 9:12
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    @Jim The OP is asking whether "(not) have to" is used in the text to speculate (epistemic) or for obligation (deontic). We can eliminate have as a main verb (dynamic). This is how I would recast the question.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 24, 2013 at 9:17

1 Answer 1


It's deontic. I must confess that as a native speaker, I've never heard the term (to my recollection), but I can tell you that it is expressing obligation. It's another way of saying:

Her death didn't need to happen.

She didn't need to die

She shouldn't have died.

She need not [to] have died.

This is usually said when some dies due to an accident, an act of violence, or some sort of tragedy.

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