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Russians in St. Petersburg or Moscow or Samara are not having to live in bunkers or flee their destroyed homes. Source

I just wanna ask whether the passage in bold is grammatically correct. I have never come across this construction. Is it possible to use modal verbs in continuous form?

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2 Answers 2

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The continuous tense is used here to emphasise that the situation is temporary.

The intention is obviously to contrast the situation in Russia with that in Ukraine. It would be possible to say that some people in Ukraine have to live in bunkers, but that could be understood to mean that that is their normal way of life. At present, they are having to live that way because of the war, while the Russian people are not.

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    I think one could add that “have (to)” is not a modal verb. The same construction would not have worked with “must”. (I am not sure about “aren’t needing to”, though, it seems wrong to me, but here my non-native ear is not sufficient.)
    – Carsten S
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 14:26
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    Yes, having to do something means it breaks with a usual pattern or situation.
    – Lambie
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 15:24
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    @Lambie Not always. "Children have to obey their parents", "Americans do not have to follow EU laws".
    – Barmar
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 15:28
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    @Barmar Yes, it always has that meaning; Children are not having to obey their parents nowadays. Kate is right. And Americans are now having to abide by EU laws.
    – Lambie
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 15:33
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    @Lambie Sorry, didn't realize you meant that only along with "are", I thought you were saying that it always means this even without "are".
    – Barmar
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 15:34
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It's grammatical (as explained by @Kate Bunting), but it sounds unnatural to me. A more common way to say it would be

Russians in St. Petersburg or Moscow or Samara do not have to live in bunkers or flee their destroyed homes.

It sounds to me like a stereotypical way that Russians speak in English, although the author of the Quora post seems to be American (their name is American, they studied at an American university, but they also say they were a cosmonaut, which is a Russian occupation).

But the author could have intended the nuance that Kate describes by using the continuous mode.

Another way they could have emphasized the specific situation that's causing these people to live in bunkers would be:

Russians in St. Petersburg or Moscow or Samara are not forced to live in bunkers or flee their destroyed homes.

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    It's actually completely usual.
    – Lambie
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 15:23
  • I agree that "having to" is awkward-sounding when used for this purpose, especially in the negative (as used here): "are not having to." While it's certainly understandable on a discussion board, you would never see "Russians are not having to..." written in a major media publication. But @Barmar I think a better rewrite - i.e. one that preserves the continuous - would be, e.g., "Russians are not being forced to flee their homes and live in bunkers..."
    – cruthers
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 15:43
  • I upvoted, but I think this answer could also be improved by clarifying that the "more common" way of saying it actually loses something in meaning, albeit subtle, when you move from the continuous to the non-continuous.
    – cruthers
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 15:46
  • @cruthers The original quote uses "or", so it seems like those are two independent things Ukrainians are being forced to do (many flee to other countries rather than bunkers).
    – Barmar
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 15:46
  • @cruthers I added something that effect.
    – Barmar
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 15:48

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