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Many sources say that the word "dare" is or can be a modal verb. Collins Dictionary classifies it as a semi-modal (along with the word "need"). The distinguishing characteristic of a modal is that it isn't inflected - i.e. no -s in the 3rd person singular.

The "semi-modal" designation obviously applies to the word "need", since you can see it functioning as either a main verb or a modal:

  1. Bob needs to improve his resume. (main)

  2. Until then, Bob need not apply. (modal)

  3. Until then, Bob needs not apply. (definitely incorrect)

But, does this really apply to "dare"?

  1. Carol dares to pet the jaguar. (main)

  2. Carol dare not ride on the crocodile. (supposed to be modal, but just sounds wrong to me)

  3. Carol dares not ride on the crocodile. (sounds fine to me, but what is it? Another main verb, it seems like. Then, instead of "ride" being the main verb in the sentence, it would just be the "bare infinitive" without "to.")

Dropping the 3rd person singular ending on "dare" just doesn't sound right to me, even though the textbooks say that it should. Is there a current or recent change in usage that has/is taken/taking place? Or do I just have it wrong for this specific word? Maybe I'm just "projecting" the main-verb meaning onto the modal and incorrectly conjugating the modal. After all, other modals like "may" and "can" don't have an equivalent main verb to cause confusion, so I'd never say something like "Alice mays know the answer." But then, why don't I make the same mistake with the other semi-modal "need" as I do for "dare"?

I would be interested to see the Ngrams results for "dare [X]" vs. "dares [X]" in the 3rd person singular form, from anyone who is proficient in using that tool, in addition to your own personal experience. It would also be interesting to see if any sources can be found which take the opposite position (i.e. that "dare" can only ever be a main verb, not a modal).

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Actually, "Carol dare not ride on the crocodile" sounds more natural to me than "Carol dares not ride on the crocodile". (I'm a native speaker of Northeast AmE.)

I would be interested to see the Ngrams results for "dare [X]" vs. "dares [X]" in the 3rd person singular form

You read my mind! That was exactly what I intended to do when I started reading your question. Here is an ngram for "she dare(s) not":

enter image description here

This might include usages such as "Could she dare not . . .?" (in which case "dare" would be an infinitive, not finite, form), but I doubt that they'd be a large fraction of the total. Here is an ngram for an interrogative form:

enter image description here

The most common alternatives ("does he dare try" and "does he dare to try") don't even show up on the chart. I think that pseudo-modal (or whatever you'd like to call it) "dare" is quite alive and well.

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  • Wow, from your first chart it appears that the modal usage outnumbers the alternative by a factor of 4 to 1! It is also steeply trending upward, not downward, while the alternative is not, so it seems you have thoroughly debunked my hypothesis. I'm surprised to find the answer is so clear-cut, but at least I'm not the only person adding an "s" - if that's a mistake, it's one 25% of the literature also makes :D Jul 20 at 15:58
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    I wouldn't necessarily call it a mistake; as you said, "dare" can act as a "regular" verb, too. And keep in mind that Google's ngrams have several limitations (e.g., being limited only to a particular corpus). But yes, I think that this at least shows that it does get used. Jul 20 at 17:45

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