1

"Now Skouri turned his thoughts to what lay ahead. He must make certain that everything went perfectly at the airport." (The Other Side of Midnight by Sidney Sheldon)

I keep telling myself that the author should have used "had to" which is the past of must, as I learned. So why must? could "must" also express the past tense?

Thank you.

  • It is the present tense from his point of view. – user3169 Feb 20 '16 at 3:19
2

There are two possible parsings of this must:

  1. Although today must is usually expressed with had to in past tense, must may also act as its own past tense—historically, in fact, it was the past-tense form of the now-defunct verb mote. Note that most of the modals employ past-tense forms with both past and present reference in some contexts; for example

    • John says we might/could/should/must file an objection.
    • John said we might/could/should/must file an objection.
  2. Alternatively, you may understand must here as reflecting Skouri's actual thoughts at the time, as if the sentence were in quotes. This is a very common literary device.

  • Can should be used for the past tense of must, or is it a deprecated usage? – Alejandro Feb 20 '16 at 14:08
  • @ustanak No; should and must have slightly different meanings, depending on context. The syntax of modal verbs is complicated, but the semantics of modal verbs is vastly complicated: entire books have been written on the semantics, and they often disagree because the use of modal verbs changes constantly over time. – StoneyB Feb 20 '16 at 14:46
  • Thank you. I'd use should sometimes as the past tense of should. However, last time I saw a movie where a person said I should go and it was clear that in the scene meant the past. – Alejandro Feb 20 '16 at 14:47
1

Must does express the past tense in reported speech here and here

  • Thanks a lot to you all. I feel that I'll learn a great deal here. – Rafiq Feb 20 '16 at 3:41

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.