Deontic modality

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Deontic modality is a kind of modality having to do with permission and obligation.


“You may/can go now,” “You must go now” (Palmer 2001: 71).


Traditionally, deontic modality and epistemic modality were considered the major subdivisions of modality. Palmer (2001: 9-10) prefers to regard deontic modality and dynamic modality as the major subdivisions of event modality, the basic distinction being that deontic modality involves an obligation or permission imposed externally, whereas dynamic modality expresses the ability or willingness of the individual.

The label “deontic” is avoided by Bybee, Perkins, and Pagliuca (1994:176-181), who opt instead for labels such as speaker-oriented modality, where the speaker imposes conditions on an addressee, and obligation, a type of agent-oriented modality that reports the existence of external, social conditions compelling an agent to complete an action.


  • Bybee, Joan L. & Perkins, Revere & Pagliuca, William. 1994. The evolution of grammar: Tense, aspect and modality in the languages of the world. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
  • Palmer 2001

Other languages

German deontische Modalität