Epistemic modality

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Epistemic modality refers to the conveyance of the speaker’s attitude toward the factualness of a proposition.


Sentences such as “John may be in his office” or “Mary could be at school by now” (Palmer 2001:26, 32) are examples of the expression of epistemic modality.


Traditionally, epistemic modality and deontic modality were considered the major subdivisions of modality. Palmer (2001) prefers to classify epistemic and evidential as the major subdivisions of “propositional modality.” According to Bybee, Perkins, and Pagliuca (1994: 176-181), epistemic is one of four major types of modality, along with agent-oriented modality, speaker-oriented modality, and subordinate modality.


  • 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 epistemische Modalität