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Modal chains

In Afrikaans the use of more than one modal verb in one proposition is quite common; even three modals are possible, as in (1a). Afrikaans modals have no infinitive inflection, and one or more of these modals may even take a preterite form, as in (1b).

a. Sy sal die berekenings vinniger moet kan doen.
she will.AUX.MOD the calculations quicker must.AUX.MOD can.AUX.MOD do.INF
She will have to be able to do the calculations more quickly.
b. Sy sou die berekenings vinniger moes kon doen.
she shall.AUX.MOD.PRT the calculations quicker must.AUX.MOD.PRT can.AUX.MOD.PRT do.INF
She should have been able to do the calculations more quickly.

The surface order of modals, present or preterite, is constrained by (i) the tendency for modals expressing counterfactuality, such as epistemic or negated modals, to precede all other modals in the string, and (ii) by the root semantics of  modals, those expressing an extrinsically sourced attribute, e.g.moet have to, preceding those expressing an intrinsic attribute, such as kan be able to. The modals sal/gaan will, be going to assume first position since irrealis values such as ‘hypothesis’, ‘prediction’ or ‘future’ may cancel the realisation of the entire verbal string. Thus, in (2a) the actualisation of the ‘capability’ expressed by kan is replaced by the realisation of the ‘obligation’ of moet;  in (2b) both ‘capability’ and ‘obligation’ are subservient to an envisaged future action, and in (2c) epistemic kan merely expresses the possibility of future ‘obligation’. In (2b) sal owes its first position to its ability to render the entire proposition hypothetical, and in (2c) kan, which refers to a more intrinsic attribute than moet, may nevertheless precede moet because its epistemic function also renders the entire proposition hypothetical.

a. Jy moet al die masjiene kan regmaak.
you.2SG must.AUX.MOD all the machines can.AUX.MOD repair.INF
You must be able to repair all the machines.
b. Jy sal al die masjiene moet kan regmaak.
you.2SG will.AUX.MOD all the machines must.AUX.MOD can.AUX.MOD repair.INF
You will have to be able to repair all the machines.
c. Jy kan miskien al die masjiene moet regmaak.
you.2SG can.AUX.MOD perhaps all the machines must.AUX.MOD repair.INF
You may perhaps have to repair all the machines.

In principle, modals (apart from sal/sou/gaan) expressing root meanings may be sequenced in any order as all semantic combinatons are possible. Certain sequences, such as ‘having the ability to have the desire to perform a certain action', are unlikely and expressing 'ability' + 'obligation' would require considerable periphrasis beyond a mere sequence of kan followed by moet. The easiest to decode seems to be sequences of modals in which the first represents a more externally sourced attribute than the second. The root modals may be positioned on a cline between nonfactuality (non-realisation, irrealis) and factuality (realisation, realis), according to which kan/kon indicates an intrinsic attribute; wil/wou ‘volition’ indicates an intrinsic attribute sourced internally (i.e. from the sentential subject), mag possesses the intrinsic attribute of ‘permission’, which has an extrinsic source; moet/moes points to an extrinsic source of ‘obligation’, and sal/sou/gaan, referring to ‘hypothesis’, ‘prediction’, ‘future’, etc., renders other modals, verbs or an entire proposition counterfactual. This would also be the effect of negation on the first modal.

According to this cline, a root + root sequence such as wil kan, as in (3a), would be permissible or acceptable, while in a sequence such as kan wil, as in (3b), kan is likely to receive an epistemic interpretation:

a. Hy wil beslis die hommeltuig kan vlieg.
he want.to.AUX.MOD definitely the drone can.AUX.MOD fly.INF
He definitely wants to be able to fly the drone.
b. Hy kan die hommeltuig wil vlieg.
he can.AUX.MOD the drone want.to.AUX.MOD fly.INF
He might want to fly the drone.

A number of questions remain. Firstly, can an Afrikaans sequence of modals contain more than one modal in epistemic function? While kon on its own can be epistemic, as in (4a), the addition of sou, as in (4b), would only strengthen the epistemic function of kon:

a. Sy het nie opgedaag nie; sy kon siek wees.
she have.AUX not up.turn.PST.PTCP PTCL.NEG she can.AUX.MOD.PRT ill be.INF
She didn’t turn up; she might be ill.
b. Sy het nie opgedaag nie; sy sou kon siek wees.
she have.AUX not up.turn.PST.PTCP PTCL.NEG she shall.AUX.MOD.PRT can.AUX.MOD.PRT ill be.INF
She didn’t turn up; she might be ill.

Secondly, could more than one modal appear in verb-second postion, as is apparently the case in:

Hy sal moet môre die hek oopsluit.
he will.AUX.MOD must.AUX.MOD tomorrow the gate open.lock.INF
He will have to unlock the gate tomorrow.

However, it seems unlikely that moet also fills the verb-second position, because an insertion is possible between sal and moet in (6a), but completely inadmissible between the linking verbprobeer try and the main verbsing sing in (6b):

a. ? Hy sal nou moet die hek oopsluit.
he will.AUX.MOD now must.AUX.MOD the gate open.lock.INF
He will have to unlock the gate now.
b. * Sy probeer nou sing die liedjie.
she try.LINK now sing.INF the song.DIM
To mean: She tries to sing the song now.

A third question relates to where preterites occur in a string of modals. The preterite sou generally plays an important part in rendering propositions tentative or hypothetical. Modals following on preterite modals often display what may be termed preterite agreement, namely a type of sequence of tenses in which the fact that the second is a preterite instead of a present does not have a significant effect on the interpretation of the proposition.

Hy sou graag die eksamen met onderskeiding wil/wou slaag, as dit moontlik is.
he will.AUX.MOD.PRT gladly the examination with distinction want.to.AUX.MOD / want.to.AUX.MOD.PRT pass.INF if.CNJ it possible is
He would like to pass the examination with distinction, if possible.

Preterite agreement is particularly common when a modal is not only preceded by a modal preterite but also followed by a perfect, such as gedoen het have done in the following example:

Sy sou die berekenings vinniger moes kon gedoen het.
she shall.AUX.MOD.PRT the calculations quicker must.AUX.MOD.PRT can.AUX.MOD.PRT do.PST.PTCP have.AUX
She should have been able to do the calculations more quickly.

Having moet kan rather than the preterites moes kon in the previous example, would not have changed its meaning.

Sequences of present followed by preterite, as in (9a), are however also encountered, without apparent semantic difference from a preterite – present sequence, as in (9b):

a. Hy sê hy sal haar graag wou ontmoet.
he say he will.AUX.MOD her gladly want.to.AUX.MOD.PRT meet.INF
He says he would like to meet her.
b. Hy sê hy sou haar graag wil ontmoet.
he say he will.AUX.MOD.PRT her gladly want.to.AUX.MOD meet.INF
He says he would like to meet her.
[+]Combinability of modals

The use of more than one and even a small chain of modal verbs in one proposition is quite common in Afrikaans. Sal + moet + kan, in this order, form a typical chain of three:

Sy besef al hoe meer dat sy giere sal moet kan lees en dat sy dít dalk sal moet leer.
she realise all the more that.COMP she caprices will.AUX.MOD must.AUX.MOD can.AUX.MOD read.INF and that.COMP she this perhaps will.AUX.MOD must.AUX.MOD learn.INF
She realised more and more that she would have to be able to read caprices and that this is what she would perhaps have to learn.
M.Volschenk: Elke dogter, 2013,134

This is true inter alia for Dutch, German, the Scandinavian languages and certain dialects of English (cf. Di Paolo (1989). Preterites are subject to the same ordering principles as present forms; the following examples have sou, moes and kon, the preterites of sal, moet and kan, respectively. For Afrikaans, cf. Conradie (2018).

a. Hierdie stad moes kon vloek, kon tier, hierdie stad sou moes kon vertel van ... Dit sou die stad  moes kon wees van mededoë
this city must.AUX.MOD.PRT can.AUX.MOD.PRT swear.INF can.AUX.MOD.PRT rage.INF this city will.AUX.MOD.PRT must.AUX.MOD.PRT can.AUX.MOD.PRT tell.INF of ... it will.AUX.MOD.PRT the city must.AUX.MOD.PRT can.AUX.MOD.PRT be.INF of compassion
This city should have been able to swear, to rage, this city should be able to tell about ... This would have been fit to be the city of compassion.
A.H. de Vries: Tot verhaal kom,  2003, 123
b. Hy is my pa, hy sou iets moes kon doen. Ek sou by hom kon gaan bly.
he is my dad he shall.AUX.MOD.PRT something must.AUX.MOD.PRT can.AUX.MOD.PRT do.INF I shall.AUX.MOD.PRT with him can.AUX.MOD.PRT go.LINK stay.INF
He is my dad, he should be able to do something. I might go and stay with him.
E.Lötter: Dis ek, 2004, 49

The surface order of modals is constrained by a process of factuality curtailment through the addition of semantically more extrinsic modals. Two principles are at work here. In the first place, every preposed modal relativises or cancels the factual or realisation status of the modal (or other verb) it is preposed to. Jan’s working in (12a), whether habitual or current, is presented as a factual occurrence. In (12b) the factuality of Jan’s working is relativised in favour of his ability to work, which has now become factual. The factuality of the 'ability' is in turn relativised in (12c) by the addition of moet must, moving the factuality focus to ‘obligation’, and in (12d) the entire requirement to be able to work hard is relegated to the future.

a. Jan werk baie hard.
Jan work very hard
Jan works/is working very hard.
b. Jan kan baie hard werk.
Jan can.AUX.MOD very hard work.INF
Jan can work very hard.
c. Om die pos te kry, moet Jan baie hard kan werk.
for.COMP the job PTCL.INF get.INF must.AUX.MOD Jan very hard can.AUX.MOD work.INF
To get the job, Jan should be able to work very hard.
d. Jan sal van môre af baie hard moet kan werk.
Jan will.AUX.MOD from tomorrow of.POSTP very hard must.AUX.MOD can.AUX.MOD work.INF
From tomorrow Jan will have to be able to work very hard.

Secondly, modals are inherently graded for factuality, and a relativising modal can only be predicated to a more factual modal. In as far as modals express attributes such as ‘obligation’, ‘permission’, ‘volition ’and ‘capability’ there is a preference for modals with semantically more extrinsic attributes to qualify (i.e. precede) those with more intrinsic attributes. Extrinsic attributes are by definition more easily predicated than intrinsic qualities. Thus, while ‘ability’(kan/kon) is an entirely intrinsic category, ‘volition’ (wil/wou) implies an attribute assumed by the subject. ‘Permission’(mag) is an  intrinsic attribute, but has a source external to the subject. While ‘obligation' (moet/moes) also has an external source, it cannot be considered an internal attribute. In contrast, the semantic field of the hypothetical (prediction, future, etc, as in sal/sou/gaan) does not represent an attribute, but relativises the realisation of any other modal – the reason why it cannot be controlled (preceded) by any other modal. The fact that epistemic modals tend to occupy first position in a string is, according to Wurmbrand (2001:185), predicted by (t)he assumption that epistemic modals are in the highest position of the modal domain; they control the rest of the proposition. They therefore override the mutual ordering of root modals, e.g. while moet in moet kan may be epistemic or root, kan in kan moet will only be epistemic. A negated modal, which does not contribute any attribute to another modal (or other verb) and is essentially counterfactual, may have scope over the entire proposition, as in (13a); in (13b) the second modal is negated within the scope of the first.

a. Sy kan nie my boeke aan iemand anders wil uitleen nie.
she can.AUX.MOD not my books to somebody else want.to.AUX.MOD lend.INF PTCL.NEG
She cannot have the intention to lend my books to someone else.
b. Hy kan nie sy belasting nié wil betaal nie.
he can.AUX.MOD not his tax not want.to.AUX.MOD pay.INF PTCL.NEG
He cannot not want to pay his tax.

Root modals are therefore on a realisation (or realis-irrealis) cline between hypothetical and intrinsic senses, with modals in epistemic function and negated modals taking precedence in control and ordering (see Fig. 1).

Table 1. Factuality or realisation cline

Table 1
Non-factuality, non-realisation, irrealis > > < < Factuality, realisation, realis
extrinsic source - + + - -
intrinsic source - - - + -
intrinsic attribute - - + + +
sal/sou, gaan moet/moes, behoort te, hoef te mag wil/wou kan/kon
hypothesis, prediction, future, epistemic function, negation obligation, requirement, expectation permission volition capability, ability

The fact that all senses of sal/sou/gaan, including prediction and future reference, are hypothetical, may account for the fact that the first position is conventionally reserved for sal/sou/gaan. In general, propositions are rendered more hypothetical by the use of preterites; sou would, the preterite of sal, is the hypothetical modal par excellence. The use of sal/sou/gaan as first modal in the chain is demonstrated by the following:

a. Julle mansmense sal moet leer anders dink.
you.2PL menfolk will.AUX.MOD must.AUX.MOD learn.LINK differently think.INF
You men will have to learn to think differently.
K.Breytenbach: Donkerland, 2013, 349
b. "Daai man sal jou sommer net so kan doodskiet.”
that man will.AUX.MOD you.2SG just only so can.AUX.MOD dead.shoot.INF
That man will be able to shoot you off-hand.
H.du Plessis: As die wind,  2013, 73
c. Jy sal graag wil weet, nè, almal wil weet.
you.2SG will.AUX.MOD gladly want.to.AUX.MOD know.INF not.so.PTCL all want.to.AUX.MOD know.INF
You would like to know, won’t you, everyone wants to know.
C.Karsten: Man van min belang, 2013, 345
d. Ek dog net jy sou wou weet.
I think.PRT only you.2SG will.AUX.MOD.PRT want.to.AUX.MOD.PRT know
I just thought that you’d like to know.
M.Volschenk: Elke dogter, 2013, 135
e. Sou Alex haar kon weerstaan? En hoekom sou hy dit moes doen?
will.AUX.MOD.PRT Alex her can.AUX.MOD.PRT resist.INF and why will.AUX.MOD.PRT he it must.AUX.MOD.PRT do.INF
Would Alex be able to resist her? And why would he have to do so?
I.Venter: Skrapnel, 2013, 73
f. Een of ander tyd sou dit moes kom, 'n botsing was lank reeds in die vooruitsig.
one or another time shall.AUX.MOD.PRT it must.AUX.MOD.PRT come.INF a collision be.PRT long already in the prospect
At one time or another this had to happen, a collision had been expected for a long time.
J.Miles: Op 'n dag, 2016, 134
g. Mattie gaan hier moet laat stofsuig.
Mattie go.AUX.MOD here must.AUX.MOD let.LINK vacuum.INF
Mattie is going to have to let someone vacuum here.
E. Venter: Wolf, 2013, 37
h. Ek is seker mense gaan jou wil gebruik.
I be.PRS sure people go.AUX.MOD you.2SG want.to.AUX.MOD abuse.INF
I am sure people are going to want to abuse you.
I. Roggeband: Noot, 2013, 145
i. Hoe gaan jy ooit iemand weer in die oë kan kyk?
how go.AUX.MOD you.2SG ever somebody again in the eyes can.AUX.MOD look.INF
How will you ever be able to look anyone in the eye?
K. Brynard: Tuisland, 2016, 309

Barring sal/gaan (which is always first), and  modals in epistemic function (which have a gradient function) as well as negated modals, the following root + root orders are predicted to be permissible (the quasi-modalsbehoort te and hoef (nie) te are omitted here):

Table 2. Predicted combinability (root + root) of modals

Table 2
Likely [A]moet mag [B]moet wil [C]moet kan [D]mag wil [E]mag kan [F]wil kan
Unlikely [G]kan wil [H]kan mag [I]kan moet [J]wil mag [K]wil moet [L]mag moet

[A] Though not encountered, the following might be possible:

Hy het betaal; hy moet beslis die eksamen mag aflê.
he have.AUX pay.PST.PTCP he must.AUX.MOD definitely the examination may.AUX.MOD write.INF
He paid up; he should definitely be entitled to write the exam.

[B] Moet combines with wil in (16a) and (16b), negated moet with wil in (16c) and (16d), preterite moes with wil in (16e), preterite moes with preterite wou in (16f) and kon in (16g), and behoort te, which resembles wil semantically, with wil in (16h).

a. Feit is, sy wil Nicky nie hê nie, sy wil net hê hy moet haar wil hê.
fact is she want.to.AUX.MOD Nicky not have.INF PTCL.NEG she want.to.AUX.MOD only have.AUX he must.AUX.MOD her want.to.AUX.MOD have.INF
The fact is that she doesn’t want Nicky; she only desires that he should want her.
F.Bloemhof: Tweede asem, 2001, 54
b. Dit moet jou belangstelling wees en jy moet werklik dit wil doen.
it must.AUX.MOD your interest be.INF and you.2SG must.AUX.MOD really it want.to.AUX.MOD do.INF
This must be your field of interest and you should really want to do it.
c. Moenie daaroor wil spyt wees nie.
must.not.AUX.MOD.IMP PN.over want.to.AUX.MOD sorry be.INF PTCL.NEG
Don’t try to regret it.
P.J. Philander: Rebunie, 2000, 137
d. O ja, ek sien. Die beeld moenie wil omval nie.
o yes I see the statue must.not.AUX.MOD want.to.AUX.MOD collapse.INF PTCL.NEG
Yes, I see. The statue shouldn’t be on the point of collapsing.
M. Heese: Maestro, 2016, 241
e. Dat die Here nou moes wil dat sy nie die laaste sê kon inkry nie.
that.COMP the Lord now must.AUX.MOD.PRT want.to.AUX.MOD that.COMP she not the last say can.AUX.MOD.PRT in.get.INF PTCL.NEG
That the Lord would not want her to say the last word.
M. van Zyl: Amraal, 2016, 297
f. Hy moes iets daarin wou hou.
he must.AUX.MOD.PRT something PN.in want.to.AUX.MOD.PRT keep.INF
He must have wanted to keep something in it.
D. Meyer: Orion, 2000, 103
g. Wie kon geraai het sy sou? Maar ons móés kon gedink het.
who can.AUX.MOD.PRT guess.PST.PTCP have.AUX she will.AUX.MOD.PRT but.CNJ we must.AUX.MOD.PRT can.AUX.MOD.PRT think.PST.PTCP have.AUX
Who could have guessed that she would? But we should have been able to imagine (it).
F. Bloemhof: Doodskoot, 2016, 99
h. soos julle ook graag behoort te wil wees.
as you.2PL also gladly ought.AUX.MOD PTCL.INF want.to.AUX.MOD be.INF
as you are also supposed to want to be
J & R Nagtegaa: In limbo, 2009, 28

[C] Moet kan and moes kon are exemplified by the following:

a. Hy wou nie hê die Ierse skoonfamilie moet kan sê hy het oom George se ondergang veroorsaak nie.
he want.to.AUX.MOD.PRT not have.INF the Irish in.laws must.AUX.MOD can.AUX.MOD say.INF he have.AUX uncle George POSS downfall cause.PST.PTCP PTCL.NEG
He didn’t want his Irish in-laws to be able to say that he had caused uncle George’s downfall.
D.Botha: Valsrivier, 2013, 10
b. Maar ek was sommer trots op Ouboet – 'n man moet soms 'n skerp woord kan laat val.
but.CNJ I be.PRT really proud on Ouboet – a man must.AUX.MOD sometimes a harsh word can.AUX.MOD let.LINK fall.INF
But I was really proud of Ouboet – a man should be able to speak harshly sometimes.
K. Breytenbach: Donkerland, 2013, 332
c. Enige kapelaan wat sy sout werd was, moes kon sien daar is iets drasties verkeerd met die stelsel.
any chaplain who.REL his salt worth was must.AUX.MOD.PRT can.AUX.MOD.PRT see.INF there is something drastically wrong with the system
Any chaplain who was worth his salt would have been able to see that there was something drastically wrong with the system.
Letter in Beeld, 2000/5/25
d. Hy moes rustig aan 'n taak kon arbei en dít kon die pers nooit duld nie.
he must.AUX.MOD.PRT peacefully on a job can.AUX.MOD.PRT work.INF and that can.AUX.MOD.PRT the press never endure.INF PTCL.NEG
He had to be able to work peacefully on a job and this the press could not stand.
R.van Rensburg: Slagyster, 2013, 70

[D] The following is an example of negated mag + wil:

Jy mag dit nie wil hê nie, Daniel. Want dit sal 'n sonde wees.
you.2SG may.AUX.MOD it not want.to.AUX.MOD have.INF PTCL.NEG Daniel because.CNJ it will.AUX.MOD a sin be.INF
You are not permitted to want that, Daniel. Because that would be sinful.
D. Sleigh: Eilande, 2002, 537

[E] Mag and kan do not collocate easily as they share ‘permission’ as meaning, which may appear tautological. It does however seem possible, as in (19a). In (19b) mag is encountered with negation.

a. Hy mag die nuwe vliegtuig kan vlieg.
he may.AUX.MOD the new aeroplane can.AUX.MOD fly.INF
He is permitted to have the capacity to fly the new plane.
b. Ongeag wat hy dink, hy mag nie kan bewys sy het in die lêer gekrap nie.
regardless what he think he may.AUX.MOD not can.AUX.MOD prove.INF she have.AUX in the file scratch.PST.PTCP PTCL.NEG
Regardless of what he thinks, he must not be able to prove that she tampered with the file.’
A. Botes: Raaiselkind, 2001, 245

[F] The combination wil kan is predicted as acceptable, cf.

a. Hy wil ordentlik kan sien.
he want.to.AUX.MOD properly can.AUX.MOD see.INF
He wants to be able to see properly.
K. Brynard: Plaasmoord, 2009, 122
b. As dié geheul om die een of ander rede boemerang, wil hy kan terugverwys na sy amptelike standpunt.
if.CNJ this collusion for the one or other reason backfire.PRS want.to.AUX.MOD he can.AUX.MOD back.refer.INF to his official stand.point
If this collusion is to backfire for one reason or another, he wants to be able to refer back to his official point of view.
R. van Rensburg: Slagyster, 2013, 130

The following orders are predicted as unacceptable:

[G] Kan wil is predicted as unacceptable, since when one is already enabled or in a position to perform a certain action, desiring to be enabled seems redundant. One can however be denied permission to desire something, cf. negated wil in (21a) to (21c). Note that kan is used epistemically in (21d) and (21e) and may therefore precede other modals.

a. Jy kan nie met marmer wil werk as jy nie sterk is nie.
you.2SG can.AUX.MOD not with marble want.to.AUX.MOD work.INF if.CNJ you.2SG not strong be.PRS PTCL.NEG
You can’t wish to work with marble if you are not strong.
M. Heese: Maestro, 2016, 348
b. “hy kan nie sy brood aan albei kante gebotter wil hê nie,” sê Pollit.
he can.AUX.MOD not his bread on both sides butter.PST.PTCP want.to.AUX.MOD have.AUX PTCL.NEG say Pollit
"he can’t have his bread buttered on both sides," says Pollit
Die Burger, 2016/12/29
c. 'n Mens kan tog nie alles wil hê nie.
a person can.AUX.MOD really not everything want.to.AUX.MOD have.INF PTCL.NEG
Surely you can’t wish to have everything.
F. Bloemhof: Doodskoot, 2016, 234
d. hulle vrees van die misdadigers ... kan wraak wil neem.
they fear of the criminals can.AUX.MOD revenge want.to.AUX.MOD take.INF
they fear that some of the criminals may possibly want to take revenge.
Beeld, 2011/12/6
e. Die Amerikaners kan dalk militêr wil ingryp.
the Americans can.AUX.MOD perhaps militarily want.to.AUX.MOD intervene.INF
The Americans could possibly intend to attempt a military intervention.
R. van Rensburg: Slagyster, 2013, 67

[H] Kan mag to be able to be permitted (to do something) is excluded because having permission is not an ability, and, if kan expresses ‘permission’, the combination would be tautological.

[I] Kan moet would refer to ‘being able to be obliged (to do something)’, which seems to be a contradiction in terms.

[J] Wil mag ‘to want to be permitted (to do something)’, though not encountered, does seem possible.

[K] Wil moet to want to be obliged (to do something) seems contraditory, but is encountered with negated wil.

a. Want ek wil beslis nie aan Alex moet verduidelik ... nie.
because.CNJ I want.to.AUX.MOD definitely not to Alex must.AUX.MOD explain.INF PTCL.NEG
Because I definitely do not want to have to explain to Alex ...’
I. Venter: Skoenlapper, 201, 301
b. Hy wil nie eendag vrae moet beantwoord oor 'n paramilitêre oefening genaamd Slagveer nie.
he want.to.AUX.MOD not one.day questions must.AUX.MOD answer.INF about a paramilitary exercise called Slagveer PTCL.NEG
He doesn’t want to be obliged to answer questions one day about a paramilitary exercise called Slagveer.
M. Ackermann: Plein, 2013, 20-21

Apart from the main factor or factors determining the ordering of modals, a number of phenomena perhaps specific to Afrikaans may be mentioned which also require an explanation:

  • Can a modal sequence contain more than one epistemic modal?

  • Can more than one modal appear in the verb-second position (as is possible in the case of non-modal verbs)?

  • Given that preterites are not restricted to the first position in a string, where are preterites found in a string of modals?

[+]More than one epistemic modal?

Combinations of more than one epistemic modal do  seem possible. Eide (2005:129) notes that non-root (= epistemic) + non-root combinations are possible in Danish, but with the restriction that the second modal is kunne can. This may also be the case in Afrikaans. Thus while kon may have an epistemic interpretation in (23a), the addition of sou as in (23b) perhaps strengthens the speculative tone of the proposition:

a. Sy het nie opgedaag nie; sy kon siek wees.
she have.AUX not up.turn.PST.PTCP PTCL.NEG she can.AUX.MOD.PRT ill be.INF
She didn’t turn up; she might be ill.
b. Sy het nie opgedaag nie; sy sou kon siek wees.
she have.AUX not up.turn.PST.PTCP PTCL.NEG she shall.AUX.MOD.PRT can.AUX.MOD.PRT ill be.INF
She didn’t turn up; she might be ill.

Though kon and sou kon also seem interchangeable in examples (24a) and (24b), the context of kon in (24a) is counterfactual, while that of sou kon in (24b) seems more speculative.

a. Weet ook nie waarom ons kwansuis juis vanjaar tussen al die drukte moes begin het nie. ... Ons kon mos liewer aanstaande jaar begin het.
know also not PN.for we professedly specifically this.year among all the bustle must.AUX.MOD.PRT start.PST.PTCP have.AUX PTCL.NEG we can.AUX.MOD.PRT surely rather next year start.PST.PTCP have.AUX
Don't know why we specifically started this year amidst all the bustle ... Surely we could have started next year instead.
M.Heese: Maestro, 2016, 306
b. iets wat lyk asof dit uit antieke tye sou kon gekom het.
something that.REL look as.if.CNJ it out.of ancient times shall.AUX.MOD.PRT can.AUX.MOD.PRT come.PST.PTCP have.AUX
something looking as if it could have stemmed from ancient times
M.Heese: Maestro, 2016, 132
[+]Juxtaposition of modals in V2

Sal/sou is often juxtaposed with another modal when in verb second position:

Hulle sal moet geweer skoonmaak, bandeliere nagaan ...
they will.AUX.MOD must.AUX.MOD gun clean.INF bandoleers check.INF
They will have to clean guns, check bandoleers ...
E. van Rooyen: Vuur, 2000, 306

The second modal, however, does not form part of V2 because insertions are more acceptable between the modals, as in (26b), than after the modals, as in (26c), and  juxtaposition is excluded in yes/no questions, as in (26d). This is also true for the Scandinavian languages, cf. Eide (2005:128).

a. Jy sal moet al die probleme oplos.
you.2SG will.AUX.MOD mustAUX.MOD. all the problems solve.INF
You will have to solve all the problems.
b. ? Jy sal tog moet al die probleme oplos.
you.2SG will.AUX.MOD still must.AUX.MOD all the problems solve.INF
You will still have to solve all the problems.
c. *Jy sal moet tog al die probleme oplos.
you.2SG will.AUX.MOD mustAUX.MOD still all the problems solve.INF
To mean: You will still have to solve all the problems.
d. *Sal moet jy al die probleme oplos?
will.AUX.MOD must.AUX.MOD you.2SG all the problems solve.INF
To mean: ‘Will you have to solve all the problems?

Gaan, the competitor of sal, may also be juxtaposed with another modal, cf.

Jy gaan móét versigtig wees.
you.2SG go.AUX.MOD must.AUX.MOD careful be.INF
You are going to have to be careful.
I.Roggeband: Noot, 2013, 19

A similar juxtaposition of other modal combinations seems equally acceptable, e.g.

Jy moet kan al die probleme oplos.
you.2SG must.AUX.MOD can.AUX.MOD all the problems solve.INF
You should be able to solve all the problems.
[+]Where are preterites in the chain?

In Afrikaans modal chains, more than one or all modals may be preterites, as in (29a) and (29b). This is particularly the case when the verbal string ends in a perfect (and often has a counterfactual interpretation), as in (29c).

a. Sy sou graag 'n boek wou skryf.
she.2SG will.AUX.MOD.PRT gladly a book want.to.AUX.MOD.PRT write.INF
She would like to write a book.
b. meer as wat hy sou wou erken
more than that.REL he will.AUX.MOD.PRT want.to.AUX.MOD.PRT admit.INF
more than what he would like to admit
M. van Zyl: Amraal, 2016, 332
c. Sy sou graag 'n boek wou geskryf het.
she will.AUX.MOD.PRT gladly a book want.to.AUX.MOD.PRT write.PST.PTCP have.AUX
She would have liked to write a book.

If only one of a string of modals is a preterite, it would normally be the first:

Sy burgers sou hom tog so graag as hul leier wil behou het!
his burghers will.AUX.MOD.PRT him ever so gladly as their leader want.to.AUX.MOD retain.PST.PTCP have.AUX
His burghers would have liked it so much to retain him as their leader!
J.D. Kestell: Christiaan de Wet, 1920, 54

If the first modal is a preterite, the use of the preterite in a following modal may express counterfactuality, e.g. while wou kon in (31a) excludes the possibility of future realisation after hypothetical sou, future realisation is still possible in (31b):

a. Ek sou nog vir hom wou kon sê dat ek hom ... gemis het
I will.AUX.MOD.PRT still for him want.to.AUX.MOD.PRT can.AUX.MOD.PRT say.INF that.COMP I him miss.PST.PTCP have.AUX
I would still have wanted to be able to tell him that I missed him.
B. Breytenbach: Rapport, 2015/2/8
b. Ek sou nog vir hom wil kan sê dat ek hom mis.
I will.AUX.MOD.PRT still for him want.to.AUX.MOD. can.AUX.MOD say.INF that.COMP I him miss.PRS
I would still like to be able to tell him that I miss him.

In the following the perfect gestort het and the preterite wou likewise strengthen a counterfactual interpretation.

anders sou jy nie alleen hoef te gestort het as jy nie sou wou nie
otherwise will.AUX.MOD.PRT you.2SG not alone need.AUX.MOD PTCL.INF shower.PST.PTCP have.AUX if.CNJ you.2SG not shall.AUX.MOD.PRT want.to.AUX.MOD.PRT PTCL.NEG
otherwise you wouldn’t have needed to shower alone if you didn’t want to
I. de Vries: Byna liefde, 2008, 242

The fact that the modal following a preterite is also a preterite, need not have a semantic effect. If the first modal is a preterite, others may follow suit in what may be described as a process of preterite agreement or preterite assimilation, i.e. the use of the present (moet) rather than the preterite (moes) has no semantic implications, cf.

want as hy die dag sou moes beginne help verduidelik, sal hy moet help verduidelik tot die Oordeelsdag toe
because.CNJ if.CNJ he the day will.AUX.MOD.PRT must.AUX.MOD.PRT begin.LINK help.LINK explain.INF will.AUX.MOD he must.AUX.MOD help.LINK explain.INF until the Judgment-Day to.POSTP
because if the day arrived that he would have to begin to help explain, he will have to explain until Judgment Day.
L. de Villiers: Kaapstad, 2012, 47

In the following, the preterite kon instead of kan merely affirms the past tense already expressed by wou:

Sy wou hom teen haar voel, wou kon raak aan dit wat hier en nou is.
she want.to.AUX.MOD.PRT him against her feel want.to.AUX.MOD.PRT can.AUX.MOD.PRT touch.INF on this which.REL here and now is
She wanted to feel him against her, wanted to be able to touch that which is here and now.
C.B. le Roux: Getuie, 2012, 177

Preterite agreement is particularly prevalent in preterite-perfect structures, i.e. when a perfect follows, as in:

iets wat lyk asof dit uit antieke tye sou kon gekom het.
something that.REL look as.if.CNJ it out.of ancient times shall.AUX.MOD.PRT can.AUX.MOD.PRT come.PST.PTCP have.AUX
something looking as if it could have stemmed from ancient times.
M. Heese: Maestro, 2016, 132

In a minority of instances a modal preterite is found to be preceded by a present; examples such as the following – with sal as first modal – may be interpreted as an attempt to express a position between factual and counterfactual, i.e. the possibility (expressed by the present form sal) remains open. Note that in all instances preterite + present or preterite + preterite would not bring about a semantic difference. 

a. Waarom sal ek 'n boek wou skryf oor die Van Buuren-saak?
why will.AUX.MOD I a book want.to.AUX.MOD.PRT write.INF on the Van Buuren-case
Why would I want to write a book on the Van Buuren case?
C. Marnewick: Clarence, 2012, 7
b. want as sy by hom wil uitkom, sal sy oor bokse moes klim
because.CNJ if.CNJ she at him want.to.AUX.MOD out.come.INF will.AUX.MOD she over boxes must.AUX.MOD.PRT climb.INF
because if she wants to get to him, she will have to clamber over boxes
M. Malan: Suiderkruis, 2008, 42
c. Sy sal haar kon leer om 'n dame te wees.
she shall.AUX.MOD her can.AUX.MOD.PRT teach.INF for.COMP a lady PTCL.INF be.INF
She may be able to teach her to be a lady.
J. Aggenbach: Dis my geheim, 2012, 43
d. Die hoof het gesê hy sal jou graag wou ontmoet
the headmaster have.AUX say.PST.PTCP he will.AUX.MOD you.2SG gladly want.to.AUX.MOD.PRT meet.INF
The headmaster said that he would like to meet you.
I. de Vries: Byna liefde, 2008, 217

In the following example the use of moet instead of moes perhaps also suggests a continuation rather than a termination of the situation: while the ability has ceased (kon), the necessity continues (moet).

swart ambagslui moet teen wittes kon kompeteer.
black artisans must.AUX.MOD against whites can.AUX.MOD.PRT compete.INF
black artisans would/might have to compete with whites
H. Giliomee: Afrikaners, 2004, 409

In the following, the speaker accuses (present kan, epistemic) the addressee of a past neglect (preterite wou).

Hoe kan jy my nie wou vertel het nie.
how can.AUX.MOD you.2SG me not want.to.AUX.MOD.PRT tell.PST.PTCP have.AUX PTCL.NEG
How is it possible that you didn’t want to tell me.
M. Bakkes, Littekens, 2005:125