Chapter published in:English Historical Linguistics 2008: Selected papers from the fifteenth International Conference on English Historical Linguistics (ICEHL 15), Munich, 24-30 August 2008.. Volume I: The history of English verbal and nominal constructions
Edited by Ursula Lenker, Judith Huber and Robert Mailhammer
[Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 314] 2010
► pp. 123–142
The ‘fail to’ construction in Late Modern and Present-Day English
This paper traces the development of the ‘fail to’ construction over the last three hundred years. In the eighteenth century, almost 95 percent of tokens of ‘fail to’ were negated. In corpora from the late twentieth century, on the other hand, fewer than 4 percent of all tokens of ‘fail to’ are negated. The nonLnegated ‘fail to’ construction may encode unsuccessful effort or neglect of duty on the part of the subject, or it may encode disappointment of the speaker’s expectations. It may even encode negation pure and simple. Special attention is paid to the growth in these uses of the construction in the nineteenth century. The question of whether or not ‘fail to’ is in the process of grammaticalizing is also addressed.
Published online: 28 October 2010