Modality (or, more widely, Mood) encompasses a number of related but separate ways of modifying a basic verbal expression in order to express various relationships to reality or truth. The three most commonly identified subtypes of Modality are:

          – Epistemic Modality: pertaining to speculation or the speaker’s self-assessment of his/her knowledge-base (e.g. may, might; maybe, certainly, doubtfully, etc.);

          – Deontic Modality: pertaining to the expression of obligations, regulations, ideals, and/or permissions (i.e. must; have to, etc.);

          – Dynamic or Participant-Oriented Modality: pertaining to performance (e.g. facultative or abilitative modality (i.e. inherent or achieved ability, e.g. can), conative modality (i.e. attempts, e.g. try to), volitive or desiderative modality (i.e. wants and desires, e.g. want to, like to)).

As with Aspect, many modal categories are expressed through the use of preverbs in Cree. Some of the important ones will be introduced here, beginning with Dynamic Modality are working outwards away from the verb stem.

Dynamic Modality

A number of Preverbs can express Dynamic Modality in Cree, including:

Volitive / Desiderativenōhtē-  ‘want to’

          e.g.    ninōhtē-kīwān    ‘I want to go home’

Note that, in some areas of Plains Cree, as well as more easterly dialects, the preverb wī- is still used with this function to mean ‘want to’. For most Plains Cree speakers, nōhtē- now fills this function, while wī- has come to express aspect of even tense (cf. the discussion of wī- under Relative Tense and Aspect).

Conativekakwē-  ‘try to’

          e.g.    nikakwē-nikamon    ‘I try to sing’

Facultative / Abilitativenihtā-  ‘be able to, be skilled at, be practiced at’

          e.g.    kinihtā-nēhiyawān    ‘you speak Cree well, you are a good Cree speaker’

Another preverb that can express ability is kī- (or kīh-), though this is becoming less common in Plains Cree due to the fact that it sounds the same as the past tense marker kī-. It may still be heard in negative expressions:

          e.g.    namōya nikī-wāpamāw    ‘I cannot see him/her.’

Here it is distinct from the past tense marker, since ohci- must still replace kī- for many speakers in order to express past tense under negation:

          e.g.    namōya nitōhci-wāpamāw   ‘I have not seen him/her’

Most commonly, kī- as an a facultative or abilitative preverb, now occurs only in the combinations ka-kī- or ta-kī-.

          e.g.    nika-kī-nēhiyawān    ‘I can speak Cree’

                    ta-kī-sipwēhtēw    ‘s/he can leave; s/he should leave’

Note, however, that the combination ka-kī-, and especially ta-kī-, can take on other modal meanings, particularly deontic obligation (i.e. ‘should’), and this is the preferred reading when the verb is in the Conjunct Order:

          e.g.    ta-kī-sipwēhtēt    ‘s/he should leave’

This last example shows that certain Cree preverbs (or preverb combinations) can indicate a range of modal meanings (just as the English modal auxiliary ‘can’ can express both facultative (ability) and deontic (permission) modality.

          e.g.     I can sing now.    ‘I now have the ability to sing’
                                               OR  ‘I have been permitted to sing now’

Deontic Modality

to be added


Epistemic Modality

to be added