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What did "must" mean when used as a non-modal verb (sorry, I don't know the technical term) in Early Modern English? For example:

I must to England; you know that?

(Hamlet, Act III, Scene IV)

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“We must away ere break of day/To seek the pale enchanted gold…” –  PLL Jun 21 '11 at 0:16
    
"I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky..." –  Peter Shor Jun 21 '11 at 2:35
    
@Peter: but ack, broken scansion! That one really needs the go… :-S –  PLL Jun 21 '11 at 17:50
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"...which means in any language, why tarry? Let us off to the castle!" "Off to the castle!" –  mmyers Jun 21 '11 at 18:30
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@PLL: Masefield wrote it that way originally, although he seems to have changed it later. The poem is filled with spondees, and that's the first one of them. "...and the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking//and a grey mist on the sea's face and a grey dawn breaking." –  Peter Shor Jun 21 '11 at 19:06

2 Answers 2

up vote 14 down vote accepted

It’s still acting as a modal verb here; this is an ellipsis for

I must [go] to England.

The OED glosses this usage, under the main sense of “expressing necessity,” as “(b) With verb of motion understood. Now arch.”.

(Must does also have some non-modal usages: “to become mouldy, musty, or mildewed”; “to dress or dust with hair-powder”; “of a male elephant, etc.: to come into a state of musth”. But I suspect none of these is what you, or Hamlet, meant.)

Edit: an earlier version of this answer described this instead as the OED’s “(c) with implied infinitive taken from the context,” which arguably fits, but I think the more specific (b) is probably more apposite here.

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Is the "implied infinitive" ever anything but go? –  Peter Shor Jun 21 '11 at 2:35
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In Macbeth, Malcolm says, "I'll to England." Donalbain replies, "To Ireland, I." I guess "go" was dropped a lot in those days. –  Malvolio Jun 21 '11 at 3:00
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Just a note: in modern German, it's often perfectly fine and quite common to drop infinitives after modal verbs (and not just with "must" and "go"). For example, you can say "ich kann Deutsch" (literally, "I can German") to mean "I can speak German". So that suggests the implied infinitive in older English could have worked with verbs other than "go" (but I'm not sure). –  grautur Jun 21 '11 at 3:56
    
I guess back in those days, people didn't really go anywhere.. –  Mehrdad Jun 21 '11 at 5:12
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@grautur. Well observed indeed. "Ich muss nach Hause" (I must [go] home) is a standard Present-day German construction. And the OP's citation is just another example of the Germanic roots of Modern English. For instance Ælfred wrote: "ÐEOS BOC SCEAL TO WIGORA CEASTRE" (this book shall [go] to Worcester). " –  Alain Pannetier Φ Feb 3 '12 at 22:53

Shakespeare also wrote (perhaps originated) the expression "must away", which is the same usage. I had thought that it was a shortening of "must hie", which I had believed was a common expression in early modern English, but a quick search reveals only Emerson and Burns.

In any case, as PLL stated, it is still acting as a modal verb, and the implied main verb is a verb of motion, such as "go" or "hie".

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Shakespeare didn't originate it; here is a 1567 example. –  Peter Shor Feb 3 '12 at 22:01

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