mode precedes modality. I cannot discern any difference in their modern meanings: so what caused 'modality' 's lexicalization, when 'mode' already existed?

OED on 'mode':

  1. a. A way or manner in which something is done or takes place; a method of proceeding in any activity, business, etc. Freq. with of.   [...]

  2. a. A particular form, manner, or variety in which some quality, phenomenon, or condition occurs or is manifested.   [...]

II. In senses derived from French.

  1. a. A prevailing fashion, custom, practice, or style, esp. one characteristic of a particular place or period.

OED on 'modality':

  1. a. Those aspects of a thing which relate to its mode, or manner or state of being, as distinct from its substance or identity; the non-essential aspect or attributes of a concept or entity. Also: a particular quality or attribute denoting the mode or manner of being of something. Cf. mode n. 6a.
  • Cross posted here - worth checking there before answering. May 1, 2017 at 6:33
  • I think this is the second time I've had to remind you on EL&U that cross-posting is inappropriate on StackExchange. This wouldn't be so disappointing if it weren't for the fact that you yourself asked that meta-question and got an answer a long time ago. Please abide by the rules and norms of the site.
    – Dan Bron
    May 1, 2017 at 10:44
  • @JoshFriedlander The question above and that on ELL differ.
    – user50720
    May 1, 2017 at 17:02
  • @DanBron The question above and that on ELL differ. Also, the answer on english.meta.stackexchange.com/a/4684/50720 differs?
    – user50720
    May 1, 2017 at 17:02
  • @Canada-Area51Proposal And the very same question on Linguistics? And on site policy, Meta.se governs. The rule is so not cross-post. Don't do it.
    – Dan Bron
    May 1, 2017 at 17:32

1 Answer 1


They're different words. A mode is a state something can have; it may have several modes. The attribute of modality means that it has modes, as opposed to not having them, or having only one. (Compare stateful and stateless in programming - some applications are capable of having different states, while some are not.)

In practice, I often see the word modality being used in place of mode. In time it may come to be synonymous.

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