I have relatives from the southern U.S., and they often use double modal verbs in their speech, like "I might could go to the market". I understand that this isn't considered standard, but it got me interested. I wondered, how would one negate this phrase?

Example: "I might could go to the market"

"I mightn't could go to the market"

"I might couldn't go to the market"

"I mightn't couldn't go to the market"

"I might could not go to the market"

Or something else? Is this phrase or any similar phrase ("might should", "might oughta") ever used in the negative? If so, how?

I would like the negated phrase to mean "I might not go to the market" in Standard English.

  • 2
    what do you want the negation to mean? “I might not go” “I probably can’t go” ?
    – Jim
    Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 5:23
  • 1
    It's a very unusual construction, and would be incomprehensible to most English speakers, so I would suggest the only people qualified to answer "how would one negate this phrase?" would be those who are familiar with its usage. Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 5:25
  • What could be the rule (or the "correct" way to do) when it's grammatically unacceptable? A double modal is ungrammatical. Get creative!
    – Kris
    Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 5:53
  • OTOH, I don't think one would use a double modal when going negative at all, southerners or not.
    – Kris
    Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 5:54

2 Answers 2


The Yale Grammatical Diversity Project website (a great resource!) has a page on "Multiple Modals" that includes the following brief section on negation:

In negative clauses, the negative marker (not or n't) is typically found after the second modal, as in the following examples:

5) a. I was afraid you might couldn't find it [this address]. (Texas, Di Paolo 1989)

b. The mother might should not put a blanket over her baby. (Texas, Di Paolo 1989)

However, Di Paolo (1989) notes that, in her data, different combinations of modals seem to allow different possibilities for the placement of the negative marker: with might could and might oughta, the negative marker is more often found immediately after might than after the second modal; by contrast, with might should and might would it is more often found immediately after should or would, respectively.

(Huang, Nick. 2011. Multiple modals. Yale Grammatical Diversity Project: English in North America. Updated by Tom McCoy (2015) and Katie Martin (2018).)

The Di Paolo source is cited as "Marianna Di Paolo. Double modals as single lexical items. American Speech, 64(3): 195–224. 1989."

  • Placement of negation (especially contracted n't) is quite variable, and not just regionally. Anything this marginal has a lot of margins. The usual rule is after the first auxiliary verb, including modals, but I've often heard should'ven't, for instance, with two contractions in a row. Let alone modals. Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 23:59

According to the rules of English Grammar the modal verb must be followed by the Infinitive. In your sentences after 'might' or 'might not' there must be not 'could', which has no infinitive, but its equivalent 'be able'. In Old English language there was 'cunnan' which later disappeared. So 'can/ could' is a defective verb nowadays.

  • 3
    The question is about a dialectal construction, not about standard English.
    – herisson
    Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 6:18
  • I appreciate the answer, but I'm asking in a specific context of a certain dialect that does often employ the "might could" construction, and about what that negted would be.
    – user45266
    Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 15:57

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.