I need to distinguish the auxiliary dare and the lexical dare. I know that as semi-modals need and dare act similarly. As a modal the verb need can only have present tense forms without the 3rd person agreement so preterite is not allowed. But can the semi-modal dare occur in preterite form?

For example is this following clause grammatically correct and dare working as an auxiliary?

"Dared he do it?"

I know that "Dare he do it?" is correct and that dare can only be an auxiliary in non-affirmative clauses so "He dare do it" is ungrammatical.

Thanks for all the help!

  • You are clearly aware that there is a difference. What research have you done to establish that difference?
    – BillJ
    Commented Apr 22, 2023 at 16:15
  • Auxiliary "dare" does not require do- support, so "Dared he do it?" is OK, if perhaps rather odd-sounding to some ears.
    – BillJ
    Commented Apr 23, 2023 at 6:16

2 Answers 2


A section in A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language (Quirk et al., 1985) is dedicated just to that question of distinguishing modal "dare" from lexical "dare".

(CoGEL § 3.42) dare and need

Dare […] can be constructed either as main verbs (with to-infinitive and with inflected -s, -ing and past forms), or, under restricted conditions, as modal auxiliaries (with the bare infinitive and without the inflected forms).

Positive He dared to escape.
Negative He daren't escape. He doesn't dare to escape.
Interrogative Dare we escape? Do we dare to escape?
Negative-interrogative Dare he not escape? Doesn't he dare to escape?

The modal construction is restricted to nonassertive contexts […], ie mainly negative and interrogative sentences, whereas the main verb constructionn can almost always be used, and is in fact more common. The auxiliary construction with dare […] is rarer in AmE than in BrE, where it is also quite rare.

As a modal, dare exhibits abnormal time reference […] in that it can be used, without inflection, for past as well as present time:

  • The king was so hot-tempered that no one dare tell him the bad news.

The main verb form dared (to) might also occur here.

Note […]
[b] Blends between the auxiliary construction and the main verb construction occur and seem to be widely acceptable […]:

  • They do not dare ask for more.
  • Do they dare ask for more?

These two examples combine the do-support of the main verb construction with the bare infinitive of the auxiliary construction. On the hypothesis that there are two different verbs (the main verb DARE and the auxiliary verb dare), one would expect these to be ungrammatical; but they are not. The past tense form dared without do-support may be regarded as another example of a blend, since the -ed past inflection is not characteristic of modal verbs:

  • They dared not carry out their threat.
  • The king was so hot-tempered that no one dared tell him the bad news. Either they have a typo or you copied it wrong.
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 22, 2023 at 17:39
  • 2
    @Lambie In fact my copy is not quite exact; "dare" should be in italics. However, the spelling is right: this is modal "dare". You expect the past in other verbs ("He was so mad that no one spoke to him.", (even modals) : "He was so mad that no one could talk to him."), . The fact that you have "dare" and not "dared" is why the authors speak of "abnormal time reference". However, if you had "to tell him", then you would be right.
    – LPH
    Commented Apr 22, 2023 at 17:50
  • 1
    The cited He doesn’t dare to escape still sounds marginally off to me with that to there. Probably a dialectal difference.
    – tchrist
    Commented Apr 22, 2023 at 20:40
  • *The wizard was so perceptive that no one needed tell him anything. Commented Apr 23, 2023 at 16:35

Yes, it can.

I find he dared not quite normal. I find Dared they? less natural, but looking at this ngram, you can see that since about 1870, dared they and did they dare have been pretty nearly equally found. (Surprisingly to me, before 1870, dared they was much less common).

In the case of dared he vs did he dare, they were running close together only between 1940 and 1980, but since then the modal form has outstripped the regular form.

In the negative he dared not and he did not dare were running very close from 1940 until 2020, but the latter has recently increased significantly.

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