The &#8216;<i>fail to</i>&#8217; construction in Late Modern and Present-Day English

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This paper traces the development of the &#8216;<i>fail to</i>&#8217; construction over the last three hundred years. In the eighteenth century, almost 95&#160;percent of tokens of &#8216;<i>fail to</i>&#8217; were negated. In corpora from the late twentieth century, on the other hand, fewer than 4&#160;percent of all tokens of &#8216;<i>fail to</i>&#8217; are negated. The nonLnegated <i>&#8216;fail to</i>&#8217; construction may encode unsuccessful effort or neglect of duty on the part of the subject, or it may encode disappointment of the speaker&#8217;s expectations. It may even encode negation pure and simple. Special attention is paid to the growth in these uses of the construction in the nineteenth century. The question of whether or not &#8216;<i>fail to</i>&#8217; is in the process of grammaticalizing is also addressed.


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