Semi-modal verb – dare

The next semi-modal verb on our list is the verb “to dare”, which means “to have the courage to do something” or “defy/challenge someone to do something”.

But wait, Jamie, you might say: I have seen this verb used normally, such as in the sentence below. How is this a semi-modal verb?

Does he dare to do it?

A non-modal use of the verb “dare”

The answer to this question is that sometimes it can take a modal construction. When used as a non-modal, it uses the infinitive afterwards, such as “to do”, which we saw in the last sentence. When used as a modal verb, it uses the bare infinitive afterwards. This is the only criteria that makes it modal, meaning it is a semi-modal verb. Subsequently, we do not need the auxiliary (helping) verb “to do” for questions or the negative. For example:

Dare he do it?

I dare not try.

A modal use of the verb “dare”

In this sentence we can see that it is in the modal form, taking “do” or “try” after the verb rather than “to do”.

Wait one minute! I have seen the following sentences as well. What is the difference?

Does he dare to do it?

I don’t dare to try.

Non-modal uses of verb “dare”

In many cases there are no differences between the modal (Dare he do it?) and non-modal (Does he dare to do it?) sentences. Both convey the exact same question, in the first case. In the second case, both versions (dare not vs don’t dare) also convey the same information (the inability to bring oneself to try something).

Generally the modal version forms questions and negative sentences (such as the ones given). Otherwise the non-modal form is more common. For example:

I dare you to kiss him.

Non-modal use

Idiomatic Expressions with dare

There are a few idiomatic expressions used with this semi-modal verb. These include:

How dare you! How dare he/they!

This expression, which can be used with the second or third persons (both singular and plural – you, he/she/it, they) as objects after the verb, is an idiomatic expression of outrage at someone, usually for doing something. For example:

How dare you question my motives!.

Another use is the following phrase:

I dare say

This phrase is used to show that the person speaking believes something is probable.

I dare say she is having problems with her family.

This shows that the person speaking believes it is likely that this situation is occurring.

This can be used in front of any sentence that would otherwise be complete (see: She is having problems with her family) to show that the speaker thinks that what is said afterwards is true or probable.


Want to learn more about modal verbs? Here is a guide to all the semi-modal verbs: introduction to semi-modal verbs. You can also learn more about other English language information on my Teaching English page.

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