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Daring to Understand the Grammatical Uses of Dare

The so called semi-modal, Dare, means ‘be brave enough’. Like the modal verbs canOpens in new window, mayOpens in new window, shouldOpens in new window,etc., it is used in various forms, but unlike these regular modal verbs it can also stand as an ordinary verb.

Characteristic and Functions of Dare

In its typical dynamic nature, the semi-modal dare can function in constructions variously as:

  1. Auxiliary Verb

    Dare may be used as an auxiliary verbOpens in new window followed by an infinitiveOpens in new window without to. It may be used with a bare infinitive without to, for example:

    • I’m not sure that I dare answer.

    Dare may be used in the negative sense and in questions without do, for example:

    • I dare not answer.
    • Dare I answer?

    Although, in formal practice, the interrogative forms are normally confined to ‘how dare you,’ ‘how dare he,’ ‘how dare they’, etc.

    Dare may also be used in the form of third person singular without addition of -s, for example:

    • He says he dare not answer.
  2. Ordinary Verb

    Dare is also used as an ordinary verb, with or without a following to- infinitiveOpens in new window. As an ordinary verb, dare is also used in forming negatives and questions with do. Its third person singular form is dares. Survey the examples below.

    • They would not dare to come
    • Do you dare to contradict me?
    • I don’t dare to answer
      → (or in a somewhat idiomatic way, as I dare not answer)
    • He dares to answer.
    • Tell me if you dare.
    Important Hint!  

    Note that in the present tense, dare behaves as a modal verb much more often than as an ordinary verb.

  3. Negatives and Interrogative sense

    The negative form dare not (daren’t) is most often used in negative sense and in questions, and sometimes preceded by if. The past form dared not is rarely used if ever contracted to daredn’t.

  4. Modal Verb

    As a modal verb, dare sometimes occur in the past tense without inflection, as:

    • She dare not look at him in the face.

    Examples of Dare used as Modal and Ordinary Verbs

    Modal Verbs
    • He hates only because he dare not love. (J. M. Coetzee, 1977)
    • I dare not speak these dreams to anyone. (Garrison Keillor, 1986)
    • No one dared defy the group by going out at the last moment.(Ian McEwan, 1986)
    Ordinary Verbs
    • Marcus wouldn’t dare to tell a lie like that unless it was true. (R. Hill, 1970)
    • I did not dare to look down. (B. Rubens, 1985)
    • She no longer dared to go into these shadowy apartments.(Anita Brookner, 1988).
    • How do they dare to be different? [this construction is needed to avoid the special meaning of ‘how dare they …?’](New Yorker, 1987)

Key Points 

Note also the use of dare with an object, meaning to challenge or defy a person to do something followed by a to- infinitiveOpens in new window as in:

  • 'He looked round the table as if daring anyone to smile’ — (David Lodge, 1988.)
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