This article discusses the semantic and pragmatic history of a grammatical construction consisting of a form of Be/Have + like followed by an infinitival verb form, which became obsolete in Standard English in the nineteenth century, but still survives in some regional varieties of British and American English, e.g. she liketa had a heart attack. It provides an example of a grammatical category that Kuteva (1998) has called “action narrowly averted” (ANA or avertive) with the meaning ‘on the verge of V-ing, but did not V’. Using a corpus of texts covering the last six centuries, we document the historical circumstances under which the avertive meaning emerged via invited inferences of counterfactuality drawn in the specific discourse context of predictive conditional constructions.
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