Edward Abott in his Shakespearean grammar makes an interesting observation about the use of words. In Elizabethan English entails a compression of language. A single word could be pressed for a number of concepts. The Victorian period made plain the precise purpose of the language.
He does not go as far as the present; but I am not certain that our contemporary idiom can bear the weight of modals (could should would). In a language bare of nuance and abused by social media demands, and a humanities education more concerned with “justice” and less with humanities, this discussion of words would be incomprehensible:
One great cause of the difference between Elizabethan and Victorian English is, that the latter has introduced or developed what may be called the division of labour. A few examples will illustrate this.
The Elizabethan subjunctive (see VERBS, SUBJUNCTIVE) could be used
1 optatively, or
2 to express a condition or
3 a consequence of a condition,
4 or to signify purpose after that.
Now, all these different meanings are expressed by different auxiliaries–would that! should he come, he would find, that he may see,–and the subjunctive inflection is restricted to a few phrases with if. To walk is now either (1) a noun, or (2) denotes a purpose, in order to walk. In Elizabethan English, to walk might also denote by walking, as regards walking, for walking; a licence now discarded, except in one or two common phrases, such as I am happy to say, &c. Similarly, Shakespeare could write of vantage for from vantage-ground, of charity for for charity’s sake, of mine honour for on my honour, of purpose for on purpose, of the city’s cost for at the city’s cost, of his body for as regards his life, made peace of enmity for peace instead of enmity, we shall find a shrewd contriver of him for in him, did I never speak of all that time for during all that time. Similarly by has been despoiled of many of its powers, which have been divided among near, in accordance with, by reason of, owing to. But has been forced to cede some of its provinces to unless and except. Lastly, that, in Early English the only relative, had been already, before the Elizabethan times, supplanted in many idioms by who and which; but it still retained its meanings of because, inasmuch as, and when; sometimes under the forms for that, in that; sometimes without the prepositions. These it has now lost, except in a few colloquial phrases.
As a rule, then, the tendency of the English language has been to divide the labour of expression as far as possible by diminishing the task assigned to overburdened words and imposing it upon others.