« PreviousContinue »
Of Defective Verbs; and of the different ways in which verbs
DEFECTIVE VERBS are those which are used in some of their moods and tenses.
Present. Can, May, Shall, Will,
Must, - Ought,
The principal of them are these:
Perf. or Pass. Part.
That the verbs must and ought have both a present and past signification, appears from the following sentences: “I must now own that I was to blame;" “ He must at that time, have been mistaken;" “ We ought to do our duty, and leave the consequences ;").“ They spoke things which they ought not then to have spoken.”
If it should be objected that the words must and ought, in the preceding sentences, are all in the present tense; on the ground, that the expression, “ He must, at that time, have been mistaken," implies, “ It is necessary, it is certain, he was at that time mistaken;" and that the sentence, “ They spoke things which they ought not then to have spoken," signifies that, “ They spoke things which it is a duty incumbent upon them, not then to bave spoken :" we may reply that, on this principle, the true grammatical constructions of sentences, may be often strangely perverted. From a similar mode of reasoning, the words may, might, could, in the following sentences, may be considered as in the present tense; “I may, at that time, have been mistaken;" " He might have decided better;" “ They could have finished the work sooner :" since may, might, could, may be converted into, “ It is possible that I was, at that time, mistaken;" “ It is possible for him to have decided better;"! “ It is possible for them to have finished the work sooner."-We have shown at pages 61, 62, of this work, that one pbrase may, in point of sense, be equivalent to another, though its grammatical nature is essentially different.
If it be further objected, that the expression, “ He must have been deceived," is as incorrect and absurd as the phrase, “ He intended to have written,” we presume that the objection is wholly destitute of foundation. As the word must, in the sentence in question, is used as an auxiliary verb, there appears to be no impropriety in connecting it with the subsequent form of the verb. "It is as justifiable and regular as the helping verbs and their connexions are, in the following sentences; “He may have been deceived;" "He might have done better ;'! “ He could not have done worse.”_With regard to the phrase, “He ought, when the officer appeared, to have surrendered himself;" we observe that when we use this verb ought, this is the only possible way to distinguish the past from the present. See the thirteenth rule of Syntax.
To attempt the support of the preceding objections, if that could support them, by a partial construction of the English verb, and considering it, in no part of its formation, as composed of the participle and its auxiliary, would be to take that for granted which is disputed; to resort to an hypothesis which, we presume, has already been sufficiently controverted, and shown to be untenable.
In most languages, there are some verbs which are defective with respect to persons. These are denominated impersonal verbs. They are used only in the third person, because they refer to a subject peculiarly appropriated to that person: as, “ It rains, it snows, it hails, it lightens, it thunders.” But as the word impersonal implies a total absence of persons, it is improperly applied to those verbs which have a person : and hence it is manifest, that there is no such thing in English, nor indeed, in any language, as a sort of verbs really impersonal.*
The whole number of verbs in the English language, regular and irregular, simple and compounded, taken together, is about 4.300. The number of irregular verbs, the defective included, is about 177.
Some Grammarians have thought that the English verbs, as well as those of the Greek, Latin, French, and other languages, might be classed into several conjugations; and that the three different terminations of the participle might be the
* The plea urged to prove the existence of Impersonal Verbs is, in substance, as follows: and the reader will perceive that it is not wholly destitute of plausibility. There are certain verbs which do not admit for their subject any thing that has life, or any thing that is strictly definable ; such as, “ It snows, it hails, it freezes, it rains, it lightens, it tbinders.” In this point of view, and with this explanation, it is supposed, by some gran.parians, that our language contains a few Impersonal Verbs; that is, verbs which declare the existence of some action or state, but which do not refer to any animate being, or any determinate particular subject.
distinguishing characteristics. They have accordingly proposed three conjugations ; namely, the first to consist of verbs, the participles of which end in ed, or its contraction t; the second of those ending in ght; and the third of those in en. But as the verbs of the first conjugation, would so greatly exceed in number those of both the others, as may be seen by the preceding account of them; and as those of the third conjugation are so various in their form, and incapable of being reduced to one plain rule ; it seems better in practice, as Dr. Lowth justly observes, to consider the first in ed as the only regular form, and the other as deviations from it; after the example of the Saxon and German Grammarians.
Before we close this section, it may afford instruction to the learners, to be informed, more particularly than they have been, that different nations have made use of different contrivances for making the tenses and moods of their verbs. The Greeks and Latins distinguish them, as well as the cases of their nouns, adjectives, and participles, by varying the termination, or otherwise changing the form, of the word; retaining, however, those radical letters, which prove the inflection to be of the same kindred with its root. The modern tongues, particularly the English, abound in auxiliary words, which
meaning of the noun, or the verb, without requiring any considerable varieties of inflection. Thus, I do love, I did love, I have loved, I had loved, I shall love, have the same import as, amo, amabam, amavi, amaveram, amabo. It is obvious, that a language, like the Greek and Latin, which can thus comprehend in one word the meaning of two or three words, must have some advantages over those which are not so comprehensive. Perhaps, indeed, it may not be more perspicuous; but in the arrangement of words, and consequently in harmony and energy, as well as in conciseness, it may be much more elegant.
Theory respecting the Inflections of language.
In our modern verbs and nouns, says Dr. Beattie, the variety of auxiliary words, is much greater than in the language of Greece or Rome. The northern nations, who overturned the Roman empire, and established themselves in the conquered provinces, being an unlettered race of men, would not take the trouble, either to impart their own languag to the Romans, or to learn theirs with any degree of exactness :
but, blending words and idioms of their own with Latin words inaccurately acquired, or imperfectly remembered, and finding it too great a labour to master all the inflections of that language, fell upon a simpler, though less elegant, artifice, of supplying the place of cases, moods, and tenses, with one or more auxiliary words, joined to nouns, verbs, and participles. And hence, in the Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and French languages, the greater part of the words are Latin; (for the conquered were more in number than the conquerors :) but so disguised are those words, by the mixture of northern idioms, and by the slovenly expedient now hinted at, as to have become at once like the Latin, and very different from it. The ancient Greek, compared with the modern, is found to have undergone alterations somewhat similar, but not so great. For with the northeru invaders the Greeks were never so thoroughly incorporated, as were the Europeans of the West: and, when conquered by the Turks, they maintained their religion, and so preserved their language from total depravation, though they could not prevent its debasement.
On many topics, it is easier to propose than to solve difficulties; and to ask questions, than to answer them. What is hinted in the last paragraph, may be thought to account for the multitude of auxiliary words that belong to the verbs and nouns of modern Europe. But, for the multitude of Inflections, that are found in the nouns and verbs of the ancient languages, how are we to account? Why did not the Greeks and Romans abound in auxiliary words as much as
Was it because their languages, like regular towns and fortifications, were made by men of learning; who planned them before they existed, with a view to the renown of the poets, philosophers, and orators, who were to compose in them, as well as to the convenience of the people, who were to speak them: while the modern tongues, like poor villages that extend their bounds irregularly, are the rude work of a barbarous people, who, without looking before or behind them, on the right hand, or on the left, threw their coarse materials together, with no other view, than just to answer the exigency of the present hour !-- This theory is agreeable to the ideas of some learned authors. But if we pay any regard to history, or believe that human exertions are proportioned to human abilities, and that the Greeks and Romans were like other men, we cannot acquiesce in it.
They who first spoke Greek and Latin were certainly not less ignorant, nor less savage, than were those moderns, among whom arose the Italian, the Spanish, the French, and
the English languages. If these last were formed gradually, and without plan or method, why should we believe, that the Classic tongues were otherwise formed? Are they more regular than the modern? In some respects they may be so;
; and it is allowed that they are more elegant: for of two towns that are built without a plan, it is not difficult to imagine, that the one may be more convenient and more beautiful than the other. But every polite tongue has its own rules; and the English that is according to rule, is not less regular than the Greek that is according to rule ; and a deviation from the established use of the language, is as much an irregularity in the one as in the other: nor are the modes of the Greek tongue more uniform in Xenophon and Plato, or of the Latin in Cicero and Cæsar, than those of the English are in Addison and Swift, or those of the French in Rollin, Vertot, and Fenelon.
But why should the Inflections of language be considered, as a proof of refinement and art, and the substitution of auxiliary words, as the work of chance and of barbarism ? Nay, what evidence can be brought to show, that the Inflections of the Classic tongues were not originally formed out of obsolete auxiliary words prefixed, or subjoined, to nouns and verbs, or otherwise incorporated with their radical letters? some learned men are of opinion, that this was actually the
And though the matter does not now admit of a direct proof, the analogy of other languages, ancient as well as modern, gives plausibility to the conjecture.
The inflections of Hebrew nouns and verbs may, upon this principle, be accounted for. The cases of the former, are marked by a change made in the beginning of the word; and this change is nothing more than a contracted preposition prefixed, answering to the English of, to, from : as if instead of animal, of animal, to animal, from animal, we were to pronounce and write animal, fanimal, tanimal, franimal ; which, if we were accustomed to speak so, would be as intelligible to us, as animal, anamalis, animali, were to the Romans. Of the Hebrew verb, in like manner, the persons are marked by contracted pronouns subjoined or prefixed to the radical letters. Thus, masar, he delivered; masartha, thou deliveredst, from masar, the root, and atha, thou; masurthi, I delivered, from masar, and aothi, me, &c. And in Erse, a very ancient species of Celtic, most of the inflections of the nouns and verbs may, if I am not misinformed, be analysed in a way somewhat similar.
If the English and other modern tongues, had been spoken for ages before they were written, (which we have reason to think was the case with the Greek and Latin.) it is probable