Page images

The indefinite article is sometimes placed between the adjective many, and a singular noun: as,

6 Full
a gem

of purest ray serene,
“ The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:
"Full many a flow'r is born to blush unseen,

“And waste its sweetness on the desert air."

In these lines the phrases many a gem, and many a flow'r, refer to many gems, and many flowers, separately, not collectively considered.

The definite article the is frequently applied to adverbs in the comparative and superlative degree; and its effect is to mark the degree the more strongly, and to define it the more precisely : as, “ The more I examine it, the better I like it. I like this the least of any."

“ That which is nearly connected with us, or with which, from its vicinity, we have been long acquainted, becomes eminent or distinguishable in our eyes, even though, in itself, and compared with other things of the same kind, it is of no particular importance. A person who resides near a very little town, speaks of it by the name of the town. Every clergyman within his own parish is called the minister or the parson; and if, in a village, there be but one barber or one smith, his neighbours think they distinguish bim sufficiently by calling him th: smith or the barber. A tree, a rock, a hill, a river, a meadow, may be spoken of in the same manner, with the same empha- sis. He is not returned from the hill: he is bathing in the river: I saw him on the top of the rock : shall we walk in the meadow ? A branch is blown down from the tree. In these examples, the definite article is used, because the thing spoken of, being in the neighbourhood, is well known, and a matter of some consequence to the people who are acquainted with it.

That we may perceive still more clearly, the nature and significancy of the articles, let us put the one for the other, and mark the effect. When it is said, that “the ancestors of the present royal family were kings in England three hundred years before the Conqueror," the sense is clear; as every body knows that the person here spoken of by the name of the conqueror is William duke of Normandy, who subdued England about seven hundred and hifty years ago. But if we say, that the ancestors of the present royal family were kings in England three hundred years before a conqueror," we speak nonsense. Again, when it is said, that “health is a most desirable thing," there is no man who will not acquiesce in the position; which only means, that health is one of those things that are to be very much desired. But if we take the other VOL. I.




if we say,

article, and say, “ Health is the most desirable thing," we change the position from truth to falsehood : for this would imply, that nothing is so desirable as health ; which is very wide of the truth : virtue and a good conscience being of infinitely greater value. Moreover, if instead of “ Man is born to trouble,” we say, “ A man is born to trouble," there is no material change in the sense ; only the former is more solemn, perhaps because it is more concise : and here we may perceive that the indefinite article is sometimes of no great use. But

The man is born to trouble,” the maxim is no longer general; some one particular man is intimated; and they to whom we speak may naturally ask, What man ?Sometimes our two articles do not differ widely in signification. Thus, we may say, “ It is true, as the proverb declares," or " It is true as a proverb, or as a certain proverb declares, that" &c. and the change of the article does not make any material change in the sense.

On the whole, as articles are by their nature definitives, it follows, of course, that they cannot be united with such words as are, in their own nature, as definite as they may be ; (the personal pronouns for instance;) nor with such words as, being undefinable, cannot properly be made otherwise ; (as the interrogative pronouns ;) but only with those words, which, though indefinite, are yet capable, by means of the article, of becoming definite."

Though the definitions and uses of the articles, as we have explained them, are conformable to those exhibited by Harris, Lowth, Johnson, Beattie, Priestly, Blair, Coote, Crombie, and other respectable grammarians, an ingenious writer on the subject strenuously contends, that the definitions are erroneous. This critic says, that, in the following sentences, “ A philosophical grammar, written by James Harris, Esquire ;" * There was a man, named John the Baptist;" “ The Lord planted a garden eastward in Eden;" the article a is not, according to our definition of it, used in a vague sense, to point out one single thing of the kind, in other respects indeterminate. He asserts that, in these and similar instances, it is used in a determinate sense, to denote, in the most precise manner, a particular book, a particular man, and a particular garden, This conclusion of our critic we conceive to be totally unfounded. He supposes that the article, in the examples adduced, applies to the whole of the sentences, to the subsequent and explanatory parts, as well as to those which precede. But he is not warranted in this supposition. The real application of the article is solely to the words philosophical grammar, man, and garden, and it is therefore indeterminate. The circumstances which render the subjects precise and definite, are the

[ocr errors]


subsequent explanations; which certainly do not alter or affect the grammatical nature of the article.

The mode of arguing adopted by this writer proves too much, and therefore nothing. Let us try its operation on other parts of speech. The words some and other are allowed to be indefinite pronouns; and the words this and that demonstrative pronouns.* But according to the reasoning of our opponent, these pronouns would alter their established nature in such expressions as the following : “ Some of the Roman emperors, namely, Tiberius, Caligula, and Nero, were extremely cruel, and tyrannical :" “ Other men, namely, Charles, James, and William, were present:" " This person, or some other, committed the fact : « That man, or another, was an accomplice.” On the new system, the words some and other, in these examples, would cease to be indefinite pronouns; and the words this and that would not be demonstrative; because the subjects in the first are ascertained, and in the second rendered uncertain by the subsequent expressions. It is unquestionably false reasoning to conclude that certain expressions cannot be of a definite or of an indefinite nature, because it is possible, by the annexation of particular circumstances, to give them a different designation.

With regard to the definite article our critic produces the following example in support of his opinion : “ Be not afraid ye beasts of the field ;" and relying on its efficacy, he inquires, what particular field is here meant ? The answer is obvious. The particularity is as clearly denoted in this instance as in the following phrases: “ The boar out of the wood : Every beast of the forest: Fish of the sea : Beasts of the earth." The field, the wood, the forest, &c. are used by way of contradistinction, or to designate special or individual objects. These phrases are, therefore, perfectly consistent with our explanation of the nature and use of the definite article. Other modes of expression are adduced by our opponent, as favouring his opinion. Such as, “ The tree beareth her fruit; The Fig-tree and the Vine do yield their strength :" and we are asked “What particular tree? Does the article the point out the particular tree or vine ?”—Here too we think the reply is not difficult. The Tree, the Fig-tree, and the Vine, may be justly considered as a figure of speech, putting a part for the whole, or as one species of things distinguished from others. We say, " The horse is a noble animal ;' “ 'The dog is a faithful creature:” meaning the species of animals called horse or dog.


Whether these words are considered as them is of equal validity..

ron cung or adiectives, the reasoning upon

This application of the definite article comports exactly with the definition: it ascertains what particular thing or things are meant.

Though we think that the arguments already advanced are sufficient to support our definitions of the articles, it may not be improper further to observe, that after all which can be done to render the definitions and rules of grammar comprehensive and accurate, men of learning and science know that they generally admit of exceptions; that there are peculiar anomalies which belong to some of them ; extreme cases which may be stated; and precise boundaries which cannot be ascertained. These, in the hands of men more ingenious than candid, may be plausibly advanced against any system; and to those who are not thoroughly conversant in the art, may appear to be material imperfections, attributable to an author's work, and not to the nature of the subject.




Of Substantives in general. A SUBSTANTIVE or Noun is the name of any thing that exists, or of which we have any notion : as, London, man, virtue.

Substantives are either proper or common.

Proper names or substantives, are the names appropriated to individuals: as, George, London, Thames.

Common names or substantives, stand for kinds containing many sorts, or for sorts containing many individuals under them : as, animal, man, tree, &c.

When proper names have an article annexed to them, they are used as common na S: as, 6. He is the Cicero of his age; he is reading the lives of the Twelve Cæsars."


Common names may also be used to signify individuals, by the addition of articles or pronouns : as, The boy is studious; that girl is discreet."*

To substantives belong gender, number, and case; and they are all of the third person when spoken of, and of the second when spoken to: as, “ Blessings attend us on every side; be grateful, children of men!" that is, ye children of men.


Of Gender. GENDER is the distinction of nouns with regard to

There are three genders, the MASCULINE, the FEMININE, and the NEUTER.

The Masculine Gender denotes animals of the male kind : as, a man, a horse, a bull.

The Feminine Gender signifies animals of the female kind : as, a woman, a duck, a hen.

The Neuter Gender denotes objects which are neither males nor females : as, a field, a house, a garden.

Some Substantives, naturally neuter, are, by a figure of speech, converted into the masculine or feminine gender: as, when we say of the sun, he is setting; and of a ship, she sails well.

Figuratively, in the English tongue, we commonly give the masculine gender to nouns which are conspicuous for the attributes of imparting or communicating, and which are by nature strong and efficacious. Those, again, are made feminine, which are conspicuous for the attributes of containing, or bringing forth, or which are peculiarly beautiful or amiable. Upon these principles, the sun is said to be masculine ; and the moon, being the receptacle of the sun's light, to be feminine. The earth is generally feminine. A ship, a country, a city, &c. are likewise made feminine, being receivers or containers. Time is always masculine, on account of its mighty efficacy. Virtue is feminine from its beauty, and its

* Nouns may also be divided into the following classes : Collective nouns, or nouns of multitude : as, the people, the parliament, the army: Abstract nouns, or the names of qualities abstracted from their substances; as, knowledge, goodness, whitenese: Tor hal or participial nouns : as, beginning, reading, writing.

« PreviousContinue »