Page images


verb, and introducing moods Interrogative, Optative, Promissite, Hortative, Precative, &c. we have exhibited such only as are obviously distinct; and which, whilst they are calculated to unfold and display the subject intelligibly to the learner, seem to be sufficient, and not more than sufficient, to answer all the purposes for which moods were introduced.

From Grammarians who form their ideas, and make their decisions respecting this part of English Grammar, on the principles and construction of languages, wbich, in these points, do not suit the peculiar nature of our own, but differ considerably from it, we may naturally expect grammatical schemes that are not very perspicuous, nor perfectly consistent, and which will tend more to perplex than inform the learner. See Sections 8 and 9 of this Chapter: and Note 8, under the 19th Rule of Syntax.


Of the Tenses.

Tense, being the distinction of time, might seem to admit only of the present, past, and future; but to mark it more accurately, it is made to consist of six variations, viz.





The Present Tense represents an action or event, as passing at the time in which it is mentioned : as, “I rule; I am ruled; I think ; I fear."

[ocr errors]

The present tense likewise expresses a character, quality, &c. at present existing : as, “ He is an able man;" "She is an amiable woman.” It is also used in speaking of actions continued with occasional intermissions to the present time : as, “ He frequently rides ;" “ He walks out every morning ;" “ He goes into the country every summer.” We sometimes apply this tense even to persons long since dead: as, “Seneca reasons and moralizes well;"> “ Job speaks feelingly of his afflictions."

The present tense, preceded by the words, when, before, af

[ocr errors]

ter, as soon as, &c. is sometimes used to point out the relative time of a future action : as, When he arrives he will bear the news;" " He will hear the news before he arrives, or as soon as he arrives, or, at farthest, soon after he arrives ;" “ The more she improves, the more amiable she will be."

In animated historical narrations this tense is sometimes substituted for the imperfect tense : as, “He enters the territory of the peaceable inhabitants : he fights and conquers, takes an immense booty, which he divides amongst his soldiers, and returns home to enjoy a vain and useless triumph.”

Every point of space or duration, how minute soever it may be, has some degree of extension. Neither the present, nor any other instant of time, is wholly unextended. Nay, we cannot conceive, as Dr. Beattie justly observes, an unextended instant: and that which we call the present, may in fact admit of very considerable extension. While I write a letter, or read a book, I say, that I am reading or writing it, though it should take up an hour, a day, a week, or a month; the whole time being considered as present, which is employed in the present action. So, while I build a house, though

, that should be the work of many months, I speak of it in the present time, and say that I am building it. In like manner, in contradistinction to the century past, and to that which is to come, we may consider the whole space of a hundred years as time present, when we speak of a series of actions, or of a state of existence, that is co-extended with it; as in the following example: “ In this century we are more neglectful of the ancients, and we are consequently more ignorant than they were in the last, or perhaps they will be in the next.” Nay, the entire term of man's probationary state in this world, when opposed to that eternity which is before him, is considered as present time by those who say, “In this state we see darkly as through a glass ; but in a future life, our faith will be lost in vision, and we shall know ev as we are known."

The Imperfect Tense represents the action or event, either as past and finished, or as remaining unfinished at a certain time past: as, “ I loved her for her modesty and virtue ;) “ They were travelling post when he met them.”

The first example, in the preceding paragraph, shows that the action was past and finished, though the precise time of it was not defined. In this point of view the tense may be said to be imperfect : the time of the action is not exactly and perfectly ascertained. In the second instance, the action is represented as past, but not finished; and it may therefore, with propriety, be denominated imperfect.

It is proper to observe, on this occasion, that in such sentences as the following ; "He wrote to him yesterday;"

“ “ They behaved themselves at that period very properly;". the precise time of the action is not denoted by the tense of the verb itself, but by the addition of the words, yesterday, and at that period.-See the last paragraph of the Seventh Chapter of Etymology, on the subject of Adverbs.

The Perfect Tense not only refers to what is past, but also conveys an allusion to the present time: as, “I have finished my letter;" “I have seen the person that was recommended to me.”

In the former example it is signified that the finishing of the letter, though past, was at a period immediately preceding the present time. In the latter instance it is uncertain whether the person mentioned was seen by the speaker a long or short time before. The meaning is, “I have seen him sometime in the course of a period which includes, or comes , to, the present time.” In both instances, “ The finishing of

, “ the letter," and " The seeing of the person,” comprehend periods, each of which extends to the time present. We have no idea of any certain portion of time intervening between the time of action and the time of speaking of it. The sentence, "I have written a letter,” implies that “ 1 have, or possess, the finished action of writing a letter.” Under these views of the subject, it appears that the term perfect may be properly applied to this tense; as the action is not only finished, but the period of its completion is specially referred to, and ascertained.

When the particular time of any occurrence is specified, as prior to the present time, this tense is not used; for it would be improper to say, “I have seen him yesterday;" or, “I have finished my work last week.” In these cases the imperfect is necessary : as, “I saw him yesterday;" “ I finished my work last week.” But when we speak indefinitely of any thing past, as happening or not happening in the day, year, or age, in which we mention it, the perfect must be employed : as, “I have been there this morning;” “I hate travelled much this year:” “We have escaped many dangers through life.” In referring, however, to such a division of the day as is past before the time of our speaking, we use the imperfect: as, “ They came home early this morning;" "He was with them at three o'clock this afternoon."

The perfect tense, and the imperfect tense, both denote a thing that is past; but the former denotes it in such a manner, that there is still actually remaining some part of the time to slide away, wherein we declare the thing has been done ; whereas the imperfect denotes the thing or action past, in such a manner, that nothing remains of that time in which it was done. If we speak of the present century, we say, “ Philosophers have made great discoveries in the present century :” but if we speak of the last century, we say, “Philosophers made great discoveries in the last century." "He has been much afflicted this year ;' “1 have this week read the king's proclamation ;”> “ I have heard great news this morning;" in these instances, “ He has been," "I have read," and heard,denote things that are past; but they occurred in this year, in this week, and to-day; and still there remains a part of this year, week, and day, whereof I speak.

In general, the perfect tense may be applied wherever the action is connected with the present time, by the actual existence either of the author or of the work, though it may have been performed many centuries ago; but if neither the author nor the work now remains, it cannot be used. We may say,

6 Cicero has written orations ;" but we cannot say, “ Cicero has written poems;" because the orations are in being, but the poems are lost. Speaking of priests in general, we may say, “ They have in all ages claimed great powers ;" because the general order of the priesthood still exists : but if we speak of the Druids as a particular order of priests which does not now exist, we cannot use this tense. We cannot say, “ The Druid priests have claimed great powers;" but must say, “ The Druid priests claimed great powers ;" because that order is now totally extinct.*

The perfect tense, preceded by, the words zuhen, after, as soon as, &c. is often used to denote the relative time of a future action : as, “ When I have finished my letter, I will attend to his request:” “I will attend to the business, as soon as I have finished my letter."

The Pluperfect Tense represents a thing not only as past, but also as prior to some other point of time specified in the sentence: as, “ I had finished my letter before he arrived."

* See Pickbons on the English Verb: to whose ingenious D198ERTATION the author is indebted for several Observations and Examples respecting the Tenses of viin Verbe

[ocr errors]

The term used to designate this tense, may, in some degree at least, be justified, by observing that the time of the action or event, is more than, or beyond, the time of some other action or event to which it refers, and which is in the perfect, or the imperfect tense. Thus, in the sentences, “I have seen him, but I had written to him before ;" “ Though he had not then agreed to the proposal, he has at length consented to it;" “I saw him after I had written to him ;" “He decided indeed very culpably, but he had been vehemently urged to it;" the pluperfect extends not only beyond, and precedent to, the time signified in the perfect tense, but also that denoted by the imperfect.

The First Future Tense represents the action as yet to come, either with or without respect to the precise time : as, “ The sun will rise to-morrow;" I shall see them again."

The Second Future intimates that the action will be fully accomplished at or before the time of another future action or event: as, “I shall have dined at one o'clock;" “ The two houses will have finished their business, when the king comes to

prorogue them.”

It is to be observed that, in the subjunctive mood, the event being spoken of under a condition or supposition, or in the form of a wish, and therefore as doubtful and contingent, the verb itself in the present, and the auxiliary both of the present and past imperfect times, often carry with them somewhat of a future sense : as,

“ If he come to-morrow, I may speak to him ;”> “ If he should, or would come to-morrow, I might, would, could, or should speak to bim.” Observe also, that the auxiliaries should and would, in the imperfect times, are used to express the present and future as well as the past: as, “It is my desire that he should, or would, come now, or to-morrow ;” as well as, “ It was my desire, that he should or would come yesterday.” So that, in this mood, the precise time of the verb is very much determined by the nature and drift of the sentence.

In treating of the tenses there are two things to which attention ought principally to be turned: the relation which the several tenses have to one another, in respect of time ; and the notice which they give of an action's being completed or not completed.

The present, past, and future tenses, may be used either de

« PreviousContinue »