Page images

finitely or indefinitely, both with respect to time and action. When they denote customs or habits, and not individual acts, they are applied indefinitely: as, “ Virtue promotes happiness;" “ the old Romans governed by benefits more than by fear;"> “ I shall hereafter employ my time more usefully." In

". these examples, the words, promotes, governed, and shall employ, are used indefinitely, both in regard to action and time; for they are not confined to individual actions, nor to any precise points of present, past, or future time. When they are applied to signify particular actions, and to ascertain the

preeise points of time to which they are confined, they are used definitely; as in the following instances : “My brother is writing;" “ He built the bouse last summer, but did not inhabit it till yesterday." "He will write another letter to

“ morrow."

The different tenses also represent an action as complete or perfect, or as incomplete or imperfect. In the phrases, “ I am writing,

," " I was writing," "I shall be writing,” imperfect, unfinished actions are signified.. But the following examples, “I wrote,” “I have written,” “I had written," “ I shall have written," all denote complete, perfect action.

The distinction of the tenses into definite and indefinite, may be more intelligible to the student, by the following explanation and arrangement. *


Indefinite. This form of the present tense denotos action or

being, in present time, without limiting it with exactness to a given point. It expresses also facts which exist generally, at all times, general truths, attributes which are permanent, habits, customary actions, and the like, without the reference to a specific time: as, “ Hope springs eternal in the human breast ; Virtue promotes happiness ; Man is imperfect and dependent; The wicked flee when no man pursueth ; Plants rise from the earth ; Sometimes he

works, but he often plays ; Birds fly; Fishes swim." Definite. This form expresses the present time with preci

sion; and it usually denotes action or being, which corresponds in time with another action : as, “ He is meditating; ; I am writing, while you are waiting."

* Though the author thinks he has, in the Introduction to his Grammar, offered a sufficient apology, for the use he has made of his predecessors' labours, and for omitting to insert their names; yet it may not be improper, on the present occasion, to observe, that the following detailed view of the tenses into definite and indefinite, is, in part, taken from Webster's Grammar; and that a few positions and illustrations, amongst some of the Syntactical Notes and Observations, have also been selected from this grammarian, for the Octavo Edition of the Grammar. VOL. I.


IMPERFECT TENSE. Indefinite. This form of the imperfect tense represents action

past and finished, and often with the precise time undefined: as, “ Alexander conquered the Persians; Scipio was as vir.

tuous as brave." Definite. This form represents an action as taking place and

unfinished, in some specified period of past time: as, “I was standing at the door when the procession passed.”



Indefinite. This form of the perfect tense represents an ac

tion completely past, and often at no great distance, but not specified: as, “ I have accomplished my design;" “ I have

read the History of England.” Definite. This form represents an action as just finished : as,

« I have been reading a history of the revolution;" “ Í have been studying hard to-day."


Indefinite. This form of the pluperfect tense, expresses an

action which was past at or before some other past time specified : as, “ He had received the news before the mes

senger arrived." Definite. This form denotes an action to be just past, at or

before another past time specified: as, “ I had been waiting an hour, when the messenger arrived."


[ocr errors]


Indefinite. This form of the first future, simply gives notice

of an event to happen hereafter: as, - Charles will go to

London;" “ I think we shall have a fine season." Definite. This form expresses an action, which is to take

place, and be unfinished, at a specified future time: as, " He will be preparing for a visit, at the time you arrive.” "

SECOND FUTURE TENSE. Indefinite. This form of the second future, denotes an ac

tion which will be past at a future time specified : as, “They will have accomplished their purpose, at the time they pro

posed." Definite. This form represents an action, which will be just

past at a future specified time: as, “ The scholars will have been studying an hour, when the tutor comes to examine them."


The student will observe, that, in this scheme, all the definite tenses are formed by the participle of the present tense, and the substantive verb to be.

There are other modes of expressing future time : as, “I am going to write ;"' “ I am about to write.” These have been called the Inceptive future, as they note the commencement of an action, or an intention to commence an action without delay.

The substantive verb followed by a verb in the infinitive mood, forms another method of indicating future time : as, 66 Ferdinand is to command the army."

" On the subject of style, I am afterwards to discourse." “ Eneas went in search of the seat of an empire, which was, one day, to govern the world.” The latter expression has been called a future past; that is, past as to the narrator ; but future as to the event, at the time specified.

From the preceding representation of the different tenses, it appears that each of them has its distinct and peculiar province; and that though some of them may sometimes be used promiscuously, or substituted one for another, in cases where great accuracy is not required, yet there is a real and essential difference in their meaning.

It is also evident that the English language contains the six tenses which we have enumerated. Grammarians who limit the number to two, or at most to three, namely, the present, the imperfect, and the future, do not reflect that the English verb is mostly composed of principal and auxiliary; and that these several parts constitute one verb. Either the English language has no regular future tense, or its future is composed of the auxiliary and the principal verb. If the latter be admitted, then the auxiliary and principal united, constitute a tense, in one instance; and from reason and analogy, may doubtless do so, in others, in which minuter divisions of time are necessary, or useful. What reason can be assigned for not considering this case, as other cases, in which a whole is regarded as composed of several parts, or of principal and adjuncts? There is nothing heterogeneous in the parts; and precedent, analogy, utility, and even necessity, authorize the union.

In support of this opinion we have the authority of eminent grammarians; in particular, that of Dr. Beattie. “Some

" writers,” says the doctor,“ will not allow any thing to be a tense, but what, in one inflected word, expresses an affirmation with time; for that those parts of the verb are not properly called tenses, which assume that appearance, by means of auxiliary words. At this rate, we should have, in English, two tenses only, the present and the past in the active verb, and in the passive no tenses at all. But this is a needless

nicety; and, if adopted, would introduce confusion into the grammatical art. If amaveram be a tense, why should not amatus fueram? If I heard, be a tense, I did hear, I have heard, and I shall hear, must be equally entitled to that appellation.”

The proper form of a tense in the Greek and Latin tongues, is certainly that which it has in the grammars of those languages. But in the Greck and Latin grammars we uniformly find, that some of the tenses are formed by variations of the principal verb; and others, by the addition of a helping verb. It is, therefore, indisputable, that the principal verb or rather its participle, and an auxiliary, constitute a regular tense in the Greek and Latin languages. This point being established, we may, doubtless, apply it to English verbs, and extend the principle as far as convenience, and the idiom of our language require.

if it should be said, that, on the same ground that a participle and auxiliary are allowed to form a tense, and the verb is to be conjugated accordingly, the English noun and pronoun ought to be declined at large, with articles and prepositions ; we must object to the inference. Such a mode of declension is not adapted to our language. This we think has been already proved.* It is also confessedly inapplicable to the learned languages. Where then is the grammatical inconsistency, or the want of conformity to the principles of analogy, in making some tenses of the English verb to consist of principal and auxiliary; and the cases of English nouns, chiefly in their termination? The argument from analogy, instead of militating against us, appears to confirm and establish our position. See pages 66-68. Sections 8 and 9 of this chapter, and the 19th Rule of Syntax--Note 8.

We shall close these remarks on the tenses, with a few observations extracted from the ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA. They are worth the student's attention, as a part of them applies, not only to our views of the tenses, but to many other parts of the work.--" Harris [by way of hypothesis] has enumerated no fewer than twelve tenses. Of this enumeration we can by no means approve; for, without entering into a minute examination of it, nothing can be more obvious, than that his inceptive present, I am going to write,' is a future tense; and his completive present, I have written,' a past tense. But, as more proper for a work of this kind, than to raise, as might easily be raised, new theories on the subject."*

a as was before observed of the classification of words, we cannot help being of opinion, that, to take the tenses as they are commonly received, and endeavour to ascertain their nature and their differences, is a much more useful exercise, as well

* See pages 44, 45.


The Conjugation of the auxiliary verbs TO HAVE and to be.

The Conjugation of a verb, is the regular combination and arrangement of its several numbers, persons, moods, and tenses.

The Conjugation of an active verb is styled the ACTIVE Voice; and that of a passive verb, the Pas


The auxiliary and active verb TO HAVE, is conjugated in the following manner.

[blocks in formation]

1. We had.
2. Ye or you had.
3. They had.

SINGULAR. 1. I had. 2. Thou hadst. 3. He, &c. had.


SINGULAR. 1. I have had,

1. We have had.

* The following criticism affords an additional support to the author's system of the tenses, &c.

“Under the head of Etymology, the author of this grammar judiciously adheres to the natural simplicity of the English lauguage, without embarrassing the learner with distinctions peculiar to the Latin tongue. The difficult subject of the Tenses, is clearly explained; and with less incumbrance of technical phraseology, than in most other grammars."

Analytical Review. | Hath is now used only in poetry, and on very serious occasions. Ye is ncarly obsolete.

See next page--note marked thus (*?.

« PreviousContinue »