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12/20/2017

2. Aspect and Tense of the English Verb in Theoretical Grammar

2.1 The history of the English verb.

During the Old English period, the system of the English verbs as well as the systems of all the rest Germanic languages possessed five main categories[2]:

1) the category of number. Here we can distinguish two types of number – singular (e.g. cat, school, way) and plural (cats, schools, ways).

2) the category of person. The structure of this category remained unchanged, though we can notice some development of the expression of the category. Since the ancient times there are three persons in the system of the verbs (first, second and third – in singular and plural forms).

3) the category of mood. Three moods were developed in Old English – indicative, imperative and conjunctive. The categories of tense and aspect are mostly used in indicative mood.

4) the category of tense. In Old English the tenses were divided into two large groups – past and present (non-past). The present tense could function as the future tense in special conditions (with the adverbs, which indicate the future). The separate form of the future tense and other complex forms expressing the time reference started to develop in the end of Old English period.

5) the category that stands apart from finite forms. There are three impersonal forms of the verb: infinitive, gerund and participle.  Infinitive is the basic form of the verbs that possesses no information about mood, number, tense or person of the verb but is able to show its lexical meaning. It can be used either with or without the particle ‘to’. Gerung is a non-finite verb form that is used to create a verb phrase. We can recognize it by the -ing inflection. Participle serves to modify a noun or noun phrase; it has the -ed inflection.

During the Old English period Germanic languages including English itself had one more peculiarity: they were divided into two groups according to the usage of different grammatical means that compose various forms of the past tense: so-called strong verbs, which possessed the alternation of the root vowel, and weak verbs that were modified with the help of affixation (-d or -t inflection). During the process of development of the system of verbs, weak verbs became regular, and strong verbs – irregular verbs. Regular/weak verbs are characterized by invariability of their root morphemes. Irregular/strong verbs form the past participle with the help of alteration of their roots.

Strong verbs are more ancient than weak ones. Their existence is considered to have begun in the era of Proto Indo-European language. The proof of this theory may be found in the similarity of Old English and Latin form, whose common ancestor was Proto Indo-European. For example:

Old English

Latin

Modern English

etan

edo

to eat

sittan

sedeo

to sit

beran

fero

to bear

Strong verbs were divided into seven main groups:

Group

Infinitive

Past tense

Participle II

Modern form

Singular

Plural

I (i-class)

*i + i =  ī

wrītan

*a + i = *ai > ā

wrāt

0 + i = i

writon

0 + i = i

writen

to write

II (u-class)

*i + u = iu > ēo

cēosan

*a + u = *au >

ēa

cēas

0 + u = u

curon

0 + u = u > o

coren

to choose

III

*e(i) + sonorant + consonant

swimman

*a + sonorant + consonant

swamm

u + sonorant + consonant

swummon

u + sonorant + consonant

swummen

to swim

IV

e + l (r)

stelan

æ + l (r)

stæl

āē + l (r)

stāēlon

o+ l (r)

stolen

to steal

V

e + noise consonant

sprecan

æ + noise consonant

spræc

āē + noise consonant

sprāēcon

e + noise consonant

sprecen

to speak

VI

a

scacan

ō

scōc

ō

scōcon

a

scacen

to shake

VII

alternation of long diphthongs

blōwan

alternation of long diphthongs

blēow

alternation of long diphthongs

blēowon

alternation of long diphthongs

blōwen

to blow

As we can see, in Proto Germanic and Old English the choice of vowels in the past forms of the verbs depended on the sounds that followed the root vowels. The group VII had different vowel alterations, but diphthongs stood in for all of them in the past simple tense and past participle form.

Weak verbs are typical only for Germanic languages – they didn’t exist in Proto Indo-European. The verbs that accept affixation originated from the strong verbs or ancient roots. The choice of inflections didn’t depend on root vowels, so the affixation simplified greatly the process of forming the past tenses. That is why the weak verbs became the main and basic type of verb morphogenesis in English nowadays. All the new verbs that appear in English accept the affixational type of conjugation.

 In Old English, the weak verb formed its past participle in the following way:

past tense affix -d- or

-t-

 

root

morpheme

 

base-forming affix -i-

 

personal inflection

 

 

According to the type of base-forming affix, the weak verbs could be classified into three groups. The first group had the base-forming affix -i- (after consonants) or -į- (after vowels). Later this affix acquired the form -e-. For instance, the verb dōmian
(to judge) acquired the past form dōmida (I judged), which later became the form dēm(e)de. Past participle form of this verb was dēm(e)d.

If the stem of the verb ended in voiced consonant, then it acquired the past tense affix -d-. If the stem of the verb ended in voiceless consonant, then it acquired the past tense affix -t-. For example, the verb cept (voiceless “p” + voiceless “t”), which meant “saved”, and the verb hāēld (voiced “l” + voiced “d”) that meant “healed”.

The second group of weak verbs possessed the base-forming affix -ōi-. During the process of development of English, this affix disported into two different affixes: -i- and -o-. The second affix was commonly used with the past forms of the verbs. For example, luf-o-d-e
(scheme root+ base-forming affix+past tense affix+personal inflection) meant “I loved”. We can notice that this Old English form is still recognizable and is close to the modern form. The main difference is the absence of personal inflection in nowadays English, except the inflection of third person in the Present Simple tense ( -s / -es ). This inflection was based on Old English personal inflection “” (this sign is called “thorn”; later it was replaced by the combination of the letters “th”) that was pronounced as [Ө].

In all the Germanic languages there was a special group of verbs called Praeterio praesentia (lat. “Past of the present”). These verbs expressed the result of the previous action, which is recognized as the present. These were the verbs like to know, to need, to have, to present, to understand, to can, etc. There were only twelve verbs in Old English that fit this category. Most of them had no past participle form because they did not need to express it.

One more group of verbs was so-called suppletive verbs. These verbs could generate their different grammatical forms from different roots. In Old English there were two of these verbs: to be – bēon and to go – ʒān. We should notice that these verbs are still suppletive not only in Modern English, but in Modern Russian as well.

The forms of suppletive verbs in English are the following:

Tense

Person and number

Old English

Modern English

Present

Singular, I person

eom / bēo

ʒā

am

go

Singular, II person

eart / bist

ʒāēst

are

go

Singular, III person

is / biþ

ʒāēþ

is

goes

Plural, I person

sint / sindon / bēoþ

ʒāþ

are

go

Plural, II person

Plural, III person

Past

Singular, I person

was

ʒā

was

went

Singular, II person

wāēr

ʒā

were

went

Singular, III person

wæs

ʒā

was

went

Plural, I person

wāēron

ʒān

were

went

Plural, II person

Plural, III person

At the end of the Old English period, analytical forms of verbal tenses began to appear. It was also the beginning of individualization of the future tense forms. Some main verbs lost their lexical meaning and became the auxiliary verbs for creating different tenses. For instance, the verb willen (to want) became the expression of the future form (modern form – will).

The verb bēon was used in Old English to express the state in the present: ic eom cumen – “I am in the state of coming” (“I have come”). This structure became a source of the perfect forms. The verb habban – “to have” was the other source of the perfect forms.

At the same time, the passive forms were also developing in Old English. And again their base was the verb bēon – “to be”. During the Middle English period the passive constructions accepted their modern form.

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