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The Verb in Early New English

As the majority of new grammatical categories were already formed in Middle English, in Early New English they become more specialized in meaning, though it was not until the period when prescriptive grammars set the rules of their use there is much variation as far as their forms and peculiarities of use are concerned.

Formally, the state of things in the grammar of Early New English was as follows.

The he loss of endings greatly simplified the verbal paradigm. There were no longer endings marking the 1st person singular, plural present indicative, tin infinitival suffix -an —> en —> e was also lost. Personal ending of the third person singular in the present tense –th is replaced by -s; hath —> has; thinketh > thinks. However, the old ending may still be found in Shakespeare’s works, and there is practically no difference between two forms (probably to some extent the old form makes the speech more elevated and official)

It is to be noted that the verbs do and have are the most persistent in keeping this old ending, at least they are used with it more frequently than the others, especially in the function of an auxiliary.

The use of the second person singular ending is limited in so much as the pronoun falls out of use. Still, if the pronoun is used, the predicate verb agrees with it. Notably, in Old and Middle English this ending in the past tense was found only with the weak verbs, now strong verbs also take it.

The traditional classification of strong and weak verbs gives way to division into regular and irregular, with a pronounced tendency within the classes of the strong verbs to turn into weak ones, regular or irregular, but nevertheless forming their past tense and Participle II by a dental suffix -d or -t. Somewhat apart are treated modal verbs, formerly preterite-present, that are stripped of their paradigmatic forms and are later referred to as defective.

Regular verbs.

As class II of the former weak verbs was the most productive and served as the basis for the rules of formation of the past tense and Participle II, the majority of former verbs belonging to this class remain regular: love look, ask, mark, prick, prove etc. Some, however, somewhat changed and are now irregular make - made (formerly maked).

The verbs that are derived from other parts of speech are all regular and form their past tense and Participle II by adding –ed suffix now perceived as the ending.

All borrowed verbs form their past tense in the same way, and so they are regular.


Many traditionally strong verbs show the tendency to change their former

past tense forms to a more productive and more widespread way of formation of the past with the same ending, though they retain their Participle II form in -en.

Such verbs as chew, climb, help, yield, starve, mourn, gnaw, ache, fold, walk etc. barely show their former belonging to the strong conjugation, and their past tense and participles are fully regular:

ρhew - chewed, climb - climbed, help - helped, yield - yielded, starve- starved.. In early XVII century, however, we still see variation in use of such verbs

The tendency was so strong that some verbs became regular, though further development of the language brought them back into the group of irregular. Some of these verbs form their past tense forms and participles differently – the past tense by adding -ed, Participle II by means of adding the suffix - en to the stem of the infinitive: melted — melted ( molten), shaved - shaved (shaven), showed - shown ( showed), sowed - sown (sowed), etc.

Irregular verbs include those former strong verbs that preserved the vowel interchange in the root. Here belong both those that form their participle with the help of the suffix -n, and those that lost the suffix altogether:

write - wrote – written, rise - rose – risen, choose - chose — chosen

Many regular weak verbs of the I class where phonetic processes of assimilation of consonants led to the change of the suffix to -t, shortening of the vowels in front of two consonants caused the difference in sounds of the infinitive and the two other forms (the first long vowel was changed in the course of the Great Vowel Shift, the others remain unchanged):

feel - felt - felt

meet — met — met

bend - bent - bent

send - sent — sent

lose - lost - lost


Those verbs of the I class of the weak verbs which were irregular in Old and Middle English remain irregular: tell - told - told sell - sold - sold seek - sought - sought bring — brought — brought.

The verbs that were always irregular and stood apart from all the classification to do and to go did not change and also belong to the irregular:

do - did — done go — went — gone,


The verb to be that being irregular in its basic form
be - was - been retained the forms of the 1st person in present singular and number in the past tense.


The group of irregular verbs includes also some verbs that became invariable as a result of phonetic changes. Such weak verbs the root of which ended in – t as cut, shut, set, hurt, etc. formerly had the dental suffix in the past tense and in the participle II. In the course of phonetic development it merged with the root, hence they are invariable now. Additionally, the difference between the long and the short vowels became irrelevant and both long and short vowels in the formerly strong spread became both short - so spread - spread - spread; class VII verb let became invariable already in Middle English, and such words as cast, thurst and cost, having the same sound at the end, have probably formed their forms on the analogy with the above verbs.


Modal Verbs

The changes in preterite-present are significant. Some verbs are lost altogether (dowen, unnen, thurven, munnen). The rest lost the greater part of their paradigms and turned into a group of modal (defective) verbs. Unlike the former preterite-present verbs, these are no longer autonomous and cannot be used without a complement. Now they are always used as modal auxiliaries with the infinitive without the particle to. In Shakespeare's time, however, there were some exceptions - at least some of them still retain the former semantics.

Such is the verb witen (to know) which is still found in Shakespeare's times in the form wot/ wotst/wots, unlike other modals it takes the personal endings. and has the form of the participle.

The rest are used only as modal auxiliaries. The verb can/could still takes the personal ending of the second person, but no ending is observed in the third person singular. Could may be used to mean past indicative or the present Subjunctive

May/might, like can takes the personal ending only in the 2nd person singular; both forms are frequently used with the meaning of subjunctive (or present conditional).

The preterite - present verb owen split into two - a regular verb owe (past tense owed) with the meaning "to possess" or "to be in debt to"; its past tense ought acquired its present-day meaning of duty or moral obligation or probability or natural consequence.

Shall/should are used as modals; shall also as auxiliaries of the future and future-in-the-past tense.

In Early New English the uses of must are often associated with the use of the adverb needs, rendering the meaning of necessity – necessarily, etc.

The verb will/would, formally anomalous, now approaches the modals. As in older times it does not take the 3rd person singular personal ending, the infinitive usually associated with it is bare, and in its uses it has very much in common with the other modals. However in the early XVII century very often it is used as a notional verb. This is especially evident in such uses of the form would in the subjunctive where would like in present-day English is more common.

The number of basic forms of the former strong is reduced to three: that of the infinitive, past tense and Participle II. Class VI and VII in older times had this pattern already from the times of Old English - in other classes past singular and past plural had different root vowels. This change lacked regularity - some of the verbs preserved the first, the second and the fourth forms with the participle suffix -en (write - wrote - written), some lost the suffix (ride - rode - rid), the past form and the participle of still other were identical and the second or the third form was used as the basis (bind -bound - bound). We may find instances when Participle II has no suffix, whereas adjectivized participle has it (drink - drank - drunk, but drunken), or when a verb and its derivative differ in the formation of Participle II (get -got - got, but forget - forgot - forgotten, the American variant preserves the suffix with both). In early New English there is still much uncertainty in many verbs.

The non-finite forms of the verb - the infinitive, the participle and the gerund developed the set of forms and can hardly be called now the nominal parts of speech. Passive and perfect infinitives, passive and perfect gerund, W lent participle in the passive voice and perfect participle in the active and the passive voice fully represent new verbal grammatical categories.

The gerund that originated and was occasionally used in Middle English
becomes quite common, the use of this form does not differ from the present-
day practice.

The categories of the Early New English remain basically the same: tense, voice, time correlation (perfect), mood.The categories of number and person are less distinct and expressed in the personal ending of the 3rd person singular in the present tense active voice and in the passive voice, as the vei I to be retains its 1st person singular and two number forms in the past.

All forms of the perfect tenses are abundantly used in Early New
English. Occasionally the perfect tenses of the intransitive verbs are formed
with the auxiliary to be but the forms with the auxiliary have are also found.

The moods of the Early New English period are the same as they were in the Middle English - the Indicative, the Imperative and Subjunctive. The newly arisen analytical forms of the Subjunctive (now in some grammars they are called the Conditional, the Suppositional and Subjunctive II Past) have not yet the present-day differentiation as to the rules of the structural limitation of their use. We may find any combination of the moods in the sentences of unreal condition.

There is another difference in the use of the former Present tense of the Subjunctive Mood (which now is commonly called Subjunctive I). It is widely used in the texts, in sentences expressing wishes. Subjunctive I is also widespread in other types of clauses, where in present-day English we have Suppositional Mood (should + Infinitive) and in American variant the older archaic form is preserved: Notably, the sentences of what we call now those of real condition prevalently have Subjunctive I in the subordinate clause.

The continuous aspect, the first instances of which were used in Middle English is occasionally used in the texts of this period, though not as a system (in a typical situation in which this form is used now, to denote the action that takes place at the moment of speech it is not used by Shakespeare)

Date: 2015-02-16; view: 1847

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