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Chapter 5. the verb: finite forms


B.S.Khaimovich, B.I.Rogovskaya

A Course In English Grammar, p. 117-157




§ 188. As a part of speech the verb is characterized by the following properties:

1) Its lexico-grammatical meaning of ‘action, process’.

2) Certain typical stem-building elements, such as the suffixes -ize, -en, -ify, the prefixes re-, under-, over-, out-; super-, sub-, mis-, un-, the lexico-grammatical word-morphemes up, in, off, down, out, etc.

3) Its grammatical categories; out of the eight categories of the verb system three are found not only in the finites, but in the verbids as well. Two of them – voice (asks – is asked, to ask – to be asked, asking – being asked) and order (asks – has asked, to ask – to have asked, asking – having asked) – are found in all the verbids, and the third – aspect (asks – is asking, to ask – to be asking) – in the infinitive.

4) Its characteristic combinability; a verb can be associated with nouns (noun-equivalents) denoting the doer (agent) and the recipient of the action expressed by the verb; it is regularly modified by adverbs.

E.g. They continued their own occupations: a woman ironing, a girl sewing, the old lady looking at her feet, and the dog watching the cat closely. (Green).

Some peculiarities of the combinability of various classes of verbs will be discussed later on.

5) Its syntactical function of the predicate (incident to the finites only). The verbids have other functions, but they are secondary predicates in secondary predications.

§ 189. As we know, it is the stem that unites words into lexemes. Therefore, though stem-structure is not a reliable criterion for distinguishing parts of speech, it can show whether certain words belong to the same lexeme or not. Now finites and the corresponding verbids have identical stem-structure, which characterizes them as words of the same lexemes, in spite of certain differences in combinability, function, etc. Cf. gives giving, gives up giving up, nationalizes – nationalizing, whitewashes – whitewashing, etc.

In accordance with their stem-structure verbs, like other parts of speech, fall under the following groups.

a) Simple verbs (write, know, love).

b) Derived verbs (organize, rewrite, purify, underestimate).

N î t e. Among the-stem-building affixes of the verbs prefixes are of greater importance than suffixes. There is but one productive stem-building verbal suffix (-ize), while productive prefixes are more numerous (re-, un-, over-, under-, mis-, de-, etc.).

Sound-interchange is unproductive (food – feed, blood – bleed), so is the change of stress, as in export – (to) export, transport – (to) transport.

The most productive way of forming verb lexemes is conversion: (a) book – (to) book, (a) man – (to) man, better – (to) better.

c) Compound verbs consisting of two stems, as in (to) broadcast, (to) whitewash, (to) blindfold.

N o t e. Composition is of low productivity in the class of verbs.

d) Composite verbs – made up of a verb with a lexico-grammatical word-morpheme attached to it, as in give up, give in, take off, put on. This way of forming verbs is productive.

§ 190. The lexico-grammatical meaning of the verb is, as usual, an abstraction from the individual lexical meanings of verbs and even from the more general lexical meanings of whole groups of verbs. Thus, the verbs to stand, to sleep, to suffer, etc. denote states rather than actions, but these states are presented as processes developing in time, and come therefore within the range of the lexico-grammatical meaning of the verb.

§ 191. The combinability of the verb is closely linked with its lexico-grammatical meaning. Denoting an action, the verb is naturally associated with nouns and noun-equivalents indicating the doer or the subject of the action.

E. g. Â i r d s fly. He was asked by the teacher. I heard of Ò î ò ‘s coming tonight.

The examples above are intended to show the difference between the subject of an action and the subject as a part of the sentence. Only in the first sentence is the subject (doer) of the action of flying denoted by a noun used as the subject of the sentence. In the second sentence the subject of the action of asking is denoted by the noun teacher which is a part of the prepositional object. In the third sentence the subject of the action of coming is denoted by a noun (Tom’s) used as an attribute.

Many verbs can also be associated with a noun (or a noun-equivalent) denoting the object of the action.

E. g. He threw a s t î ï e. The l e t t e r sent two days ago has reached him only today.

Here again the object of the action is something different from the object as a part of the sentence. In the first sentence the object of the action of throwing is denoted by the noun stone functioning as a direct object. In the second sentence the noun letter denotes the object of the action of sending and the subject of the action of reaching.

§ 192. Before discussing the grammatical categories we shall consider some general classifications of verbs based on their formal, semantical and functional properties, viz. the division of verbs into standard and non-standard, notional and semi-notional, subjective and objective, terminative and non-terminative.

Though not based on grammatical meanings and categories, these classifications and the terms they involve will come in useful when we discuss the categories themselves and the functioning of verb grammemes in speech.

§ 193. Write, writes, wrote, writing, written are all the synthetic forms the lexeme contains. For short, we shall call them the forms of the ‘infinitive’, ‘present’, ‘past’, ‘participle I’ and ‘participle II’ respectively. The form of the stem coincides with the form of the ‘infinitive’ /raIt-/. The form of the ‘past’ is related with that of the stem by vowel change /aI > ou/. The form of ‘participle II’ is related with the form of the stem by vowel change /aI > I/ and affixation /-n/.

The lexeme ask, asks, asked, asking, etc. contains only four synthetic forms. The forms of the ‘past’ and ‘participle II’ coincide (asked) and are correlated with the form of the stem by affixation alone, the suffix being /-t/.

The overwhelming majority of English verbs resemble the verb ask and are therefore called standard or regular. The form of the suffix may be /-t/, /-d/ or /-Id/ depending on the final sound of the stem.

Some two hundred verbs deviate from the standard verbs and are called non-standard îr irregular. They do not present a uniform group. Some of them resemble the verb write (speak, drive, eat, etc.). Others form the ‘past’ and ‘participle II’ without affixation (cut, put, shed, etc.). Still others use both vowel and consonant change and affixation to form the ‘past’ (teach, buy). Some make use of suppletivity (go, be).

As we see, the difference between the standard and the non-standard verbs is purely formal. We should therefore call this classification formal rather than morphological as the tradition goes.

§ 194. Semantically verbs divide into notional and semi-notional.

Note: Some linguists speak also of a third group, auxiliary verbs, completely devoid of’ lexical meaning, as, for instance, has in has written. As shown, they are words in form only. As to their meaning and function they are grammatical morphemes, parts of analytical words. Hence the name grammatical word-morphemes.

The majority of English verbs are notional, i.e. possessing full lexical meaning. Connected with it is their isolatability, i.e. the ability to make a sentence alone (Cornet Read!}. Their combinability is variable.

Semi-notional verbs have very general, «faded» lexical meanings, as in be, have, become, seem, can, may, must, etc., where the meaning of ‘action’ is almost obliterated. Semi-notional verbs are hardly isolatable. Their combinability is usually bilateral as they serve to connect words in speech. They are comparatively few in number, but of very frequent occurrence, and include two peculiar groups: link-verbs and modal verbs.

§ 195. Some authors treat link-verbs as altogether bereft of all lexical meaning. If it were so, there would be no difference between He is old, He seems old, He becomes old, since is, seems, becomes convey the same grammatical meanings.

The combinability of link-verbs is different from that of notional verbs.

a) It is for the most part bilateral since a link-verb usually connects two words. In this respect it somewhat resembles the combinability of prepositions and conjunctions.

E. g. I want him to be honest.

b) Link-verbs form combinations with words and word-groups which are but seldom attached to notional verbs (adlinks, adjectives, certain prepositional groups – in debt, at a loss, etc.)

Very often grammarians speak only of finite link-verbs used as parts of predicates forgetting about the corresponding verbids which occur in other functions and prove that link-verbs are not just a syntactical class of verbs. Cf. John being late, we had to put off the trip. His dream of becoming a pilot ... , etc.

In Modern English an ever greater number of notional verbs are used with a linking function, so that they may be called notional links.

E.g. The sun r o s e red (Cf. The sun w a s red). He l a y asleep. (Cf. He w a s asleep).

§ 196. Modal verbs are characterized:

1) By their peculiar modal meanings. The meaning of ‘action, process’ common to all verbs is scarcely felt, being suppressed by the meanings of ‘ability, necessity, permission’ to perform an action denoted by some other verb.

2) By their peculiar combinability. It is bilateral like that of link-verbs, but unlike link-verbs which can attach words of different classes, modal verbs can be followed by infinitives only.

You m u s t stay here. He î è g h t to have come. I h a v e to be moving.

3) By their syntactical function. Having no verbids, they are used only as predicates.

§ 197. As in the case of other parts of speech variants of the same verb lexeme may belong to different subclasses. The verb grow in the meanings ‘develop’, ‘increase in size’, etc. belongs to the subclass of notional verbs.

E. g. How quickly you are g r o w i n g! (Hornby).

In the meaning ‘become’ it belongs to the link verbs.

E. g. He is g r o w i n g old.

When the verb have means ‘possess’, it is a notional verb.

E. g. How much money h a v e you?

When it expresses obligation, need or necessity, it is a modal verb.

E. g. The Englishman h a d to make the best of the situation. (Bennett).

§ 198. Verbs are divided into subjective and objective, depending upon their combinability with words denoting the subjects and the objects of the actions they name.

Objective verbs are mostly associated with two nouns (or noun equivalents) denoting the subject and the object of the action named by the verb. Subjective verbs are associated only with nouns (noun-equivalents) denoting the subject of the action.

In the sentence She sat up and kissed him fairly. (Ib.) the verb kissed is an objective verb because it is associated with the pronoun she denoting the subject of the action of kissing and with the pronoun him denoting the object of the same action. The verb sat up is a subjective verb since it is associated only with the pronoun she denoting the subject of the action.

In the sentence You are interfering with him. (Ib.) the verb are interfering is also objective because it is associated with the pronoun him denoting the object of the action of interfering. But there is some difference between the two verbs in kissing him and interfering with him. The first verb is associated with the word denoting the object of the action (for the sake of brevity we shall call it ‘object word’) directly, the second verb is connected with the object word by means of a preposition.

Objective verbs that are connected with their object words directly are called transitive verbs. All the other verbs, both subjective and objective, are called intransitive.

The correlation of subjective – objective verbs, on the one hand, and transitive – intransitive, on the other, can be seen from the drawing.


objective subjective
transitive intransitive


§ 199. The bilateral combinability of objective verbs with subject words and object words is not always realized in speech. In cases like The sacred white cat has been stolen (Shaw) the subject-word connections are not realized. This occurs only with passive voice grammemes.

In sentences like The train was waiting (Abrahams), He never reads in the morning the object-word connections are not realized and such cases are treated as the absolute use of objective verbs.

§ 200. As usual, variants of a, verb lexeme may belong to different subclasses.

Cf. He î p e n e d the door (objective, transitive).

The door o p e n e d (intransitive, subjective).

A d d some more water (objective, transitive).

The music a d d e d to our enjoyment (objective, intransitive).

The figures would not a d d (intransitive, subjective).

§201. Verbs can be classified in accordance with the aspective nature of their lexical meanings into terminative and non-terminative.

Terminative verbs denote actions which cannot develop beyond a certain inherent limit. The actions denoted by non-terminative verbs have no inherent limits.

Compare the two sentences:

He was c a r r y i n g a box on his shoulders. (Hornby).

Take this empty box away and b r i n g me a full one. (Ib.).

The verbs to carry and to bring may denote the same kind of action. But carry does not imply any time or space limits when or where the action would naturally stop, while bring does. So carry is a non-terminative verb and bring is a terminative one. Live, love, stand, sit, work, walk, etc. are non-terminative verbs. Come, take, stand up, sit down, etc. are terminative verbs.

§ 202. As usual, variants of the same lexeme may belong to different subclasses. When meaning ‘(to) engage in physical or mental activity’/the verb (to)work is non-terminative.

E. g. I’vå been w o r k i n g hard all day. (Hornby).

But when (to) work means ‘to produce as a result’, it is terminative.

E. g. The storm w o r k e d great ruin. (Ib.).


Date: 2015-02-28; view: 4991

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