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Traditional Grammatical Terminology
by A. G. Rigg

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2. Parts of Speech

2.1 Nouns: in common parlance, a thing (cow, box); a proper noun is a uniquely designated thing or person (George, Toronto). Formally, a noun is any word which is behaving like a noun: e.g. by taking case endings (3) or forms designating plurality, by governing a verb as its subject (1.15) or being the object of a verb, by following a "governing preposition" (2.7), etc. Almost any word can function as a noun ("ins and outs", "but me no buts"); On the Verbal Noun (Gerund) see 2.6.8.

A noun can be modified, by article/demonstrative, adjective, or relative clause (2.3, 2.4, 6.2), e.g. "the little red boat that you used to have"; the whole unit constitutes a Noun Phrase.

2.2 Pronouns stand in for nouns (usually known or implied) and behave like nouns; they may be modified according to case (3), number (4), or gender (1.9). They can be classified as follows:

2.2.1 Personal pronouns: he, she, it, I, we, they, etc. These are modified according to case, number, gender, and also person (5); they refer to nouns that are already known (except where it is a "formal subject"). A reflexive pronoun, formed by adding -self, -selves, refers back to the subject of the verb; when reinforcing the subject, they are used in the oblique case (He himself, They themselves). Unlike French, Eniglish has no true reflexive verbs: in "She despised herself", the reflexive is a true object.

2.2.2 Interrogative pronouns introduce direct or indirect questions (8) : who, whom, whose, which; they are modified by case. Which may also be an adjective: which book do you want?

2.2.3 Relative pronouns introduce relative clauses (6.2): who, which, that.

2.2.4 Indefinite and distributive pronouns: any, one, whoever, each, everyone, either; many of these function also as adjectives; either may also be a conjunction.

2.3 Adjectives describe or limit nouns (big, green); they can precede the noun (the big house) or be predicated of it (the house is big, he seems intelligent, I consider him ambitious). In Old English (but not PDE) they are modified by case, number and gender, and must obey rules of concord (1.8).

2.3.1 A distinction (particularly important for Adjectival or Relative Clauses, 6.2) is made between restrictive use of adjectives ("pass me the red book" i.e. not the blue one) and non-restrictive descriptive usage ("a tall man came into the room").

2.3.2 Adjectives may be used like nouns ("the brave are lonely") or even behave as nouns ("McCarthy saw reds under every bed").

2.3.3 Comparative and superlative degrees of adjectives are expressed by adding the suffixes -er and -est (greater, greatest) or by preceding them with more and most.

2.4 Articles and demonstrative adjectives and pronouns. In PDE the definite article is the, the indefinite a or an; the demonstrative adjectives (which can also function independently as pronouns) are that-those and this-these. In Old English these all decline according to case, number and gender; in Old English the forms of se-seo-þæt function both as definite article and demonstrative adjective (in the sense "that").

2.5 Adverbs (well, badly, very, so) modify verbs ("he writes well"), adjectives ("I'm too busy", "the article is irritatingly obscure") and other adverbs ("he writes surprisingly well", "she runs so quickly"). The negative particle not was originally an adverb.

2.5.1 Adverbs may also modify whole sentences, e.g. "I will probably be there" (= "it is probable that I will be there"). There is some fuss about whether hopefully can operate in this way.

2.5.2 Adverbs and adverbial pbrases can be roughly divided into: time (then, at Christmas, in the evening), place (here, there, in Paris), manner (quickly, stupidly, with a cumbersome gait). Adverbs of degree or comparison (too, very, so) can be classified as manner.

2.5.3 On Adverbial Clauses, see 6.3.

2.6 Verbs (see Chart 9)

Verbs (go, think, spin, beat), other than auxiliary verbs (2.6.3), can be defined formally as those parts of speech that form their present 3 singular in -s and their past tense either by adding -(e)d or -t or by vowel gradation (loves, loved, taught, ran), and which form their present participle and verbal noun in -ing. Grammatically, they introduce what is predicated of the subject of the sentence (see 1.15): "roses smell sweet", "chickens eat seed", "he stole the money".

2.6.1 The finite parts of a verb are those that can complete a sentence ("he saw a goose", "last year we camped"). The non-finite parts are the infinitive and participles (below).

2.6.2 Verbs are transitive with a direct object ("the boy ate the cake") or intransitive with no direct object ("the Don flows into Lake Ontario"). Some verbs can be either ("the river runs into the sea", "he runs a radio station").

2.6.3 Auxiliary ("helping") verbs need to be completed by an infinitive (unless one can be understood from the context); they are used to indicate tenses (will, shall), obligation (must, should), ability (can, may), permission (let, may), possibility (may), and so on. They differ from ordinary verbs by having no participles, infinitives, or verbal nouns, and by not employing do in negatives and questions ("did you go", "he doesn't like cheese", but "can you come?", "you mustn't come").

Some verbs have both auxiliary functions and regular uses: do, have; some require to before the infinitive (ought to, used to). Forms of the verb be are used with present participles for continuous tenses ("he was riding") and past participles for passives ("he was killed"). With to the verb be can also indicate obligation ("you are to come tomorrow"), etc.

2.6.4 Tenses ("times"). In morphological terms, English has only two tenses: present (sing, walks) and past, also called preterite (sang, walked). By means of auxiliary verbs we can form the future (I shall go, he will come) and can also indicate aspect (l.ll): continuous (he is going), perfective (he has gone), pluperfect (he had gone), future perfect (he will have gone). The combination of tenses and aspects can be extended considerably ("by next year he will have been gone for three years"). Other auxiliary formations include: habitual use ("I used to play football"), though the simple present tense is used for present habitual action ("On Saturdays I play football", as opposed to actual present "I am typing this on an IBM Selectric II").

For the purpose of Old English, it is important to note that PDE can use the simple present or the present continuous to refer to the future ("tomorrow I fly to Ottawa", "tomorrow I am flying to Ottawa").

2.6.5 Voice (1.12): passive voice is expressed by forms of the verb be followed by a past participle ("the prisoner was recaptured"). The continuous passive is now formed by using the continuous form of be ("the houses are being built"), but until the eighteenth century the normal usage was "the houses are building". Active voice: where subject (3.1) is agent of verb.

2.6.6 Moods. In traditional (Latin-based) grammar there are said to be three "moods" of the verb, indicative, imperative, and subjunctive. As will be seen, there is some overlap between the Imperative and the Subjunctive. In Old English, these moods were distinguished by different endings to the verb; in PDE, for the most part, auxiliary verbs play a large part in the expression of the subjunctive and some forms of the imperative. Indicative is the ordinary use of the verb in declarative sentences (she went home, he likes fishing). It can also be used in forming questions to which the answer would be in the indicative (does he like fishing ?) Imperative, the "commanding" mood. The simplest form is the second person command (run! catch him! don't do that!); PDE can make no distinction between singular and plural (unlike Old and Middle English). The first person plural imperative in PDE is formed by the auxiliary let's (originally let us): "let's have a party!" The third person is also expressed by let (let them eat cake, let there be light). Subjunctive. This is rare in independent sentences in PDE, and normally expresses a wish (optative): "Long live the Queen !" "God save the Queen!" (which is a wish, not a command to God). Usually in PDE a wish of this kind is expressed by the auxiliary may ("may he rot in hell!").

In dependent clauses, what is originally the past subjunctive is used in wishes and hypotheses contrary to fact ("I wish he were here"; "If I were you, I would accept the offer"). Note that in "If I had known", had known is not a pluperfect (2.6.4) but a past subjunctive.

Many of the PDE uses of would, should, might are originally past subjunctives, as are ought and must, though the last two are now used as simple auxiliaries stating an apparent fact (as though "he must go" is a proposition about he).

The subjunctive was used much more widely in earlier periods of the English language.

2.6.7 Participles are so-called because they "participate" in both verbs and adjectives: they are derived from verbs but behave like adjectives. Present participle is formed in -ing (not to be confused with the Verbal Noun, 2.6.8): flying geese, a going concern. With the verb be the present participle forms continuous tenses (I am reading, he was walking). The present participle is in PDE always active or intransitive (but see 2.6.5). The past participle (killed, written, known) is always passive when used with or predicated of nouns: "the known facts are these", "the painted lady", "the stolen letter", "the article is finished", "she is much admired". The past participle can also be used with the verb have to form perfect or pluperfect tenses (I have finished, he had gone). In earlier usage, the verb be is used with verbs of 'coming into a state": they are gone. Note "you are welcome" (="you are well come").

2.6.8 Verbal Noun (Gerund) ends in -ing. Not to be confused with the Present participle (contrast "I saw him running" participle, with "I am well aware of his running" verbal noun). The infinitive (2.6.9) is sometimes used as a noun, but is not classed grammatically as the Verbal Noun.

2.6.9 The Infinitive is the form of the verb that follows the auxiliaries: "I can see him", "I shall go". It is also used as the complement after verbs of perceiving (I saw him leave). After partial auxiliaries, it is preceded by to ("I need to leave now", "I want to go"). When it is used as a noun (To err is human, to forgive divine) it is always preceded by to.

The use of to originates in Old English, where the infinitive performed often as a noun.

2.7 Prepositions

Normally prepositions are placed before nouns, pronouns, and noun phrases (which they are said to "govern"), specifying their function or relationship to some other element in the sentence ("a book of carols", "a book of Carol's", "at home", "with a knife", "in Rome", "in a moment", "by plane", etc.). In Old English many of their functions are expressed by Case Endings (3). In origin, prepositions were simply specifying adverbs, providing more precision to a case-ending or verb; this is illustrated in contact Relative Clauses (below): "Here is the book I was telling you about".

Care should be taken with words that are both prepositions and adverbs: in "Turn on the radio", on is not a preposition governing radio, but part of the verb turn on. But in "the dog turned on his attacker", on is a preposition with the force of "against".

2.8 Conjunctions

Conjunctions are linking words; they may join parallel linguistic units (from words to whole sentences) or introduce subordinate clauses.

2.8.1 Coordinating:"he arrived and took off his coat", "apples and oranges", "he was clever but abrasive", "the report says so, but I disagree".

2.8.2 Subordinating: these introduce dependent clauses (6): if, because, while, since, although, that, for, after, etc.("if he said that, he was wrong", "while you are here, you can make yourself useful", "he told me that he had just arrived", "after Christmas was over, we got down to work"). Many are derived from original prepositions.

Note: dependent clauses may be introduced by words other than conjunctions (indirect questions, relative clauses, indefinite noun clauses such as "whoever said that was wrong").

2.8.3 Subordinating conjunctions sometimes modify units smalier than a full clause: "though poor, he was wise", "it was a brave, if foolish, action". At least one subordinating conjunctional phrase has almost acquired prepositional status: "he likes apples as well as he likes pears" has developed into "he likes apples as well as pears".

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