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Traditional Grammatical Terminology
by A. G. Rigg


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4. Number

PDE distinguishes singular (one) from plural (more than one). Old English also had a dual pronoun ("the two of us", "the two of you").

4.1 PDE has distinctive plural forms for personal pronouns and demonstratives (I-we, me-us, my-our, he/she/it-they, that-those, this-these). We have recently lost the nominative second person plural ye, replacing it with you; at the same time, we have lost the distinctively singular second person pronoun thou-thee-thy/thine, replacing it with you-your.

4.2 The usual plural marker (inflexion) of nouns is -s (-es), brick-bricks, dish-dishes. There are a few vestiges of Old English declensions: man-men, child-children, foot-feet, etc. Some Latin and Greek words retain distinctive plurals (datum-data, phenomenon-phenomena). Some words have no distinct plural (sheep, usually fish); there are some uncountables (sugar, salt, butter). Some collective nouns are treated differently by different speakers (government, people, committee). Although each and every(one) are always given a singular verb, they are often referred to in the plural (everyone has their own opinion).

4.3 In PDE the verb be distinguishes singular and plural (am-are. is-are, was-were). Otherwise, only the 3rd person present singular is distinctive (he talks). In Old and Middle English, singular and plural were distinguished by endings and sometimes also by their vowels (he rode-they riden, he shal-we shul/shulen).

4.4 Rules of concord (1.8) require that a singular subject is followed by a singular verb (he talks-they talk). In Old and Middle English, the more extensive system of inflexions requires even closer observation of these rules. Further, in Old English the elaborate system of adjectival inflexions requires that all adjectives agree in number and case with their noun just as in PDE we have that book-those books, this mouse-these mice).


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