Grammatical categories of the English verb


In Old English the verb had four categories: person, number, tense and mood.

In Middle English and New English there gradually developed three more grammatical categories – order, voice and aspect.

These grammatical categories used a new grammatical means for the formation, namely, analytical forms. These analytical forms developed from free word combinations of the Old English verbs habban, beon/wesan + an infinitive (or participle). The way of the formation of those analytical forms was the following:

In the free word combination habban, beon/wesan + an infinitive (or participle) the first element was gradually losing its lexical meaning, and the second – its grammatical one, thus tending to become notionally and grammatically inseparable, idiomatic.

The category of order was the oldest, formed already in Middle English from the Old English free combination habban + past participle.


Hīe hæfdon hīera cyninз āworþēnne

(They had already overthrown their king)

The younge sonne hath in the Ram his halve course y-runne

(the young sun has run its half-course in the Ram)

The same idea of order is sometimes still expressed with the help of the combination to be + participle II, going back to the Old English bēon + past participle:

This gentleman is happily arrived.

Now he isgone.


The category of voice appeared out of free combination of weorþan (beon) + past participle:


Old Englishwēarþ ofslæзen

(He was slain)

Middle English engendered is the flour

(The flower is generated [born])


The category of aspect was formed in Middle English on the basis of the free combination of bēn (beon) + present participle:

Singingewas … al the dai

(he was singing all the day)

The grammatical categories of tense and mood which existed in Old English acquired newcategorical forms.

The Old English present and past tense forms were supplemented with a special form for the future tense which appeared in Middle English out of the free combination of Old English modal verbs “sculan” and “willan” with the infinitive. This free combination of words was split into two groups: in the first, remaining free, the modal meaning is preserved:


You shall do it – necessity

I will do it – volition


The category of mood in Old English was represented by three mood forms, one for each of the moods (indicative, subjunctive, imperative). The subjunctive in Old English did not show whether the events were probable or contrary to fact, but it had two tense forms – past and present, which in the course of language history developed into two subjunctive moods:


- I/he be present – out of the Old English present tense form of the subjunctive mood

- I/he were present – out of the Old English past tense form of the subjunctive mood.

The difference between these two subjunctive moods now is in the shade of probability, and not in the tense, the second one denoting events which are contrary to fact.

In addition to that at the end of Middle English and the beginning New English two more subjunctive mood forms appeared making use of the analytical form building means:

- I/he should be present – to show events which are probable, though problematic

- I should be present

} – to show imaginary events, contrary to fact

I would be present


Here should and would are the subjunctive mood forms of the Old English sculan and willan.






Thus the system of conjugation in Middle English and New English is becoming more and more complicated:


1. New non-finite forms appeared (the gerund).

2. Conjugation of verbals and disappearance of their nominal categories.

3. New grammatical forms are formed.

4. The already existing grammatical categories acquire new forms.

5. the predominant regularity of the verbs and their conjugation in Old English gives way to many diverse irregularities.





List of principal questions:

1. Old English

1.1. General characteristics

1.2. Means of enriching vocabulary

1.2.1. Internal means

1.2.2. External means


2. Middle English

2.1. General characteristics

2.2 Means of enriching vocabulary

2.2.1. Internal means

2.2.2. External means


3. New English

3.1. General characteristics

3.2 Means of enriching vocabulary

3.2.1. Internal means

3.2.2. External means



1. R.V. Reznik, T.C. Sorokina, I.V. Reznik A History of the English language. M., 2003.

2. T.A. Rastorguyeva History of English. M., 1983.

3. А.И. Смирницкий Лекции по истории английского языка. М., 2000.

4. К. Бруннер История английского языка. Т.2 М., 2001.

5. И. Чахоян, Л. Иванова, Т. Беляева. История английского языка. СПб., 1998.

6. А.И. Смирницкий Древнеанглийский язык. М., 1955.



Old English

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