Preliminary Remarks

§ 495. The evolution of the verb system in the course of history was not confined to the simplification of the conjugation and to growing regularity in building the forms of the verb. In ME and NE the verb paradigm expanded, owing to the addition of new grammatical forms and to the formation of new grammatical categories. The extent of these changes can be seen from a simple comparison of the number of categories and categorial forms in Early OE with their number-today. Leaving out of consideration Number and Person — as categories of concord with the Subject — we can say that OE finite verbs had two verbal grammatical categories proper: Mood and Tense. According to Mod E grammars the finite verb has five categories — Mood, Tense, Aspect, Time-Correlation and Voice. All the new forms which have been included in the verb paradigm are analytical forms; all the synthetic forms are direct descendants of OE forms, for no new synthetic categor­ial forms have developed since the OE period.

The growth of analytical forms of the verb is a common Germanic tendency, though it manifested itself a long time after PG split into separate languages. The beginnings of these changes are dated in Late OE and in ME. The growth of compound forms from free verb phrases was a long and complicated process which extended over many hundred years and included several kinds of changes.

§ 496. A genuine analytical verb form must have a stable structural pattern different from the patterns of verb phrases; it must consist of several component parts: an auxiliary verb, sometimes two or three auxiliary verbs, e.g. NE would have been taken — which serve as a grammatical marker, and a non-finite form — Inf. or Part., — which serves as a grammatical marker and expresses the lexical meaning of the form. The analytical form should be idiomatic: its meaning is not equivalent to the sum of meanings of the component parts (see also §421 for the analytical way of Form-building).

The development of these properties is known as the process of “grammatisation”. Some verb phrases have been completely grammatised e.g. the Perfect forms. Some of them have not been fully grammatised to this day and are not regarded as ideal analytical forms in modern grammars (for instance, the Future tense).

In order to become a member of a grammatical category and a part of the verb paradigm the new form had to acquire another important quality: a specific meaning of its own which would be contrasted to the meaning of its opposite member within the grammatical category (in the same way as e. g. Past is opposed to Pres. or pl is opposed to sg). It was only at the later stages of development that such semantic oppo­sitions were formed. Originally the verb phrases and the new compound forms were used as synonyms (or “near synonyms”) of the old synthetic forms; gradually the semantic differences between the forms grew; the new forms acquired a specif­ic meaning white the application of the old forms was narrowed. It was also essential that the new analytical forms should be used unrestrictedly in different varieties of the language and should embrace verbs of different lexical meanings.

The establishment of an analytical form in the verb system is confirmed by the spread of its formal pattern in the verb paradigm. Compound forms did not spring up simultaneously in all the parts of the verb system: an analytical form appeared in some part of the system and from there its pattern extended to other parts. Thus the perfect forms first arose in the Past and Pres. tense of the Ind. Mood in the Active Voice and from there spread to the Subj. Mood, the Passive Voice, the non-finite verb.

Those were the main kinds of changes which constitute the growth of new grammatical forms and new verbal categories. They are to be found in the history of all the forms, with certain deviations and individual peculiarities. The dating of these developments is uncertain; therefore the order of their description below does not claim to be chronological.

Growth of New Forms within the Existing
Grammatical Categories
The Future Tense

§ 497. In the OE language there was no form of the Future tense. The category of Tense consisted of two members: Past and Present. The Pres. tense could indicate both present and future actions, depending on the context (see § 192). Alongside this form there existed other ways of presenting future happenings: modal phrases, consisting of the verbs sculan, willan, maʒan, cannan and others (NE shall, will, may, can)and the Infinitive of the notional verb. In these phrases the meaning of futurity was combined with strong modal meanings of volition, ob­ligation, possibility.

§ 498. In ME the use of modal phrases, especially with the verb shall, became increasingly common. Shall plus Inf. was now the prin­cipal means of indicating future actions in any context. (We may recall that the Pres. tense had to be accompanied by special time indicators in order to refer an action to the future.) Shall could retain its modal meaning of necessity, but often weakened it to such an extent that the phrase denoted “pure” futurity. (The meaning of futurity is often com­bined with that of modality, as a future action is a planned, potential action, which has not yet taken place.) One of the early instances of shall with a weakened modal meaning is found in the Early ME poem ORMULUM (c. 1200); the phrase is also interesting as it contains willen as a notional verb:

Annd whase wilenn shall piss boc

efft operrsipe written,.. (see § 292 for translation),

In Late ME texts shall was used both as a modal verb and as a Fu­ture tense auxiliary, though discrimination between them is not always possible. Cf.:

Me from the feend and fro bis clawes kepe,

That day that I shal drenchen in the depe. (Chaucer)

(‘Save me from the fiend and his claws the day when I am drowned (or am doomed to get drowned) in the deep (sea).’

She shal have nede to wasshe away the rede. (Chaucer)

(‘She will have to wash away the red (blood).’)

Future happenings were also commonly expressed by ME willen with an Inf., but the meaning of volition in will must have been more obvious than the modal meaning of shall:

A tale wol I telle (Chaucer)

(‘I intend to tell a story’)

But lordes, wol ye maken assurance,

As I shal seyn, assentynge to my loore,

And I shal make us sauf for everemore (Chaucer)

(‘But, lordes, will you (be so kind as or agree to) make assurance (and take this course) as I shall say and I shall make it safe for us for ever. ’)

The future event is shown here as depending upon the will or consent of the doer. Instances of will with a weakened modal meaning are rare:

But natheless she ferde as she wolde deye. (Chaucer)

(‘But nevertheless she feared that she would die.’)

It has been noticed that the verb will was more frequent in popular ballads and in colloquial speech, which testifies to certain stylistic restrictions in the use of will in ME.

§499. In the age of Shakespeare the phrases with shall and will, as well as the Pres. tense of notional verbs, occurred in free variation; they can express “pure” futurity and add different shades of modal meanings. Phrases with shall and will outnumbered all the other ways of indicating futurity, cf. their meanings in the following passages from Shakespeare’s sonnets:

Then hate me when thou wilt (desire)

When forty winters shall besiege thy brow,

And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field,

Thy youth’s proud livery, so gaz'd on now,

Will be a tatter’d weed, of small worth held. ("pure" future)

That thou art blam’d — shall not be thy defect. (future with the meaning of certainty, prediction)

In the 17th c. will was sometimes used in a shortened form -'ll, (-ll can also stand for shall, though historically it is traced to will): against myself I'll fight; against myself I’ll vow debate. (Shakespeare)

§ 500. Another confirmation of the change of shall and will into form-words is to be found in the rules of usage in the grammars of the 17th-18th c. In 1653 John Wallis for the first time formulated the rule about the regular interchange of shall and will depending on person. Although the data collected by 20th c. scholars show that no such reg­ularity really existed at the time of Wallis, his observations prove that the semantic difference between the two auxiliary verbs must have been very slight, or, perhaps, there was no difference at all. The em­ployment of shall and will as Future tense auxiliaries was supported by the use of their Past tense forms — should and would — Ind. and Subj. in similar functions. In phrases with the Inf. they indicated future happenings viewed from the past or served as equivalents of the Past tense of the Subj. Mood (see § 502 below).

The rules concerning shall and will, introduced by J. Wallis, were repeated in many grammar books in the 18th and 19th c. and were taught at school as obligatory. Probably, that was the reason why in Br E they were observed throughout the 19th c.; the complementary distri­bution of the two auxiliaries — shall for the 1st p., will for the 2nd and 3rd — became a mark of the British Standard. With other persons shall was used in more official forms of discourse: in religious writings, in high poetry and in documents. Will has ousted shall completely in Am E, and together with -'ll, is now ousting the auxiliary shall from Br E.

§ 501. Though the ME modal phrases with shall, and the Early NE analytical forms of the Future with shall, will and -'ll were the main means of indicating futurity, the Pres. tense continued to be employed in this meaning. As compared with OE, the frequency of the Pres. tense with a future meaning was low. (In the age of Shakespeare the ratio of Future to Present in expressing futurity is c. 10:1). The forms were used in free variation, which is contrary to modern usage, e. g.

As fast as thou shall wane, so fast thou grow'st;

If thou will leave me, do not leave me last.

When other petty griefs have done their spite;..

The earth can yield me but a common grave,

When you entombed in men's eyes shall lie.


Eventually the Future tense went out of use in some syntactical structures, namely clauses of time, condition and concession, and prevailed in other positions, But later the proportion of the Future tense among other means of indicating future actions has fallen again, for, in addition to the Pres. Ind. the last three centuries saw the growth of other means of indicating futurity: the construction to be going to, which was first recorded in the 17th c., and the Cont. forms. Neverthe­less the inclusion of the Future tense in the verb paradigm has narrowed the meaning of the Pres. tense and has transformed the category of Tense: nowadays it consists of three members: Present, Past, and Future (some grammarians add one more member to the category — Future in the Past).

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