Morphology & syntax of Modern English

Here we ask: what changes may be occurring to verbs in English in our lifetimes? The quiz may help you think what utterances you now find acceptable, which can be compared with what was acceptable when you were at school.

morphology: now only about a dozen: 5 verb endings, e.g. bear; bears; bearing; bore; borne/born; three pronoun cases; two noun cases; -ly

nouns: two cases, stem and -s suffix; for both plural and possession; OE dual has disappeared;          Compounds have adjectival first, e.g. houseboat, boathouse

lexicon: Germanic core vocabulary (26%) loanwords, Latin (29%), French (29%), Greek (6%), others (6%), from proper nouns (4%); alternatively, calculate from PIE.  Greek medical nouns retain morphology; most other loanwords have lost morphology and cannot be analysed etymologically 

pronouns:  three cases; no suffix pronouns now

1st:  I, we (nom); me, us (acc.); mine, ours (gen); the possessive adj is similar – my

2nd  you; thou and ye understandable but restricted; obsolete under feudalism, risk of offence in duten;  

3rd   he/she/it, they; impersonal pronoun now restricted, use you instead; their now non-gendered singular

Are you the person the book prize was given to?”    whom is becoming obsolete

adjectives: now uninflected; in OE had to agree for case, gender, strength; some fossils (earthen, golden)

       order: opinion, size, age, shape, colour, origin, material, purpose.

negation: not; dialect never; previously and Scots -na; then na-whit; nis, nolte; willy-nilly is a fossil;  

verbs: tenses are present and past;there is no syntactically-marked future tense.

            TMA;aspects are habitual, perfective, imperfective; compare Latin aspects amabam, amavi

            modality (factual ↔ unreal); subjunctive modality / mood is disappearing             

auxiliaries: Do; Have; Be

modals:      May/ Might, Can/ Could, Shall/ Should, Will/ Would;  

                   modals are defective – don’t inflect, no -es in 3rd; have no infinitives or participles;   

                   all model in OE, but may → can;  shall + will  → ‘ll

semi-modals: Must, Have to; Ought to, Had better; Dare, Need; Used to

English tenses are present and past. Most linguists do not recognise a definite future tense, but sometimes a future time is implied, as in the first below. Aspects mainly refer to whether the action is habitual, perfective or imperfective. The grammatical time and aspect are often contrary to the form in the seven examples below. The verb “to bear” exists most of the six current branches of PIE so it is used as paradigm below. It is a strong verb with these five parts: bear; bears; bearing; bore; borne/born.

The support is bearing the load tomorrow [time fut, aspect imp, appears present continuous]
1. You will bear the responsibility [tens pres aspect hab but appears future and perfective]
2. In winter we would bear the cold [tense past, aspect hab, but appears present conditional]
3. We used to bear the cost of breakages [another habitual past with ‘used to’ auxiliary]
4. We have borne worse losses [aspect perfective; describes we in the present but aspect perf]
5. In 1941 Britain was bearing the attacks of the Luftwaffe alone [tense past, aspect imperf]
6. People would say I was weak if I bore it [the conditional clause is an impossible unreal past]
7. He was born a week early [past passive; the active “she bore him” is now rare]

TMA: Tense, Modality, Aspect this chart has Aspect (completed ↔ ongoing) across the page and time (including tense) down the page.

Modal verbs This chart shows modal verbs in a space defined by Probability, Permission/ duty and Willingness/ Ability. “Must” has higher probability than “May”, but most of the others cannot be easily placed. MnE is in the foreground in green and OE is in our OE background.

syntax:    Subject – Verb – Object; adjective precedes noun; separable prep in phrasal verbs;                 interrogative is vV- S- O  e.g. “do you have a corkscrew?” (aux v, “do support”)                  “what do you take the top off with?”         syntax OK but weird! two prepositions at the end