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L E C T U R E IX.

STRUCTURE OF LANGUAGE.

ENGLISH TONGUE.

the whole class of words that are called at

tributive, indeed, of all the parts of speech, the most complex, by far, is the verb. It is chiefly in this part of speech, that the fubtile and profound metaphysic of language appears; and, therefore, in examining the nature and different variations of the verb, there might be room for ample discussion. But as I am sensible that such grammatical discussions, when they are pursued far, become intricate and obfcure, I shall avoid dwelling any longer on this subject, than seems absolutely necessary.

The verb is so far of the same nature with the adjective, that it expresses, like it, an attribute, or property, of some person or thing. But it does more than this. For, in all verbs, in every language, there are no less than three things implied at once ; the attribute of some substantive, an affirmation concerning that attribute, and time. Thus, when I say,“ the sun shineth ;” shining, is the attribute ascribed to the sun; the present time is marked ; and an affirmation is included, that this property of shining belongs, at that time, to the sun. The participle, “ shining,” is merely an adjective, which denotes an attribute, or property, and also expresa ses time ; but carries no affirmation. The infinitive

mood, “ to shine,” may be called the name of the ' verb; it carries neither time nor affirmation, but

simply expresses that attribute, action, or state of things, which is to be the subject of the other moods and tenses. Hence the infinitive often carries the resemblance of a substantive noun; and, both in English and Latin, is sometimes constructed as such. As, “ scire tuum nihil est." " Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.” And, in English, in the same manner : “ to write well is difficult ; to speak eloquent

ly is still more difficult.” But as, through all the other tenses and moods, the affirmation runs, and is effential to them ; " the fun shineth, was shining,

shone, will shine, would have shone,” &c. the affirmation seems to be that which chiefly distinguishes the verb from the other parts of speech, and gives it its most conspicuous power. Hence there can be no sentence, or complete proposition, without a verb either expressed or implied. For, whenever we speak, we always mean to assert, that something is, or is not ; and the word, which carries this assertion, or affirmation, is a verb. From this sort of eminence belonging to it, this part of speech hath received its name, verb, from the Latin, verbum, or the word, by way of distinction.

Verbs, therefore, from their importance and necessity in speech, must have been coeval with men's first attempts towards the formation of language : though, indeed, it must have been the work of long time, to rear them up to that accurate and complex structure which they now possess. It seems very probable, as dr. Smith hath fuggested, that the radical verb, or the first form of it, in most languages, would be, what we now call the imperfonal verb. " It rains ; it thunders; it is light ; it Vol. I.

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" is agreeable ;” and the like ; as this is the very {implest form of the verb, and merely affirms the existence of an event, or of a state of things. By degrees, after pronouns were invented, fuch verbs became personal, and were branched out into all the variety of tenses and moods.

The tenses of the verb are contrived to imply the feveral distinctions of time. Of these I must take fome notice, in order to show the admirable accuracy with which language is constructed. We think commonly, of no more than the three great divisions of time, into the past, the present, and the future : and we might imagine, that if verbs had been fo contrived, as simply to express these, no more was needful. But language proceeds with much greater subtility. It splits time into its several moments. It considers time às never standing still, but always flowing ; things past, as more or less perfectly completed; and things future, as more or less remote, by different gradations. Hence the great variety of tenses in most tongues.

The present may, indeed, be always considered as one indivisible point, susceptible of no variety. “ I write, or I am writing ; fcribo.But it is not so with the past. There is no language so poor, but it hath two or three tenses to express the varieties of it. Ours hath no fewer tlian four. 1. A past action may be considered as left unfinished ; which makes the imperfect tense, “ I was writing ; fcribebam.2. As just now finished. This makes the proper perfect tense, which in English, is always expressed by the help .of the auxiliary verb, “ I have written.” 3. It may be considered as finished some time ago ; the particular time left indefinite. “ I wrote ; scripsi;” which may either fignify, “ I " wrote yesterday, or I wrote a twelvemonth ago.” This is what grammarians call an aorift, or indefinite past. 4. It may be considered as finished before

something else, which is also past. This is the plusquamperfect. “I had written ; scripseram. I had « written before I received his letter."

Here we observe, with some pleasure, that we have an advantage over the Latins, who have only three varieties upon the past time. They have no proper perfect tense, or one which distinguishes an action just now finished, from an action that was finished some time ago. In both these cases, " they must say, scripsi.. Though there be a manifest difference in the tenses, which our language expresses by this variation, “ I have written,” meaning, I have just now finished writing ; and, “I wrote,” meaning at some former time, since which, other things have intervened. This difference the Romans have no tense to express ; and, therefore, can only do it by a circumlocution.

The chief varieties in the future time are two ; a fimple or indefinite future: “ I shall write;scribam :" and a future, relating to something else, which is also future." I shall have written ; scripsero." I. Thall have written before he arrives *.

Besides tenses, or the power of expressing time, verbs admit the distinction of voices, as they are called, the active and the passive ; according as the affirmation respects something that is done, or something that is suffered ;“ I love, or I am loved.” They admit also the distinction of moods, which are designed to express the affirmation, whether active or passive, under different forms. The indicative mood, for instance, simply declares a propofition ;“ I write ; I have written :” the imperative requires, commands, threatens ; “ write thou ; let

him write.” The subjunctive expresses the pro

* On the tenses of verbs, mr. Harris's Hermes may be con-, sulted, by such as desire to see them fcrutinized with metaphysical accuracy; and also, the treatise on the origin and progress of language, vol. ii. p. 125.

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position under the form of a condition or in subor dination to some other thing, to which a reference is made, " I might write, I could write, I should “ write, if the case were to and fo.” This manner of expressing an affirmation, under so many different forms, together also with the distinction of the three persons, I, thou, and he, constitutes what is called, the conjugation of verbs, which makes fo great a part of the grammar of all languages.

It now clearly appears, as I before observed, that, of all the parts of speech, verbs are, by far, the most artificial and complex. Consider only, how many things are denoted by this single Latin word, amavillem, I would have loved.” First, the per- t fon who speaks, " I.” Secondly, an attribute, or action of that person, “ loving,” Thirdly, an affirmation concerning that action. Fourthly, the past time denoted in that affirmation," have loved :" and fifthly, a condition on which the action is sufpended, “ would liave loved.". It appears curious and remarkable, that words of this complex import, and with more or less of this artificial structure, are to be found, as far as we know, in all languages of the world.

Indeed, the form of conjugation, or the manner of expreling all these varieties in the verb, differs greatly in different tongues. Conjugation is esteemed most perfect in those languages, which, by varying either the termination or the initial syllable of the verb, express the greatest number of important circumstances, without the help of auxiliary words. In the oriental tongues, the verbs are said to have few enses, or expressions of time ; but then their moods are so contrived, as to express a great variety of circumstances and relations. In the Hebrew, for instance, they say, in one word, without the help of any auxiliary, not only“ I have taught," but, “ I have taught exactly, or often ; I have been

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