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explanation, contained in Dr. Adam's Latin Grammar, which is one of those in highest repute in colleges and schools.
“ There are four principal parts of a verb, from which all the rest are formed ; namely, 0, of the present, i, of the perfect, um of the supine, and re of the infinitive; according to the following rhyme:
1. From o are formed am and em.
4. All other parts from re do come; as, bam, bo, rem, a, the and i; ns, and dus, dum, do, and di ; as, amo, em ; &c.”
The grammar of this rule is worse than the poetry. Whatever truth it contains, is entirely incidental, and not according to the plain and simple manner in which it is always becoming that truth should be told.
We might suppose that England and America were at the climax of grammatical perplexity, if the books used in the universities of Portugal and Spain did not convince us, that, in a true system of scholastic tradition, one age refining on the visionary theories of an other, may carry the mind beyond all our first conceptions of absurdity.
249. The two modern tongues with which we have most concern, next to our own, present a striking instance to show how the terminations of verbs are formed. The indicative future, both in French and Spanish, is made by regular endings, which have no exception in either. This ending in both is made by the indicative present of the verb to have ; contracted, in part, in the French ; and in the Spanish, he, has, ha, dropping the initial h, which is never sounded. Thus,jo ir-ai and yo ir-e, both answer, precisely, to the English constructive
future, "I have to go." But as it is not the design of this work to explain the grammar of foreign languages, this particular subject is dismissed with the few preceding hints.
250. In most known tongues, ancient and modern, there is no philosophic principle, nor consistent verbal rule, for ascribing more than three real, or at most five grammatical tenses, to verbs. Mr. Murray makes six; but the attempts to name, classify, and describe them, sufficiently manifest the impropriety of the whole scheme. Mr. Churchill's late London grammar has nine tenses in the potential mood : the - Hermes” of Mr. Harris makes twelve ; Dr. Beattie has thirty-six, and thinks that a less number would introduce confusion into the grammatical art." He might have made a hundred and thirty-six, upon the same principle; but the mind of this amiable and excellent man was much better formed för poetry than philosophy. The learned French grammarian, Mr. Bauzee, makes twenty tenses, and others, in that language, by different gradations, lessen the number down to five.
These systems are, all alike, formed on the plan of arbitrarily taking all the verbs in a proposition to make one tense. A plan so radically absurd need occasion no wonder, that hardly any two who adopt it, can understand it in the same way.
251. The names given to these tenses in Latin grammars, and thence derived into modern languages, sufficiently show the impropriety of the sys
Preteritum plus quam perfectum, preter pluperfect, like other things, more than perfect, instead of really going beyond the point of perfection,
comes back half way on the other side, 6 I hast written the letter before you came," is the simple past tense, commonly, but improperly, called the imperfect. Had is a transitive verb, and letter is the object of it. Written is an adjective, describing the letter by its condition. I had the letter written: it was, at that time, a written letter.
252. Concerning any mood in addition to the three which have already been explained, very little need be said. Whether under the name of optative, conjunctive, potential, hortative, conditional, or whatever name, no man has yet succeeded in showing a distinctive character, or separating line, for any
of them. If can is a sign of the potential mood, then dare, is on precisely the same philosophic and grammatical principle, a sign of the courageous, and need, of the indigent mood.
The following is Mr. Murray's closing illustration of the subjunctive mood :
“ Some grainmarians apply, what is called the conjunctive termination, to the three persons of the principal verb, and to its auxiliaries, through all the tenses of the subjunctive mood. But this is certainly contrary to the practice of good writers. Johnson applies this termination to the present and perfect tenses only. Lowth restricts it entirely to the present tense ; and Priestly confines it to the present and imperfect tenses. This difference of opinion amongst grammarians of such eminence, may have contributed to that diversity of practice, so observable in the use of the subjunctive mood. Uniformity in this point is highly desirable. It would materially assist both teachers and learners, and would constitute a considerable improvement in our language. On this subject, we adopt the opinion of Dr. Lowth, and conceive we are fully
warranted by his authority, and that of the most correct and elegant writers, in limiting the conjunctive termination of the principal verb, to the second and third persons singular of the present tense.”
253. The opinion of the three eminent doctors, mentioned by Mr. Murray in the foregoing paragraph, is certainly entitled to great consideration, on any subject in which they could agree. That they should differ in their conjectures respecting an English subjunctive mood, is not so much to be wondered at, as it is that men of their literary standing, and acquaintance with the language, should have so misemployed their time. They might as well have agreed in giving the correct natural history of Bellerophon's chimera, or the precise form, dimensions, and constituent materials of Charon's ferry boat. Among the numerous grammatical errors, there is no one, which, according to its extent, has led to more inconsistency in practice, than the vain attempt to create an English subjunctive mood. If there was any such mood, it would certainly be in the power of some one to find out in what its distinctive character consisted.
254. It is agreed on all hands, that the verb is the most important part of speech, and the only one without which no idea can possibly be affirmed, nor any sentence framed. Dr. Johnson's acknowledged pre-eminence over all other British
lexicographers, and his just merit as a moral wri: ter, have thrown a sanctity around his name, which
renders it a kind of literary profanation to attempt the exposure of his errors. If, then, it should be made apparent, that this standard expounder of English had no just conception of the meaning of the words, most essential to the structure of language, and most important in its practical application, and that all English grammarians have built their systems upon a false foundation, the inference is clear, that millions in American colleges and schools should not continue to be led on in a course which is radically wrong.
255. To show how little dependence is to be placed on British explanations of " auxiliaries," I have drawn some of the principal " definitions" from Dr. Johnson's dictionary, London edition of 1756, printed under his own immediate inspection. His explanations have hitherto been the standard for all subsequent writers.
“Can, v. n. To be able : to have power. It expresses the potential mood ; as, I can do it.”
Can, con, cunning. Scotch ken, German kann, Dutch konnen, Saxon canne, connan, cunnan, Gaelic cennen.
In all these words, and many others, in different tongues, the meaning is, to know, or know how; as, I can write short hand; that is, I know how to write. The same idiom, in a more modern form, also runs through most European languages.
“ Je ne saurais y aller aujourdhui.". I do not icnow how to go there to-day. This is more polite than to answer to an invitation, I can not go. The idea of power, in all the applications of can, is the secondary or inferential meaning.
Conor, Latin ; to exert knowledge, cunning, or skill. " To con thanks.” Shakspeare.
In most languages derived from the Teutonic, as, Dutch, German, Danish, Swedish, Icelandic, &c. can is retained as an acknowledged principal verb. Thus, we find the forms answering to, canned, can