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The Phrase. Noun, Adjective and Verb Patterns




§ 529. In Early ME while the nominal parts of speech were losing most of their grammatical distinctions, the structure of the main word phrases — with nouns, adjectives, and verbs as head-words — was con­siderably altered.

In OE the dependent components of noun patterns agreed with the noun in case, number and gender, if they were expressed by adjectives, adjective-pronouns or participles. If expressed by nouns, they either agreed with the head-noun in case and number (nouns in apposition) or had the form of the Gen. case.

By Late ME agreement in noun patterns had practically disappeared, except for some instances of agreement in number. Formal markers of number had been preserved in nouns, demonstrative pronouns and some survivals of the strong declension of adjectives; most adjectives and adjectivised participles had lost number inflections by the age of Chau­cer; cf. a few phrases from Chaucer:

sg:... this holy mayden... that requeste

pl: These wodes eek recoveren grene. (‘These woods become green again.’)

as thise clerkes seyn (‘as these learned men say’)

A good man was ther of religioun. (‘There was a good man, a priest.’);

Goode men, herkneth everych onl (‘Good men, listen!’) but far more often there was no agreement in number:

... his woundes newe, the same ship, strange place, straunge strondes, etc. (‘his new wounds,’ ‘the same ship’, ‘strange place’, ‘strange strands.’)

The last traces of agreement in adjectives were lost in the 15th c. when the inflection -e was dropped; only the demonstrative pronouns, the indefinite article and nouns in apposition indicated the number of the head-word, like in Mod E. When the adjective had lost its forms of agreement, its relationships with the noun were shown by its position; it was placed before the noun, or between the noun and its determiners (articles and pronouns). Sometimes in Late ME the adjective stood in post-position, which can be attributed to the influence of French syn­tax (in French the adjective was placed after the noun), e. g.: Brother dere; cares colde; woundes newe. (Chaucer) (Relics of this practice are now found as some modern set phrases such as court martial, time imme­morial.)

A noun used attributively had the form of the Gen. case or was joined to the head-noun by a preposition. In Chaucer’s time the use of -’s-Gen. was less restricted than in Mod E, so that inanimate nouns common­ly occurred as inflectional Gen. in a noun pattern: fadres sone ‘father’s son’, seintes lore ‘saint’s lore’, every shires ende ‘end of every shire’. Yet the use of prepositions had certainly become more extensive: the sergeaunts of the tom of Rome ‘the officials of the town of Rome’, men of armes ‘men of arms’, etc. (see also § 433-434 for the history of the Gen. case).

§ 530. In the age of the literary Renaissance, the noun patterns be­came fixed syntactic frames in which every position had a specific functio­nal significance. The attribute in pre-position was enclosed between the determiner and the head-word; hence every word occupying this posi­tion was an attribute. This is evidenced by the wide use of nouns as at­tributes in noun patterns at the time of Shakespeare, an age famous for its unconventional handling of parts of speech, e. g.:

Jog on, jog on. the footpath way; the darling buds of May; the mas­ter mistress of my passion; rascal counters. (Shakespeare)

The standardised frame of the noun pattern is also confirmed by the fact that the position of the head noun could not be left vacant — it was at that time that the indefinite pronoun one and the demonstrative that began to be used as the so-called “prop-words”, e. g.:

A barren-spirited fellow, one that feeds On abject orts and imitations.. (Shakespeare)

With the growth of the written language noun patterns became more varied and more extended. Attributes to nouns could contain preposi­tional phrases with other attributes:

For drunkennesse is verray sepulture Of mannes wit and his discrecioun. (Chaucer)

(‘For drunkenness is the burying (lit. “sepulture”) of man's wit and his discretion.’)

In Early NE noun patterns began to include syntactic complexes: predicative constructions with the Gerund and the Infinitive (see § 541 ff).

§ 531. In ME and Early NE adjective patterns, as before, included a variety of dependent components. Adjectives were commonly modified by adverbs, e. g.:

He was a verray parfit gentil knyght. (Chaucer)

(‘He was a very perfect noble knight.’)

The main difference from the preceding ages lay in the ways of con­nection between the adjective and the nouns or noun-pronouns used as dependent components of the pattern. In OE an adjective could take an object in the Dat. or Gen. case (with or without prepositions); in ME these objects were replaced by the Comm. case usually preceded by a preposition, e. g.: with face pale of hewe; so harde of his herte; amyable of port; unlyk to my dede;.. discreet in alle his wordes and dedes; so pa­tient unto a man. (Chaucer) (‘with a pale face; hard-hearted; amiable in behaviour, unlike my deed; discreet in all his words and deeds; so patient to a man’).

Some adjectives, especially the most frequent ones, displayed great vacillation in the choice of prepositions. For instance, in the 14th c. fair and good occur with the prepositions of, in, to, at, by.

The adjective freely combined with the Infinitive since the earliest periods. Examples from Chaucer are: redy for to ryde ‘ready to ride’; I am free to wedde ‘I am free to marry’; A manly man, to been an abbot able ‘a manly man, able to be an abbot’.

The use of adjectives with the -ing-form was more restricted; in la­ter periods it increased steadily as the gerund and gerundial complexes began to replace the Infinitive in adjective phrases, e. g.;

measurable in looking and in berunge (Chaucer)

(‘moderate in appearance and behaviour’ (lit. “looking and bearing”)

But yet her portion is worth your taking notice, Master Aimweil. (Shirley, early 17th c.)

§ 532. The history of the verb pattern embraced a number of impor­tant changes and developments.

In some respects verb patterns became more uniform. In OE the verb could take various objects and adverbial modifiers expressed by the ob­lique cases of nouns. In ME the oblique cases were replaced by the Comm. case (or the Obj. case of pronouns), with — or without — prepositions. Even though the inflectional -’s-Gen. survived, it was no longer used in verb patterns (it occurred in attributive function only). The use of prepositions in verb patterns grew, and so did the number of transi­tive verbs which took an object without a preposition. The following quotations from Chaucer’s poems show the replacement of the oblique cases: by the Comm. case of nouns and the Obj. case of pronouns:

That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke

(‘Who has helped them when they were ill’ — OE helpan took an object in the Dat. case)

And first to Cecilie, as I understonde,

He yaf that one

(‘And first he gave that one (rose) to Cecily’ — the objects correspond to the OE Dat. and Acc. cases.)



After her deeth ful ofte may she wayte.

(‘She often waited for death’ — the corresponding OE verb bidan governed the Gen. case.)

At nyght were come into that hostelrye

Wel nyne and twenty in a compaignye...

(‘At night came into that inn a company of twenty-nine’ the respec­tive OE form was nihtes — the Gen. case in an adverbial function.)

In a tabard he rood upon a mere.

(‘He rode upon a mare in a long coat’ —OE mearum ridan ‘ride a horse’ with a noun in the Dat. case; see also § 432)

Throughout ME and Early NE the use of prepositions displayed great fluctuation. Many verbs were used with a variety of prepositions until the age of prescriptive grammars and dictionaries, and some verbs — a long time after. During the NE period the size and complexity of verb patterns grew, as the verbs came to be extended by noun patterns of more complicated structure, by Infin. phrases and predicative construc­tions with diverse components (see § 541 ff.).

§ 533. An important change took place in the patterns of numerous verbs termed “impersonal” or “quasi-impersonal”. These verbs indicated a state or feeling, e.g. OE lician ‘please’ (NE like). OE lystan ‘desire’, OE ʒescomian (NE shame), Early ME wanten, semen (NE want, seem). Originally most of these verbs took two objects: one — to indicate the person who experienced the state or feeling, the other — to show its cause, e. g. OE him ne hlyste nānes metes ‘he did not want any food’; the cause, or object of the feeling could sometimes be shown by the subject of the sentence — in the Nom. case: pām wife pā word wel licodon ‘those words pleased that woman well’.

In Late ME these “impersonal” constructions were transformed into “per­sonal” in which the relationships were reversed: (he subject indicated the person affected by the feeling or state, the object — the direction or cause of the feeling. The change can be described as the transition of the type me liketh into I like.

The following examples from Chaucer show the variation stage of the chanee — the parallel use of both types of construction with the same verb:

... so sore longeth me

To eten of the smale peres grene.

(‘So badly I long to eat some of these small green pears.’)

Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages.

(‘Then folks long to go on pilgrimages.’)

My God, me metle I was in swich meschief

(‘My God, I dreamed I was in such grief.’)

And eek I seyde, I metle of him al night

(‘And also I said I dreamt of him all night’.)

This man metle in his bed, ther as he lay...

(‘This man dreamt in his bed, where he lay.’)

The two parallel syntactic constructions — me longelh/l long, me metle/f incite were used in free variation as synonyms or syntactic variants. Eventually the second variant (the “personal” construction) prevailed with most of the verbs. The selection of this variant and the obsolescence of the impersonal type was deter­mined by morphological and syntactic factors. The loss of inflectional endings in nouns made it impossible to distinguish between the subject and object in such instances as this man(e) mette (the last example). Syntactic ambiguity stimulated the appearance of the I like type, for man was more readily associated with the Nom. case of pronouns than with the Obj. case. It must have been interpreted as the subject of the sentence not only owing to the lack of inflectional endings but also due to its position before the verb-predicate, which by that time was becomjng the normal place of the subject. The type me likes fell into disuse, being replaced by the type man liketh and I like. Mod E meseems and methinks are relics of the old construction.

§ 534. Some verb phrases merged into single grammatical or lexi­cal units and in this sense were “simplified”. As shown in the preceding paragraphs verb phrases consisting of a finite and a non-finite verb turned into analytical forms, thus passing from the level of syntax to that of morphology. Verb phrases consisting of verbs and adverbs — which modified or specified the meaning of the verb — formed lexical units known as “composite verbs” or “verb-adverb combinations” (this pro­cess made up for the loss of many OE verb prefixes). Likewise, many verb phrases became inseparable “group-verbs” or phraseological units, e. g. maken melodie (‘sing’) in Chaucer and have mind upon your health, have war, have business, etc. in Shakespeare.

The Simple Sentence

§ 535. In the course of history the structure of the simple sentence in many respects became more orderly and more uniform. Yet, at the same time it grew complicated as the sentence came to include more extended and complex parts: longer attributive groups, diverse subjects and predicates and numerous predicative constructions (syntactic com­plexes).

§ 536. In OE the ties between the words in the sentence were shown mainly by means of government and agreement, with the help of numer­ous inflections. In ME and Early NE, with most of the inflectional endings levelled or dropped, the relationships between the parts of the sentence were shown by their relative position, environment, seman­tic ties, prepositions, and by a more rigid syntactic structure.

Every place in the sentence came to be associated with a certain syntactic function: in the new structure of the sentence syntactic func­tions were determined by position, and no position could remain va­cant. This is evidenced by the obligatory use of the subject. For instance, in OE the formal subject, expressed by the pronoun hit, was used only in some types of impersonal sentences, namely those indicating weath­er phenomena. In ME the subject it occurs in all types of impersonal sentences, e. g.

For it reynyd almoste euery othir day. (Brut)

(‘For it rained almost every other day.’)

Of his falshede it dulleth me to ryme. (Chaucer)

(‘Of his falsehood it annoys me to speak.’)

The use of the verb-substitute do, as well as the use of auxiliary and modal verbs without the notional verb proves that the position of the predicate could not be vacant either. This is evident in short answers and other statements with the notional verb left out, e. g.:

Helpeth me now, as I dyde yow whileer. (Chaucer)

(‘Help me now as I did (help) you formerly.’)

Standi So I do, against my will... Is Guilliams with the packet gone? He is, my lord, an hour ago. (Shakespeare)

§ 537. As compared with OE the subject of the sentence became more varied in meaning, as well as in the forms of expression. We have al­ready mentioned the increased use of the formal subject it, Due to the growth of new verb forms the subject could now denote not only the agent or a thing characterised by a certain property, but also the re­cipient of an action or the “passive” subject of a state and feeling.

The predicate had likewise become more varied in form and mean­ing. The simple predicate could be expressed by compound forms which indicated multiple new meanings and subtle semantic distinctions, lack­ing in OE verb forms or expressed formerly by contextual means.

Though some types of compound predicates had turned into simple — as the verb phrases developed into analytical forms — the compound predicate could express a variety of meanings with the help of numerous new link-verbs and more extended and complex predicatives. ME wit­nessed a remarkable growth of link-verbs: about 80 verbs occur as copulas in texts between the 15th and 18th c. In a way the new link- verbs made up for the loss of some OE prefixes and compound verbs which denoted the growth of a quality or the transition into a state, e. g.:

And tho it drewe nere Cristenesse. (Brut)

(‘And though it drew near Christmas’, ‘Christmas was coming’)

Cecilie cam, whan it was woxen night...

(‘Cecily came when it was night...’)

as me best thinketh (Chaucer)

(‘as it seems best to me’)

It fallep profyte to summe men to be bounde to a stake. (Wyklif)

(‘It appears good for some men to be bound to a stake.’)

A murd'rous guilt shows not itself more soon

Than love that would seem hid...

The rose looks fair ... (Shakespeare).

The structure of the predicative became more complex: it could include various prepositional phrases and diverse attributes, e. g.:

Of twenty yeer of age he was, I gesse. (Chaucer)

(‘He was twenty years old, I guess.’)

That’s a deep story of a deeper love;

For he was more than over shoes in love. (Shakespeare)

The compound verbal predicate in ME was characterised by a wider use of modal phrases and verbs of aspective meaning, e. g.:

No, though I seye, I nam nat lief to gabbe. (Chaucer)

(‘No, though I say I am not inclined to gabble.’)

Most frequent in Chaucer’s works was a verb phrase of aspective meaning gan plus Inf. (NE begin):

He stired the coles til relente gan the wex.

(‘He stirred the coals till the wax began to melt.’)

§ 538. One of the peculiar features of the OE sentence was multi­ple negation. The use of several negative particles and forms continued throughout the ME period, e. g.:

Ne bryng nat every man into thyn hous. (Chaucer)

(‘Don’t bring every man into your house.’)

(-ne- is a negative particle used with verbs, nat — another negative particle, for its origin see §219.)

No berd hadde he, ne nevere sholde have. (Chaucer)

(‘He had no beard, and never would have one.’)

See also the example: No, though I seye, I nam nat lief to gabbe above where nam is made up of the negative particle ne and am. In Shake­speare’s time the use of negations is variable: the sentence could contain one or more means of expressing negation. Cf.:

So is it not with me as with that Muse ...

Good madam, hear me speak,

And let no quarrel, nor no brawl to come,

Taint the condition of this present hour... (Shakespeare)

Gradually double negation went out of use. In the age of Correctness — the normalising 18th c. — when the scholars tried to improve and perfect the language, multiple negation was banned as illogical: it was believed that one negation eliminated the other like two minuses in math­ematics and the resulting meaning would be affirmative. These logi­cal restrictions on the use of negations became a strict rule of English grammar.

Word Order

§ 539. In ME and Early NE the order of words in the sentence underwent noticeable changes: it has become fixed and direct: subject plus predicate plus object (S+P+O) or subject plus the notional part of the predicate (the latter type was used mainly in questions).

Stabilisation of the word order was a slow process, which took many hundreds of years: from Early ME until the 16th or 17th c. The fixation of the word order proceeded together with reduction and loss of inflec­tional endings, the two developments being intertwined; though syn­tactic changes were less intensive and less rapid. They may have been delayed by the break in the written tradition after the Norman con­quest and by the general unsettling of the grammatical system during the Early ME dialectal divergence, whereas morphological changes may have been intensified for these very reasons.

Though the word order in Late ME may appear relatively free, sev­eral facts testify to its growing stability. The practice of placing the

verb-predicate at the end of a subordinate clause had been abandoned, so was the type of word order with the object placed between the Sub­ject and the Predicate (see OE examples in § 224). The place before the Predicate belonged to the Subject, which is confirmed by the prev­alence of this word order in prosaic texts and also, indirectly, by the transition of the “impersonal” constructions into “personal”: as shown above, in the pattern the mann(e) liketh the noun was understood as the Subject, though originally it was an Object in the Dat. case (cf. him liketh, see § 533).

§ 540. In the 17th and 18th c. the order of words in the sentence was generally determined by the same rules as operate in English today. The fixed, direct word order prevailed in statements, unless inversion was required for communicative purposes or for emphasis, e. g.:

Now comes in the sweetest morsel in the night... These numbers will I tear and write in prose. (Shakespeare)

The order of the Subject and Predicate remained direct in sentences beginning with an adverbial modifier:

then the two bears will not bite one another when they meet. (In OE an initial adverbial modifier required an inverted word order — P+S — see § 225.)

In questions the word order was partially inverted — unless the ques­tion referred to the subject group. The analytical forms of the verb and the use of the do-periphrasis instead of simple forms made it possible to place the notional part of the Predicate after the Subject even with simple Predicate. Cf.:

Are they good?... Can you make no use of your discontent? ... Who comes here? ... Lady, will you walk about with your friend? ... Did he never make you laugh? (Shakespeare)

Occasionally we find simple verb forms in questions placed before the Subject: Which way looks he? ... How came you to this? Full inver­sion in questions is more common with Shakespeare than with later authors (see also § 508 for the history of forms with do).

Predicative Constructions

§ 541.One of the most important developments in Late ME and Early NE syntax was the growth of predicative constructions. Predica­tive constructions date from the OE period, when Dat. Absolute was used in translations from Latin and the Acc. with the Inf. — in original English texts; the latter construction occurred only with verbs of physi­cal perception (see § 216); a short time later a new type of construction appeared after verbs of physical perception: the Acc. with Part I.

In Late ME and in Early NE the Acc. with the Inf. and the Acc. with the Part. came to be used with an increasing number of verbs of various meanings. New types of predicative constructions appeared in

Late ME and Early NE texts: the Nom. with the Inf. and with Par­ticiples I, II (also known as Subjective predicative constructions), the Nom. Absolute construction and the Absolute construction with pre­positions, and, finally, the for-phrase with the Inf. and the Gerundial construction.

The following quotations from Early NE texts exemplify various predicative constructions;

Objective Predicative Constructions (“Complex Object”)

I would desire you to draw your knife and grave your name. (Dekker)

When the Noble Caesar saw him stab; ... and bid them speak for me; ... mothers shall but smile when they behold

Their infants quarter'd with the hands of war. (Shakespeare)

Subjective predicative construction ("Complex Subject")

Although he were adjudged, in the court of Rome, to have forfeeted, all the right which he had to his Kingdome ... (Holinshed)

He was reported to be a very uncontended person. (Puttenham)

Absolute constructions

My flesh being troubled, my heart doth hear the spear. (Wyatt)

... and, after that dede done, ther was no more money yoven us. (Pas- ton Letters)

... and with hym mette a shippe callyd Nicolas of the Towre, with other shippis wayting on him. (Paston Letters)

(The Absolute construction could at first be introduced by various pre­positions; later with was standardised.)

Gerundial complexes

... the very next day after his coming home departed out of this world to receive his reward in the Spiritual court of Heaven. (Dekker) (See also § 474).

For-phrase with the Infinitive

The descriptions whereof were too long for mee to write, and you to read. (Dekker)

The advantage of the for-phrase and the Gerundial construction over other predicative constructions was that they were less restricted syn­tactically: they could be employed in various syntactic functions.

All predicative constructions were formed according to a single pat­tern: they consisted of a nominal element indicating the agent or sub­ject of an action or state and a non-finite form denoting this action. When relationships between the component parts of predicative construc­tions were firmly established, the second element began to be ex­pressed by nominal parts of speech without the help of verbals, e. g. adjectives and nouns:

... and you shall not sin

If you do say we think him over-proud and under-honest. (Shake­speare)

... came the Emperour ... from huntyng, the Dophin on his ryght hand, the Duke of Orleans on the lyfft. (Fabian)

§ 542. Though all predicative constructions are based on a uniform underlying pattern, they have developed from different sources: from verb patterns with direct and prepositional objects followed by an in­finitive or a participle, noun patterns with participles used as attri­butes, verbal nouns modified by possessive pronouns or nouns, elliptical infinitive sentences. Some scholars believe that predicative construc­tions in English arose under the influence of Latin and that they should be regarded as direct borrowings from Latin (M. Callaway). Though predicative constructions were frequently used in translations from Lat­in at all historical periods, there seems to be no doubt of their native origin.

The earliest instances of the Acc. with the Inf. are found in BEO­WULF, an original OE epic; as mentioned above they were first- used after verbs of physical perception and were soon extended to other verbs, while the Inf. began to alternate with Part. I.

In Late ME and Early NE predicative constructions of different types were commonly used both in translations and in original texts. In the age of the Literary Renaissance many works were translated from Latin into English — it has been found that predicative constructions, es­pecially the Objective predicative and the Absolute construction were more frequent in translations from Latin than in original prose. Since their frequency continued to grow in later ages it seems probable that the literal translation of Latin constructions played a certain role in their further growth; it is also probable that some of the more compli­cated patterns — with the passive forms of the verbals — appeared as direct replicas of Latin constructions. With the exception of these as­pects, neither the origin of the constructions nor their growth in NE can be attributed to foreign influence. Their growing productivity in the NE period is part of the development towards more complicated syntactic structures in the written forms of the language in the ages of Literary efflorescence.





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