Higher Lessons in English Part 91

Higher Lessons in English -

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+For Cautions, see Lessons 98, 99.+

XIII. Conjunctions connect words, phrases, or clauses.

+For Cautions and Examples, see Lessons 100, 107.+

XIV. Interjections are used independently.


+Remarks+.--The scheme of conjugation presented below is from English text-books. In some of these books the forms introduced by _should_ are cla.s.sed, not as Future, but as Secondary Past Tense forms of the Subjunctive.

If we subst.i.tute this scheme of conjugation for the simpler one given in the preceding pages, we still fail to get a cla.s.sification in which every form corresponds in use to its name. The following examples will ill.u.s.trate:--

He _returns_ to-morrow. (Present = Future.)

When I _have performed_ this, I will come to you. (Present Perfect = Future Perfect.)

If any member _absents_ himself, he shall pay a fine. (Indicative = Subjunctive.)

You _shall_ go. (Indicative = Imperative.)

After memorizing all the terms and forms belonging to the conjugation here outlined, the student will find that he has gained little to aid him in the use of language. For instance, in this synopsis of the Subjunctive are found nineteen forms. As there are three persons in the singular and three in the plural, we have one hundred and fourteen subjunctive forms! How confusing all this must be to the student, who, in his use of the subjunctive, needs to distinguish only such as these: If he _be_, If he _were_, If he _teach_! Beyond these, the subjunctive manner of a.s.sertion is discovered from the structure of the sentence or the relation of clauses, not from the conjugation of the verb.

Those English authors and their American copyists who eliminate the Potential Mode from their scheme of conjugation tell us that the so-called potential auxiliaries are either independent verbs in the indicative or are subjunctive auxiliaries. With the meager instruction given by any one or by all of these authors, the student will find it exceedingly difficult to determine when these auxiliaries are true subjunctives. To ill.u.s.trate:--

1. _May_ you be happy.

2. I learn that I _may_ be able to teach.

3. He _might_ have done it if he had liked.

4. If he _should_ try, he _would_ succeed.

5. I _would_ not tell you if I _could_.

6. I _could_ not do this if I were to try.

The forms italicized above are said to be subjunctive auxiliaries; those below are said to be independent verbs in the indicative.

7. He _may_ be there.

8. He _might_ ask you to go.

9. You _should_ not have done that.

10. He _would_ not come when called.

11. I _could_ do this at one time.

We are told that _can_ and _must_ are always independent verbs in the indicative, and that _may, might, could, would_, and _should_ are either subjunctive auxiliaries or independent verbs pa.r.s.ed in the indicative, separately from the infinitives with which they seem to combine. But in parsing these words as separate verbs the student is left in doubt as to whether they are transitive or intransitive, and as to the office of the infinitives that follow.

_Shall_ (to owe) and _will_ (to determine) are, in their original meaning, transitive. _May, can_, and _must_ denote power (hence potential); and, as the infinitive with which they combine names the act on which this power is exercised, some philologists regard them as originally transitive. Among these is our distinguished critic, Prof. Francis A. March. _May_ denotes power from without coming from a removal of all hindrance,--hence permission or possibility. _Can_ denotes power from within,--hence ability.

_Must_ denotes power from without coming from circ.u.mstances or the nature of things,--hence necessity or obligation. _Should, would, might_, and _could_ are past forms of _shall, will, may_, and _can_.

The auxiliaries take different shades of meaning. In some constructions the meaning is fainter or less emphatic than in others. To say just how little of its common or original meaning _may, can, must, shall_, or _will_ must have to be an auxiliary, and how much to be a "notional," or independent, verb would be extremely venturesome For instance, _could_ in (6) above expresses power or ability to do, as does _could_ in (11), yet we are told that the former _could_ is a mere auxiliary, while the latter is an independent verb. _May_ in (1) denotes a desired removal of all hindrance; _may_ in (7) denotes a possible removal of hindrance. It is hard to see why the former _may_ is necessarily a mere auxiliary, and the latter a "notional," or independent, verb. These are some of the difficulties--not to say inconsistencies--met by the student who is taught that there is no Potential Mode.

In a scholarly work revised by Skeat, Wrightson, speaking of _I may, can, shall, or will love_, says, "These auxiliary verbs had at some time such a clear and definite meaning that it would have been tolerably easy to determine the case function discharged by the infinitive; but these verbs, after pa.s.sing through various shades of meaning, have at last become little more than conventional symbols, so that it would be worse than useless to attempt to a.n.a.lyze these periphrastic tenses of our moods."

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