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History of the English Language

The Evolution of the English Verb Phrase Lecture 6


Like noun inflections, verb inflection also suffered radical simplification and
reduction at the passage from Old English to Middle English and during the Middle
English period.
Compared with other, much more conservative Indo-European languages, the
verbal system of Old English evinces a high degree of simplification. As compared
with Modern English, there are still a great number of verbal forms.
The significant changes in the verb phrase that we are going to discuss:
1. the significant changes in the strong conjugation from OE to MnE.
2. the decline of person-number inflections in the evolution of English
3. the evolution of certain periphrastic forms: the evolution of the perfect, of the
progressive, the evolution of modal verbs, the creation of a periphrastic future,
the emergence of analytic forms for the subjunctive, the development of the
auxiliary do.
1. STRONG vs WEAK
a. Types of conjugation in OE
According to their conjugation verbs can be classified as strong, weak,
preterit-present anomalous.
WEAK VERBS:
The great majority of OE verbs (i.e. the weak verbs) formed their preterits and past
participles in the characteristically Germanic way, by the addition of a dental suffix
(a suffix containing d or, immediately after voiceless consonants, t).
STRONG VERBS:
Such verbs formed their preterits by a vowel change (alteration) also called
gradation (or ablaut), a pattern inherited from Indo-European. Like the other
Germanic languages, OE had seven classes of strong verbs.
PRESENT-PRETERIT VERBS:
OE had a few verbs that were originally strong but whose strong preterit came to be
used in a present-time sense. Consequently, they had to form new weak preterits.
They are called preterit-present verbs and are the main source for an important group
of modal verbs in Modern English. (sculan-sceal-sceolde)
ANOMALOUS VERBS:
Very commonly used verbs had developed irregularities. Beon to be was in OE, as
its modern descendant still is, to some extent a mixed-up verb, with alternative
present indicative forms from several different roots (paradigms which thus combine
historically unrelated forms are called suppletive) (Pyles &Algeo: 128-9)
b. The significant changes in the strong conjugation.
In the transition from OE to ME, an important change occurred in the strong
conjugation which suffered modification and loss. Thus, there were about 360 strong
verbs in OE out of which only 60 are left in MnE.
The reasons of this heavy loss:
a) Analogical leveling
By analogy with the considerably larger group of weak verbs, numerous
strong verbs in the course of the Middle English period acquired, side by side with
their strong forms, dental-suffix preterits and past participles. These include, for

instance, glden to glide, crpen to creep, helpen to help, shren to shear, mten
to mete, ken to ache, wpen to weep, etc. Ultimately the strong forms tended to
be lost in these and other verbs (Pyles & Algeo: 161).
b) The adoption of a lot of borrowings after the Norman Conquest
Integration of the borrowed lexical items into the class of weak verbs greatly
increased the frequency of occurrence of the regular past tense forms. A marked
decrease in the occurrence of irregular tense formations was produced by the
disappearance from the standard language of a considerable number of originally
strong verbs (about half of the verbs recorded in Old English documents). This
happened in the early or later Middle English period and in the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries due to replacement by borrowings from other languages or
semantically similar native verbs, or loss because of changed communicative needs,
or for other reasons (Berndt: 142-3).
c) The strong verbs were an unproductive class of verbs
CONCLUSION: Strong verbs generally become regularized (the second class of weak
verbs lufian-lufode-lufod was a very productive class) and such a transition is a
process favoured by the situation of bilingualism. It is interesting to underline that
after 1400 the process of regularization began to decrease it is assumed that this is
because the rise of the prestige of English as an official language. Generally, the
standard form tends to be more conservative.
2. Fluctuation between strong/weak in Modern English
Many strong verb forms fluctuated for a long time, some as far as the
eighteenth century. Gradually, one of the variants came to be generalized as the stem
vowel of the past tense form or of both the past tense and the past participle form. In
many situations the former strong verbs took weak past tense and past participle
forms as well (e.g., for grind, the early Modern English past tense forms were drove,
drave and drived, for run: ran, run and runned, etc.). In some cases fluctuation
between weak and strong forms has, even in the standard varieties of English,
persisted to this very day: e.g., cleave still has double forms in the past and past
participle (cleft, cleaved cleft, cleaved; clove cleft, cleaved; cleaved cloven), and
the past participles of verbs which otherwise have become weak, such as swell, shear,
mow, sow still fluctuate between strong and weak forms (namely swollen or (rare)
swelled, shorn or sheared, mown or mowed, sown or sowed).
There is also the reverse process: there were also a few verbs which originally
had dental-suffix forms but later, by analogy, were attracted into the strong verb
classes (e.g., chide, hide, cf. bite, slide; wear, cf. bear, tear; string, dig, stick, cf. cling,
sting, etc.) (Berndt: 141-2; Pyles & Algeo: 196-202).
2.1. Irregular weak verbs
Not all the changes affecting tense forms had a simplifying effect. A number
of originally regular weak verbs became irregular as a result of phonological
changes which (at first) affected the quantity of the root vowel of past tense (and past
participle) forms with the suffixes -te or -de added to roots ending in a voiceless
consonant or in -d, respectively, and led to shortening of formerly long vowels in

closed syllables. In this way there arose a new type of alternation in quantity of the
root vowel.
feel felt felt
leave left left
lose lost lost
In verbs ending in -d or -t, the qualitative distinction of the root vowel came to
be the only tense marker: e.g., bleed, bled, bled (OE bldan, bldde), feed, fed, fed
(OE fdan, fdde), etc. (Berndt: 143).
Purely phonological changes thus brought about a new vowel alternation
pattern. In the course of the Middle English period this was even extended to a
number of weak verbs with regular past tense forms which had not been subject to
such changes.
3. The decline of person number inflections in Middle English
Old English verbs distinguished only two simple tenses by inflection, a nonpast (present) and a past (preterit) (apart from the present reference, the non-past
more generally includes future-referring functions). Periphrastic tense forms were
reduced in range and frequency. In terms of moods, Old English recognized the
indicative, subjunctive and imperative.
The clearest distinction within each tense-mood form was that of number:
singular and plural. In the indicative, the plural always had a single form common to
all persons, while the singular might vary according to person.
Verb inflection underwent simplification from OE to MnE, however it
underwent fewer changes in the ME period than nominal inflections at least as far as
person-number affixes are concerned.
Simplification:
a) the loss in the MnE period of the 2nd person singular inflection:
u findest (-st Indicative, present, sporadically preterit)
thou growest Shakespeare
Forms in -(e)st or -t in the case of shall or will, and art from the verb be used
in conjunction with the second-person singular pronoun thou had not yet been
dropped out of the language in early Modern English. By 1700 the replacement of the
old second-person singular pronoun and verbal inflectional form by the originally
plural you (in conjunction with an inflectionally unmarked verb form) was as good as
completed in the standard language (Berndt: 133, 135). The pronoun dropped out
together with the inflectional ending.
b) the gradual neutralization of the inflectional opposition between the indicative
and the subjunctive followed by the abandonment of the plural inflection
altogether
In the preterit plural forms, late Old English had also reduced the
morphological distinctions between indicative plural (originally -on) and subjunctive
plural (originally -en), both pronounced [n]. In later Middle English final -n was
generally lost, preparing the way for the complete abandonment of the plural

inflection, which was soon to be achieved by the dropping of the final -e [] (Pyles &
Algeo: 161; Berndt: 130).
finden/findon finden
c) the evolution of the ending in the third person singular
3rd person sg - (OE), -eth (ME)
findeth
Gradually the -eth inflection is replaced by the -es inflection
The development of this ending, -es (sometimes spelled -is), is characteristic
of the Northern dialect of Middle English: thus we, ye, thai bres we, you, they
bear. In the same Northern dialect the third person singular ending was also -es. In
Middle English it spread from the north into the Midland dialects, which show both es and -eth in the third person singular and -es and -e(n) in the plural. Around 1600,
the ending -(e)s begins to be accepted into literary English.
3.1. Modern English
Apart from some sporadic exceptions, in early Modern English the present
plural is no longer inflectionally marked. In the third person singular, however, eth remained the normal written form in most sixteenth-century texts (except poetic
ones). Northern -(e)s at first hardly occurred in formal prose. In the second half of
the sixteenth century its frequency of occurrence gradually increased, being first
used in private letters and diaries. Sometimes -eth was preferred because it provided
an extra syllable, necessary for rhythmical reasons (e.g., Who wanteth food, and will
not say he wants it, / Or can conceal his hunger till he famish? Shakespeare:
Pericles IV.11f). It was also associated with solemn usage, as it was used in religious
translations, including the Authorised Version of 1611. In normal Standard English,
however, the replacement of -eth by -(e)s seems to have become an established fact
before the end of the sixteenth century, even if writers continued to use -eth to some
extent throughout the seventeenth century (Berndt: 133).
4. The evolution of periphrastic verb forms
The OE synthetic verbal system was much simplified as compared with the
systems of other old Indo-European languages (e.g. Ancient Greek, or Classical
Latin). Already, in Old English, there was an increasing tendency to make up for the
lack of synthetic future, perfect, passive, etc. by building analytical constructions
using auxiliaries combined with non-finite forms, a tendency which culminated in the
ME period. Similarly, because the synthetic subjunctive forms tended to be confused
with the indicative, the modal auxiliaries (most of them preterit-present verbs) came
to play a crucial role in combination with infinitives.
4.1. The Perfect
Old English mainly temporal distinctions, not aspectual ones. However,
there are examples that attest incipient perfect formations with resultative (current
relevance) value.

The perfect with have derived from a full lexical verb meaning possess.
There is agreement among the researchers of historical syntax that the origins of the
perfect construction have + past participle developed from the construction:
Ic hbe/ hfde hine gebundenne.
I have him bound.
Have in this example is a verb with full lexical meaning. Head of its VP,
transitive (direct object hine, gets accusative from have). The past participle
adjectival (see ending ne that has the same gender, number, case as the pronoun
direct obj.)
It is clear from the non-adjacency of the main verb and the participle, from the
adjectival inflection on the participle and the agreement between it and the preceding
object that this participle does not form a constituent with the main verb have but with
the preceding object hine. This construction has the argument structure of the verb
have, not of the past participle.
Later this construction (with resultative meaning) develops into the Present/
Past Perfect cosntruction from nowadays: this is due to the fact that in ME period all
adjectival inflections had disappeared apart from certain cases. The process we have
described is a typical case of grammaticalization: have was grammaticalized as an
auxiliary from a lexical main verb.
Look at the following example, which illustrates a stage of development
towards grammaticalized perfect constructions:
Fela Godes wundra we habba gehyred and eac gesewene
A lot Gods wonders (gen, pl) we have heard and also seen
Many of Gods miracles we have heard and also seen.
- in this example an inflected and an uninflected participle are coordinated
Strong resemblance to the development of Romance perfect constructions:
Compare preclassical example where participle is not semantically fused with have
multa bona bene parta habemus
(Plautus)
many things well procured we have
we have many well-procured things
to example from postclassical period reveals the strong semantic integration
between auxiliary habere and between the participle:
([haec omnia] [probatum habemus] (Oribasius)
these all(things) check we have
we have checked all these things
Values of the perfect:
a) resultative the original meaning, indicating completion of an action which
continues to the moment of speaking.
b) preterit

The relation of the perfect to the simple past: in many cases, the present perfect
appears to be commuting with simple past (or the preterit). A shift from the
resultative, perfective value to an aoristic, preterit one. Evidence for this situation is
provided by the fact that in OE and ME, Present Perfect is allowed in combination
with a definite adverbial of time:
I am youre doghter Custance. / That whilom ye han sent unto Surrye.
(Chaucer)
I am your daughter Custance that once you have sent to Syria
& schewe to him fullich al at euer at u hast doon at er
and show to him fully all that ever that (=whatever) you have done that year
According to Visser, it is only after the time of Shakespeare that the preterit
and the have + past participle construction are used as they are used nowadays: the
first when the past event is circumstantially related, the second when a particular
happening of the past has a bearing upon the present.
Occasionally writers deviate:
All Rome hath been my slave; the Senate sat an idle looker on (Ben Jonson)
alternance of the two forms
The Englishman has murdered young Halbert yesterday morning (W. Scott)
Important: Modern English (colloquial and dialectal) shows clear tendency to
recapture the double value of the present perfect construction of older stages of
English (preterite/perfect) a process of preteritization that characterizes spoken
language (especially American English):
Ive seen him on Tuesday. (colloquial)
Its just been announced ten minutes ago. (colloquial) (from Miller, 2000)
Such examples clash with the standard norm (the Present Perfect Puzzle):
* I have seen him on Tuesday.
But are in parallelism with the situation in German:
Ich habe es voriges Jahr gesehen.
I have it last year seen.
Or French, Romanian, etc:
Je lai vu lanee derniere./ L-am vzut anul trecut.
Why is Present Perfect more restricted in English than in other languages?
There is a theory according to which English developed a fully grammaticised perfect
more slowly than either German or Dutch, and used it less often and in fewer
functions.
Evidence for that: the ratio or simplex past to present perfect in two late ME
literary texts was reckoned at about 10:1 by students of Mustanojas.

The double meaning of ME Present Perfect was also supported by the fact that
Old and ME had another Perfect construction which alternated with Present Perfect:
the BE perfect (which survives sporadically in Mn E:
Up-reysne es a sowdane, / Alle hir landes hase he tane. (Perceval, 1440)
Uprisen is a sultan
all her lands has he seized.
Yet Benedicke was such another; and now is he become a man (Shakespeare)
As it cleared away he looked again for the soldiers, but they were vanished
(Ch. Bronte, 1849)
Observation: almost all the lexical verbs appearing in the be perfect are mutative
verbs they signify a change of state or are verbs of motion.
Some intransitives of motion could already be used with HABBAN in OE:
a Scipia hfde gefaren to re niwan byrig Cartaina
Then Scipio had travelled to the new city Carthage
All types of verb in the be perfect have been gradually moving over to the
have perfect, a process effectively completed in the nineteenth century.
The only remnant: He is come (only for Br English).
4.2. The Progressive
The first be + present participle constructions are attested as early as the Old
English period, and it is to this period that at least the beginnings of its modern usage
can be traced. But the OE compound verbal form, made up of a (present or past tense)
form of copulative bon/wesan and the verb base of a main verb with the OE present
participle inflectional suffix -ende attached to it, was a construction in the process of
development, and its use was still subject to considerable vacillation and differed to a
large extent from the progressive as a particular subcategory of aspect in Modern
English (Berndt: 151).
In Old English the progressive was unevenly distributed, its overall frequency
being low (especially in poetry), with the exception of some texts (e.g., Orosius).
Some of the early examples are syntactically ambiguous between a progressive, an
existential be + participle relative clause, a copula be + a predicative adjective, or a
copula be + a predicative (agent) noun (ending in the suffix -end in the singular, but
sometimes in -ende in the plural; starting from late Old English this noun suffix
tended to be replaced by -ere) (see Denison: 372 and examples (1), (2) below, from
Denison: 380, 372 [52], [53], [7]). Sometimes the participle is coordinated with a
nonparticipial adjective (as in (4), from Denison: 374 [13]).
(1)

& y ilcan geare ferde


to Rome mid micelre weornesse,
and that same year travelled to Rome with great honour
& r was .xii. mona wuniende
and there was 12 months dwelling
and that same year he travelled to Rome with great honour and stayed there
for twelve months
ChronA 66.8 (855)

(2)

s modes storm, se
symle
bi cnyssende t scip
the minds storm which continually is battering the ship (of)
re heortan mid ara geohta ystum
the heart with the thoughts tempests

(3)

He ws ehtend cristenra monna


he was protector Christian men(gen.pl.)

CP 58.5

Or 137.28
(4)

t hi wron genihtsume & on sore lufe weallende


that they were contented and in true love boiling
HyGl 2 (Stevenson) 94.5

The Old English construction was often used in ways in which it could not be
used nowadays and often had meanings different from those of today. For instance, be
+ present participle was used to translate perfect (i.e., past) deponent verbs in Latin
texts (Wlfing 1894-1901: 399, etc., in Denison: 382) (see, e.g., (5) from Denison:
382 [62]). This has been taken as evidence that the progressive was a Latin-influenced
construction, though it might simply be the case that the translator wanted to render a
Latin two-word expression by an already existing Old English two-word expression.
A similar usage of the progressive was as a translation equivalent of the Latin esse
be + future participle (Denison: 382).
(5)

and hrae a
gefremednesse re arfstan bene
ws fylgende
and quickly then/the fulfilment
the pious
prayer(gen) was following
Lat. consecutus est
and fulfilment of the pious prayer followed rapidly
Bede 1 4.32.7

The paradigm of progressive bon/wesan was limited in Old English. Present


and past tense forms were both possible, as well as infinitives after the modals sceal,
will and mg (see, e.g., (6), from Denison: 383 [67]). The progressive did not
combine with the perfect or passive in Old English. First examples of perfect forms
(without and with modal) are recorded in Middle English (see (7) and (8), from
Denison: 384 [74], [75]) (for the passive, see Section 6.4.2 above).
(6)

he sceal beon cwylminge mid deofle aa


butan ended
he shall be suffering with devil always without end
he shall be tortured along with the devil for ever and ever
ByrM 242.28

(7)

(8)

if i parischen | In sin lang has ligand bene


if your parishioner in sin long has lying been
if your parishioner has long been lying in sin
a1400(a1325) Cursor 26292
for ai trowed at he schuld hafe bene hingand apon at crosse
for they believed that he should have been hanging on that cross
as lang as at crosse myght last
as long as that cross might last
?a1425 Mandev. (2) (Eg) 5.15

The coalescence of the participle with the verbal noun, due to the existence of
the prepositional constructions with verbal nouns, similar to the progressive in form
and function.
In Old English, the form of the present participle was Vende, with adjectival
inflection. On the other hand, the verbal noun was formed with -ung or -ing and was
clearly distinct. In the course of the Middle English period both forms underwent
changes, the result of which was the modern progressive form. Owing to the dialectal
differentiation, several forms of the present participle suffix are recorded in Middle
English: -and(e) in the North and certain Midland areas (probably under the influence
of Scandinavian -ande), -ind(e) in the southern (and southwestern) dialects, -end(e) in
the rest. Finally, the participle suffix coalesced with the gerund (verbal noun) suffix, ing(e) (first in the south, then spreading northwards) (Denison: 386, 405; Berndt:
152).
This coalescence may also be due to the coexistence of (not particularly
common) prepositional constructions with verbal nouns, similar to the progressive
in form and function, attested from Old English (see (13), from Denison: 387 [87]).
Such constructions continued to be infrequent in Middle English with the preposition
on (an, a), at but they were less rare with in, which is dominant (see (10) and (11),
from Denison: 388 [89], [91]). In late Middle English the -ing form of a transitive
verb in the prepositional construction or even without a preposition was sometimes
followed by an of-phrase (the direct object did not become normal until the beginning
of the Modern English period) (see (16), from Denison: 388 [93]). Some constructions
continued well into the Modern English period. Of those still in use today, most are
dialectally restricted (e.g., Whatve you been a-doing?), others no longer productive
(e.g., to be in hiding) (Denison: 387-8).
(9)

ac gyrstandg ic ws on huntunge
but yesterday I was at hunting

(10)

og woren he get in strong murning


yet were they still in deep mourning

Coll 68

(11)

(12)

a1325(c1250) Gen. & Ex. 2908


While this gode was in gederyng the grettes
among, |
while this wealth was in gathering the persons-of-rank among
Antenor to the temple trayturly
yode.
Antenor to the temple treacherously went
While this wealth was being collected among the nobility, Antenor
treacherously went to the temple.
c1450(?a1400) Destr. Troy 11735
e Zomen of Schordych, at ere were in amendyng of here berseles
the yeomen of Shoreditch that there were in repairing of their archery-butts
(c1396) Doc. in Bk.Lond.E. 234.19

The progressive remained in unsystematic use before 1600. For instance, in


Shakespeares works one often comes across a simple form where a progressive
would be used today (see (13), from Berndt: 153 (439), where the normal PDE form
would be are you reading).
(13)

what do you read my Lord?


Shakespeare Hamlet

The grammaticalization of the progressive


Later (especially after 1700) the progressive began to be used systematically.
However, in the first half of the eighteenth century narrative prose the progressive
was largely restricted to subordinate clauses. In the second half of the eighteenth and
in the nineteenth centuries the main-clause use increased considerably. An earlier
predominance of animate subject NPs and of activity verbs gave way around 1800 to
less restricted choice of subject and lexical verb. The end of the eighteenth century
is in fact considered the time when the grammaticalisation of the progressive was
completed (Denison: 407, referring to Strang 1982).
4.3. The history of modal verbs.
Until 16th century, modal verbs did not possess all the features that
distinguish them from lexical verbs: At earlier stages of the language, prior to
approximately the 16th century, none of the above properties characterized modals as
a class distinct from lexical verbs, although Warner (1993:111f.) suggests that even in
Old English (OE) the ancestors of some modals and be may have been able to license
VP-ellipsis. The following examples illustrate the lack of the relevant distinctions in
Middle English (ME). (3a-c) illustrate this point with modals, and (3d-e) with main
verbs; this is the best way to indicate the properties that have been lost as the two
classes have become distinct (we leave VP-fronting and auxiliary reduction aside
see Plank (1984) on the former and Warner (1993:207-8) on the latter):
(1)

a.

b.

c.

d.

e.

Non-finite modal:
but it sufficeth too hem to kunne her Pater Noster,
but it suffices to them to know their Pater Noster,
(?c1425 (?c1400) Loll. Serm. 2.325; Denison 1993:310)
Iteration of modals:
Who this booke shall wylle lerne
He-who this book shall wish learn ..
He who wishes to master this book.
(c1483 (?a1480) Caxton, Dialogues 3.37; Denison ibid.)
euerych bakere of e town .. shal to the e clerke of e town a penny
every baker of the town .. owes to the clerk of the town a penny
(a1400: Usages of Winchester (Engeroff), p. 64; Visser 1963-73, 549,
Roberts 1993a: 313)
if I gave not this accompt to you
if I gave not (=didnt give) this account to you
(1557: J. Cheke, Letter to Hoby; Grlach 1991:223, Roberts 1999:290)
How camst thou hither?
How camest thou (did you come) here?
(1594: Shakespeare, Richard III; Roberts ibid.)

Both Lightfoot (1979) and Warner (1993:100-102) argue that the ancestors of the
modern modals, the pre-modals in Lightfoots terms, were main verbs in OE and
ME, although most of them were members of a particular morphological class, the
preterit-present verbs. This class, which in addition to the pre-modals included a small
number of now-obsolete items (see Warner (1993:140-144) for detailed discussion

10

and illustration), has present forms which derive historically from an Indo-European
perfect form. As Lightfoot (1979) pointed out, the consequences of this are (a) that
there was never a distinct 3sg ending (e)th or (e)s (for example, the 1sg and 3sg OE
forms of shall are sceal), and (b) that the past tense was highly irregular. Lightfoot
and Warner both suggest that these morphological peculiarities played a role in
singling out the pre-modals as a subclass.
4.4. The history of the future
A state of affairs not yet existing at the time of utterance was usually referred
to, in Old English, by means of the present indicative or subjunctive, sometimes
accompanied by an adverbial of (future) time. Old English thus depended largely on
the context for disambiguation of the functional value of the non-past tense form. Of
the forms of the verb with the meaning to be in Old English, those of the stem beon
were preferred when making reference to habitual or future states of affairs. Forms of
weoran could also be used to refer to the future (Berndt: 146-7).
The present is still found in this function in post-Old English times, although
its frequency of occurrence is decreasing more and more in Middle English and early
Modern English (except in cases of co-occurrence with an adverb designating future
time) (Berndt: 146).
As early as Old English, however, other means than the above-mentioned
were more or less sporadically used for reference to the future, namely collocations of
modal willan and sculan with bare infinitives. Both of them could also be used as
full lexical verbs. Their modal meanings were those of volition, wish or intention, on
the one hand, and of obligation, necessity or compulsion, on the other hand. This
semantic load continues to be felt in the will/shall periphrases in Old and Middle
English, which often have a modal colouring (Berndt: 148-9).
In early Modern English there is a tendency for shall to become less
frequently employed for the second and third person and for will to become
increasingly used in the latter. In Shakespeares language, however, shall and will are
often used interchangeably (Berndt: 149-50).
In the seventeenth century and especially the eighteenth several attempts were
undertaken by grammarians to formulate fixed rules and thus to regularise the usage
of shall and will at least in the standard language. To indicate future-time reference,
prescriptive grammars required the use of shall for the first person singular and
plural and that of will for the other two persons. But actual language use obviously
never fully conformed to their rules, not even among standard speakers in England.
Outside England there was no comparable differentiation between the two future
auxiliaries, and in American English will steadily gained ground at the expense of
shall (Berndt: 150).
The future progressive form, though occurring sporadically in early Modern
English, does not really become common until about 1800. Prospective constructions,
such as be going to, be about to, be on the point/verge of, make their first appearance
in later Middle English, only to become fully current in the following period (Berndt:
150).

We illustrate this with the Italian future form amar (here T = future) (similar
process with French: chanter+ai)
Phase I: from no realization of the future by a functional head to realization by an
overt free morpheme

11

(1)

[TP [VP [XP amare] thabeo [T habeo]]] > [TP [XP amare] [T habeo]]

Phase II: the auxiliary habere, a previously autonomous word, was reanalysed as a
syntactic affix
(2)

[TP [XP amare] [T habeo]] > [TP [XP tinfin] [T amar + aio]]

Phase III: the syntactic affix is reanalysed as a lexical affix, i.e. a feature of V, and the
corresponding reintroduction of V-to-T movement in futures and conditionals
(3)

[TP [T amar + aio] [VP tinfin] ] > [TP [T amar+] [VP tV+fut]]

The absence of future participles and the like in Romance suggests that only a
relatively small number of finite forms of habere were reanalyzed. In other words,
reanalyzed habere was morphologically defective in a way which is directly
comparable to the ME pre-modals discussed by Warner.
A further parallel with the ME pre-modals arises from observations made by
Benveniste (1968). Benveniste clarifies a number of aspects of the developments in
Late Latin. He points out that the periphrastic construction infinitive + habere
originates with Christian writers and theologians starting with Tertullian, i.e. early
in the 3rd century AD. The overwhelming majority of examples, according to
Benveniste, indicate that the periphrasis involved a passive infinitive, as in the
following (Benveniste 1968:90):
(2)

in nationibus
a quibus
magis suscipi
habebat.
among nations-ABL by which-ABL most to-be-accepted had
Among nations by which the most was to be accepted.

The periphrasis acts as the equivalent of the future passive participle and
served to indicate the predestination of an object to follow a certain course of
events. It seems clear that habere here has a (deontic) modal interpretation that
essentially involves the notion of futurity. The thematic interpretation of possession
seems to be absent. In marking purely temporal content, habere is close to an
auxiliary like Modern English will. In these constructions at least, then, habere had a
defective argument structure from quite an early time (i.e. since it started being used
as a modal). At this stage, it may be that habere could be merged under ModNecessity in
terms of the substructure in (11).
(3)

(4)

ModEpistemic T(Past) T(Future) MoodIrrealis ModNecessity ModPossibility ModRoot


Warners (1993) generalization:
Preterit-present verbs subcategorized for the plain infinitive which denote
necessity, obligation and related notions of futurity are finite only.

The generalization covers mot, shal, arf, mun and dar, the core deontic
modals of ME.

12