or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, April 29, 2005

Antiquities, Part 2

Now; those old-fashioned verbs.

Once upon a time, there were more verb endings in the present tense than we have nowadays. In fact, we have only one ending for all regular verbs, as this conjugation will make clear:

I take
You take
He/she/it takes
We take
You (plural) take
They take

Third person singular is marked with an "-s"; everything else is unchanged from the infinitive. It just doesn't get easier than that. (Okay; it would be easier if we used the bare infinitive for all pronouns in the present tense. Maybe in a few hundred years, that's what we'll be doing.)

Early Modern English had two verb endings, very similar on the surface, and this is what trips people up nowadays. In E.M.E., regular second person singular verbs ended with "-est"; regular third person singular verbs ended with "-eth". (This mutated into "-es" and finally into the "-s" we know and love.)

"Thou doth", therefore, is incorrect. The verb is actually "doest", contracted down to "dost"; that is, "do" with the standard second person plural ending "-est". (The archaic form of "you have", "thou hast", is particularly interesting; it's almost a perfect echo of the German second-person singular "du hast", and yet the E.M.E. version is not precisely the same word: just as "dost" is a contraction of "doest", "hast" is a contraction of "havest".)

So the conjugation above would correctly read in E.M.E.:

I take
Thou takest
He/she/it taketh
We take
Ye take
They take

If you have trouble remembering which ending goes with which pronoun, just remember that when the pronoun begins with "t-", the verb ends with "-t", and when the pronoun begins with "h-", the verb ends with "-h": "Thou sayest", "He reigneth". It really is that easy.


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