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A GENERAL VIEW OF THE GRAMMAR OF THE ENGLISH
In examining the structure of a language, we naturally inquire, in the first instance, into the letters of which it consists, and their combination into words; and these subjects are expressed by the term Orthography, which forms the first general division of gram
Further reflection will suggest the propriety of distributing words into distinct classes, according to some common properties of meaning or of use.
Thus man,” “assistant,” “table,” “ book," may be assigned to one class, as being the names of persons and things ; while "promote," "urge,” must be placed in another, as indicating an action exerted. It will be observed too, by the attentive student, that some words undergo certain changes, as “father," "father's,"-"I promote,
I promoted ;” and every such change will require to be made the subject of investigation. The division of words into various classes, and the changes which they undergo, form the two leading subjects of Etymology, which constitutes the second branch of grammar. The derivation of words, which this term includes when taken in its full extent, should rather be studied from a Dictionary of established character, than from a grammatical treatise.
The next subject that will present itself to the student of a language is, the arrangement of words into sentences. He will observe, that there are certain usages to be attended to, the violation of which would disfigure a composition, and be revolting to a cultivated mind. Thus it is not allowed to say, “He spoke to she,” but “He spoke to her ;” not “ Ignorance and
vice is deplorable,” but “Ignorance and vice are deplorable." The rules which have respect to the combination of words into sentences, are included under the term Syntax, which points out the third division of gram
The remaining subjects of inquiry, which grammar embraces, are the correct reading of sentences, and the laws of poetry; and these constitute the fourth division of the study, usually termed Prosody.
It will be evident, that the two branches of grammar, which are most intimately connected with English Composition, are Etymology and Syntax. A correct knowledge of these is the principal means of insuring accuracy of expression, and the only foundation of a chaste and elegant style. To these two branches of grammar, the following remarks will be limited ; since they are designed, not to constitute a complete grammatical system, but to afford a general view of the structure and usages of the English language.
Etymology has been said to refer to the several classes of words of which a language consists, and to the changes which words undergo. The first inquiry, then, which arises in relation to it, is, what are the classes into which the words of the English language may be most appropriately distributed ?
It cannot be expected, that on this subject, perfect unanimity should exist among grammarians ; since every distribution of words must originate in individual judgment, and its propriety becomes therefore, a fit subject of inquiry. Dr. Blair has suggested the division of the words of our language into substantives, attributives, and connectives : but this classification, however neat and simple it may appear, would involve serious inconvenience. It does not provide for all the words found within the compass of our language; nor is it sufficiently minute and distinct, for the purposes of grammatical explanation.
The common distribution of words into Articles, Substantives, Adjectives, Pronouns, Verbs, Adverbs, Prepositions, Conjunctions, and Interjections, appears to be on the whole, consistent and suitable. Though liable to some objections, it approaches to accuracy of thought; and
it is, in nearly all its bearings, convenient for practice. Each of these kinds of words, or as they are generally termed, parts of speech, must now be separately considered.
The ARTICLES of the English language are a and the. They are used before substantives to show their reference,
a garden,” which is a general expression applicable to any garden,—"the garden,” which points out some particular garden, to which the hearer or reader will immediately advert. This difference in the force of the articles has caused “the” to be styled the definite article, and “a” the indefinite. It
may be affirmed, in a general manner, that an is used instead of a, before a word commencing with a vowel, or with h not pronounced ; but to this remark there are two exceptions, that a is employed before u, when it has a long sound, as in “useful,” “union,”—and that before words beginning with h actually sounded, but having the accent on the second syllable, as “heroic,” “historian,” an is used for the sake of greater softness of
pronunciation. SUBSTANTIVES or Nouns are the names of persons and things,—the last word being taken in its most extensive
Cicero,” are substantives ; “ book," "property,
"property," also are substantives; and “goodness," as the name of a quality,—"love," "joy,” as the names of certain feelings, sonship, name of a relation, with other words, equally, differing in their particular reference, but agreeing in that they are the names of things, must be assigned to this class.
Every substantive is considered to be of some gender, number, and case. The distinction of Gender has originated in the difference of sex among animals ; so that the names of males are said to be of the masculine gender, those of females are called feminine, and substantives which designate objects, to which of course the distinction of sex cannot be extended, are called neuter. To this general statement, there are however, a few exceptions. Some inanimate objects have been commonly invested by the imagination with masculine or feminine attributes ; and general use has made the nouns which express them, of the masculine or feminine gender.
Thus we consider the sun to be masculine, and say, " He rises,” “ He sets,” not in the neuter gender, “ It rises," 66 It sets.” The moon, the earth, a ship, and some other objects are made feminine ; and we very frequently personify qualities, as justice, mercy, benevolence, giving to those which are tender and inviting, the female character, and ascribing the masculine gender to those which involve greater firmness and dignity. This use of the names of qualities, however, is rather to be placed among the figures of speech, and viewed as a beauty which may occasionally adorn animated discourse, than considered as a regular usage of the language, requiring universal observance.
The doctrine of the Numbers of substantives, is exceedingly simple and obvious. Nouns are distinguished according as they express one object, or more than one : thus “ chair," " box,” are said to be singular, and
chairs,” “ boxes,” the terms formed from them by a slight change of termination, are considered plural.
It is usual to ascribe to English substantives, three Cases, the nominative, the possessive, and the objective. The first of these is the regular form of the noun, as
father,” and in the plural “ fathers.” The second involves a change of termination, as " father's," plural “ fathers';" and it is employed to express either possession, or a very intimate connexion, as “My father's estate,
" " Our fathers' God." The third case is the same in form as the nominative ; but it is considered to occur, when the substantive follows an active verb, so as to point out the object of an action or a feeling, and when it comes after a preposition, as
" He esteems my father," “ They applied to my father for advice.”
The question has, however, been discussed among grammarians, whether it is proper to assign to the substantives of our language, an objective case ? The fact, that in no instance, does the form of the objective differ from that of the nominative, appears to militate against the admission of this third case : and it may be contended, that greater simplicity attaches to that system which excludes it. If indeed, we restricted our views to substantives, we could scarcely point out any advantage resulting from ascribing to them the objective case. But, when we look at the pronouns, “I," “ thou,” “he,” “she,” we find that their form is changed, after verbs active and prepositions; as “ It was sent to me," " He esteems her.” To this form of the pronouns in question, some name must be assigned ; we term it with propriety, the objective case ; and it thus becomes natural to regard substantives also, when placed after active verbs or prepositions, as being of the objective case, though their form differs not from that which we designate the nominative.
ADJECTIVes are words employed in connexion with substantives, to express some property or quality, as “An agreeable companion,” “À happy woman. It may be remarked, that some substantives designate qualities, as "goodness," "meekness ;" but that which distinguishes every adjective is, that it belongs to some substantive expressed or understood, or to a pronoun occupying the place of a substantive. The very name of adjective, derived from the Latin udjectus, “ added to," is designed to express this circumstance. The use of the term “meekness," alone, fixes the mind on the quality in the abstract,-it leads us to contemplate this quality itself, separately from any person considered to possess it. When, again, this substantive is used as in the phrase, “ The meekness of the Saviour,” it makes this quality of the Saviour's character, the grand object of attention : but when the correspondent adjective is employed, as 6. The meek Saviour of mankind,” the Saviour himself becomes the great object of regard, while the attribute of meekness ascribed to him, occupies a subordinate, though still an important place.
The adjectives of the English language, undergo no change of form, according to the number, gender, or case, of the substantives with which they are associated. The word " industrious,” for instance, can be used with the singular noun man," and the plural men ; and it can be connected with the feminine substantives,
woman," “ mother,” as appropriately as with the masculine term man."
It is only when a person or object is compared with another, or with several others,