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Perfect forms.

The category of perfect in all Germanic languages, Old English inclusive, was purely synthetic one. The formation of perfect originates from two Old English constructions: bēōn (to be), habban (to have) + Participle II. These constructions initially expressed purely lexical meaning, stating that the Subject possesses certain features (habban) or the Subject has the feature of the completed action (beon). E.g.

Hēo hæfþ hine gefundene. – “She has found him = She has him found”.

is sē dæg cumen. – “Now the day has come = Now the day is come”.

To justify that, these were purely syntactic construction, one should note that PII always correlated in person and number with bēōn and habban. Moreove, one may observe a ditant position of PII and prospective auxiliary, since very often the object or subject could stay between them.

Grammaticalization of Perfect constructions haban+PII and ben+PII took place during Middle English period. Thus, in contrast to Old English Participle II stopped correlating with habban and ben in person and number. Another peculiar feature was the contact position between the auxiliary and PII.


but ye han lerned art… – “but you have learnt art…”.

Haban+PII was mostly used with transitive verbs, whereas ben+PII was recorded with the verbs of state and motion. E.g.

he was late ycome from his viage – “…he has come late from the voyage”.

In Middle English Perfect performed the same functions as Present-Day English Past Simple and Present Perfect. Which made these forms interchangeable.

Perfect Continuous forms were firstly registered in G. Chaucer’s works (only 2 examples):

Heere in the temple of the goddesse Clemence | We han ben waitynge al this fourtenyght. – “Here in the temple of goddess Clemence, we have been waiting for a fortnight”.

Early Modern English.

This period is also characterized by the presence of two Perfect forms: to have+PII and to be+PII. However, the latter constructions were traced with verbs of motion only. Still, the same verbs of motion could be traced with auxiliary to have. The difference was in the accent, thus, constructions with to be emphasized upon the result, while constructions with to have – upon the process.

I have grieved the Spirit, and he is gone; I tempted the devil, and he is come to me.

There also you shall meet with thousands and ten thousands that have gone before us to that place.

Have+ PII represents all the functions characteristic for Modern Present Perfect, however, it can be sporadically traced in Modern Past Simple function, still such examples are not numerous, which testifies that these forms become relic.

Future Tense.

The dominant form of expressing future in Old English was presence. It could be also expressed by the optative or by means of combinations of preterite-present verbs sculan or willan + infinitive (synthetic forms, which preserved their modal meaning). E.g.

Ic đæs wine Deniga …frīnan wille… – “I will ask the king of Danes ….=I want to ask the king of Danes”. (volition)

Fela sceal gebīdan lēofes and lādes, se ðe longe … worolde brūceð. – “Who lives in this world for a long time, will learn a lot of good and evil”. (obligation)

The other preterite-present forms in combination with the infinitive could also render the future meaning (cunnan, durran, mōtan, magan).

In ME rendering the future with the help of the Present form was still possible, especially when it concerned the verbs of motion, which due to their lexical meaning could distinctively express a future meaning. [8]

E.g. Although it be soure to suffer Þere cometh swere after – Although it is unpleasant to suffer, but the joy will come after.

However, peculiar for this period is the increase of modal phrases to render the future. Combinations with such Present-Day modal verbs as can, must, may, etc. in ME can have the shade of futurity in certain environment though it becomes their peripheral feature. However, such modal verbs as shall and will were frequently used to express the future. In the Middle English period the use of modal phrases with shall and will was common, as they became a regular part of tense system. Thus, combinations with shall and will were at that time the principal means of indicating the future actions in any context.

Shall could retain its modal meaning of necessity, but often weakened it to such an extent that the phrase denoted “pure” futurity. A process of transition from Modal Verbal predicate to the analytical verb form is connected with a semantic shift: from the modal (subjective) way expressing the future to the form of rendering the objective future. [9-10]

This change is connected with lexical and grammatical meaning modification of modal verbs. The lexical meaning of the modal verb gradually comes to decay. Thus, shall and will specialize on rendering objective future grammatical meaning. This process was accompanied by losing the syntactic status of modals, i.e. the equitable word combination “modal verb+ the infinitive” transforms to auxiliary verb and a part of morphological verb system. [8:164] Hence, the syntactic connections between the former modal verbs and the infinitive are not that strong any more.

Such transformation was primarily caused by the specialization of these constructions, as they were mainly applied to render the future in ME.

E.g. ther-as the knightes weren in prisoun, of whiche I tolde you, and tellen shal – where the knights were in prison, of which I told you and shall tell

Nad Arcite is exiled upon his heed For ever-mo as out of that concree, Ne never-mo he shal his lady see – And Arsite is on pain of death exiled from that country forever and he shall never see his lady

Now demeth yow as yow liste, ye that can, For I wol telle forth as I bigan – Think as you wish and those who can and I will continue with my story, which I began.

However, B.A. Ilyish states that the future meaning occasionally may be accompanied by some modal tinge as in: the cherl shal have his thrall; this I awarde ‘the man shall have his servant; I promise this’.

In the aforesaid examples the verb shall implies promise, which is its modal meaning. Another illustration presents one more meaning of the verb shall as a modal one: ther shal no deth me from my lady twinne ‘no death shall separate me from my lady.’

Will and the infinitive used to express the future in ME still has the meaning of modality, stating willingness to perform the action as it can be observed in the following examples: and I wol love hire maugree al they might ‘and I will love her in spite of all your might’; What? Trowe ye, the whyles I may preche, and winne gold and silver for I teche, that I wol live in povert wilfully? ‘What? Do you think that while I may preach and earn gold and silver, I shall willingly live in poverty?’ In this world right now ne knowe I non So worthy to ben loved as Palamon, That serveth yow, and wol don al his lyf ‘In this world I know no one who serves you and will (wants to) do it all his life’.

Thus, the lexical (modal) meaning of the verb shall disappears earlier than that of will. Therefore, a complete grammaticalization of will did not occur in ME as it was the case with shall. This explains more frequent usage of shall as a future auxiliary than will. Hence, when translating Boethius Chaucer uses mainly shall to render Latin forms of the future.

E.g. Heer shal ben the reste of your labours; Lat. Haec erit vobis requies laborum; Mod E: You will rest here from your labour.

In ME the modal verb shall is used in all persons when conveying the future.

E.g. She shal have need to wasshe away the rede. (Chaucer) – She will have to wash away the red (blood).

Abyd, Robin, my leve brother, Som better man shall telle us first another. (Chaucer) – Wait Robin, my dear brother, some other person will tell us the story first.

Me thinketh that I shal reherce it here. (Chaucer) – I think I shall repeat it here. (the story)

I. Ivanova points out that in ME there were registered combinations of the verb wurthen with the infinitive to express the future.

E.g. grete waters worthen gut red of mannes blode – big waters will become man’s blood.

However, these combinations were rarely traced and soon evanesced due to disappearance of the verb wurthen, which fell out of usage as it stopped functioning as a meaningful verb. (The verb woerÞan was used as an auxiliary verb to form the Passive voice and was ousted by the analytical passive form of with ben + participle II). This process initially started in the north and east and by the end of the ME period it ceased to exist in the south and west. Thus, e.g. this form is not traced in Chaucer’s works.

The Development of the Category of Future in NE

Already in the Middle English period the main means of rendering the futurity were shall + the Infinitive and will + the Infinitive. Along with these constructions the Present tense continued to be employed to denote a future action, however, in ME the frequency of the Present tense with future meaning was much lower compared to OE. The New English period presents the further expansion of the constructions with shall and will to denote a future and restricted usage of the Present tense in this meaning. E.g. in the age of Shakespeare the ration of Future to Present in expressing futurity is c. 10:1. [10: 262] The forms were used in free variation, which is contrary to modern usage.

E.g. As fast as thou shall wane, so fast thou grow’st;

If thou wilt leave me, do not leave me last,

When other petty griefs have done their spite;..

The earth can yield me but a common grave,

When you entombed in men’s eyes shall lie.


In the age of Shakespeare the phrases with shall and will can denote “pure” future, (i.e. stating the objective future) and simultaneously have different modal meaning tinges. The illustrations from Shakespeare’s sonnets show different shades of meaning constructions with shall and will acquired.

E.g. Then hate me when thou wilt (desire)

When forty winters shall besiege thy brow,

And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field,

Thy youth’s proud livery, so gaz’d on now,

Will be a tater’d weed of small worth held. (pure future)

The example above proves the idea that will + the infinitive went through the process of grammaticalization having the meaning of objective future, which was not observed in ME. The process of grammaticalization starts in Early New English and the verb will fully loses its lexical meaning and becomes an auxiliary verb.

E.g. Will they tell vs what this show meant? (from Ivanova 165)

Therefore, characteristic of the New English period is the existence of two analytical forms to build the future. In Early New English these forms are used with all persons singular and plural.

E.g. I will sooner have a beard grow in the palm of my hand, than he shall get one on his cheek.; You are now out of your text: but we will draw the curtain, and show you the picture.

Though in the middle of the XVII century the auxiliary verb will replaces shall in the second and third persons singular and plural. Such regularities were recorded in the XVII century grammars. Thus, John Wallis in “Gramatica Linguae Anglicanae” (1653) formulated the rule, in accordance with which shall could denote a “pure” future only in the first person singular and plural and will – in the second and third persons singular and plural. He also states that the usage of shall in the second and third persons represents promise, and will in the first person denotes wish. I. Ivanova disagrees with Wallis in the point that concerns a modal tingle the auxiliary shall acquires in the second and third persons. She states that in New English the process of its grammatization was completed and combinations with shall had no modal meaning as they used to in ME. However, the rules concerning shall and will introduced by J. Wallis, were repeated in many grammar books in the 18th and 19th centuries and were taught at school as obligatory. The peculiar feature of such grammars was that they usually considered that the language should base on the reason, i.e. logic.

T. Rastorgueva assumes that strict rules of the 18th and 19th as to shall and will usage as future markers was the reason why in British English they were observed throughout the 19th century. Hence, the complementary distribution of the two auxiliaries – shall for the first person and will for the second and third persons became a mark of the British standard.

In the colloquial language, which was not regulated by prescriptive grammars, the use of will expatiated to all persons singular and plural. Moreover, will was frequently used in a shortened form –’ll (-’ll can also stand for shall, though historically it is traced to will). Such shortening was observed already in the works of the 17th century.

E.g. against myself I’ll fight; against myself I’ll vow debate (Shakespeare)

The rise of shortened form of ’ll originates from will because the reduction of the phoneme [∫] is not likely to occur. Therefore, in NE the future form with will ousts the older one with shall in colloquial speech.

The New English period is characterized by the rise of other means to indicate the futurity. One may single out the construction to be going to and, which was first recorded in the 17th century and the continuous forms, which are used in Modern English to talk about fixed arrangements in the near future and planned actions or intentions, as well as, evidence that something will definitely happen in the near future.

Alongside future simple forms there also appear analytical forms of continuous aspect. Such forms were firstly registered in Early New English; however, their single occurrence was traced already in the XIV and XV centuries.

E.g. In 20 years’ time you will be saying what a good time you had with me.

This form though was rarely used up to the 20th century, when it acquired a modal coloring and was frequently used in the colloquial language. [8]

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