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Saturday, August 19, 2006

English Verbs - The 1' Verbs

Yeah, I realize I still have some uncompleted series to finish (like the Japanese grammar series), but at the moment I'm feeling most inspired in something else, so bear with me.

From time to time the last couple months, I've been looking at English grammar (yes, as you might imagine, it was for some greater purpose; no, you can't know what it is). Today I've been going through the English verbs and classifying them according to how they are conjugated. English verbs are broadly divided into two groups: the regular verbs and the irregular verbs. However, I prefer a bit more specific classification than that, and have thus created my own classification system.

Regular verbs are verbs which follow a very specific conjugation pattern, illustrated below:
Infinitive: to _ (ex: to mark)
Non-past tense: _ (mark), _s (marks; third person singular)
Non-past participle/gerund: _ing (marking)
Past tense: _ed (marked)
Past participle: _ed (marked)
Notice that there are 4 distinct conjugations: the infinitive/non-past tense, non-past participle/gerund, non-past third person singular tense, and past tense/participle. But all 4 of these conjugations can be derived directly from the present tense (for regular verbs ending in a vowel, the final vowel is removed before appending suffixes). Most English verbs are of this class (at least by number of verbs; by frequency of use or number of commonly used verbs it's a totally different story).

I call this a 1' conjugation because it has a single root: either the present tense directly, or the present tense with the final vowel removed.

There's one more type of 1' verb, which, as process of elimination would dictate, is part of the irregular verb superclass. This is the Single Present/Past/Participle conjugation class. As the name implies, this class is distinct in that the present tense (non-third-person singular), past tense, and past participle conjugations are all identical. For example:
Infinitive: to _ (to cast)
Non-past tense: _ (cast), _s (casts; third-person singular)
Non-past participle/gerund: _ing (casting)
Past tense: _ (cast)
Past participle: _ (cast)
In this case, there are three distinct conjugations, all derived directly from a single conjugation - the present tense.

The full list of non-archaic verbs in this class: bet, bid, cast, cost, cut, hit, hurt, knit, let, put, read (this one only belongs in this class if you're talking about how it's written; it's pronunciation differs from the rest of this class), rid, set, shed, shred, shut, slit, spit, split, spread, and thrust (and writing this list has made me decide that I will not being doing any more all-inclusive lists). Note that a couple of those are verbs that are in the middle of a transition to regular verbs (for example, knit) - both the Single Present/Past/Participle conjugation and regular verb conjugation patterns are considered grammatically correct for them.

I probably haven't given you enough data to see this last point, yet, so I'll just say it. Save for a handful of highly irregular verbs (ones that do not fit any of the conjugation patterns I have discussed or will discuss in this series), there are only 5 possible distinct conjugations for a given verb, from which all other grammatical conjugations draw - the non-past tense, the non-past third-person singular tense, the non-past participle, the past tense, and the past participle. Save for the truly irregular verbs, all the other tenses and gender/number combinations are drawn from those 5 in highly regular ways (for example, all perfect tenses are formed by adding a helper verb to the past participle).

As well, in all but the highly irregular verbs, there are no more than 3 roots for any given verb (usually 1 or 2), which may be derived to form the additional distinct conjugations (for example, the third-person singular non-past conjugation is always formed by adding -s to the present tense; as well, the non-past participle is always formed by adding -ing to the non-past tense).

Oh, and for the trivia value, as far as I know, be/being/am/are/is/was/were/been is the most complicated and highly irregular word in the English language, having 8 distinct conjugations and 6 roots.

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