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applications out of a hundred, it is wholly useless; only, having been always accustomed to this, as to many other insignificant expletives, we should think composition strange and incomplete without it. In all such expressions as, a book, a house, a horse, a table, &c., a might very properly be termed the insignificant article ; which was probably the meaning intended by the phrase-indefinite article. The expression, a sheep is as definite as, two sheep, three sheep, several sheep, many sheep, the sheep, these sheep, those sheep, &c. So, also, when the illiterate say, a shilling, two shilling; a foot, two foot, &c.: and we have not the least doubt, that, if all nouns had thus possessed only one termination, the advantage would have been considerable, not only as to simplicity and facility, (for the distinctions of singular and plural frequently cause embarrassment,) but also significancy.
A question long perplexed the author which seems now to admit of an easy answer. Whence originated the perpetual recurrence and useless application of what is called the indefinite article, not only in English, but also in most, or in all of the modern languages? For if a, an, un, (It., Fr., and Sp.,) ein (Ger.), be, as they manifestly are, one, (UN-Us, EN,) how, in the name of significancy, should they be connected with almost every singular noun? If singular mean one, why commit the tautology in almost every sentence of adding the adjective one?
The sole reason of this fact is, we believe, that the
practice originated when the distinction of singular and plural did not exist; or, at least, did not generally prevail among nouns; and when it was as necessary to say a horse, or one horse, as a sheep, or one sheep the habit of applying the numeral adjective ane, (now one,) ein, un, (like many other habits,) remained after the reason on which it was founded had ceased. Many Latin nouns have no distinction of singular and plural, in the nominative case, (and their accusative plural is the same as the nominative,) and a very great proportion of Saxon nouns have, in spite of Saxon grammatists, manifestly no distinction of number. Like the nouns sheep, deer, swine, &c., if not restricted, they suggest more than one of a sort or kind to the understanding; and therefore it was necessary to join to them ane or one, when one was intended to be indicated; just as it was necessary to employ the numeral adjectives two, three, four, &c., when two, three, four, were to be denoted.
If, however, there were one regular plural affix to English nouns, we might felicitate ourselves in the possession of it as an important addition to our grammatic treasure; but, unfortunately, instead of being simple and uniform, it is such a jumble of anomaly as sets all principle and rule at defiance. The principal irregularities may be arranged under the following heads.
1. Some nouns have the obsolete plural affix en: as, Oxen instead of Oxes; Men, Women, i. e. contr.
of Manen, Womanen; which ought now to be Mans, Womans: Children and Brethren have two obsolete affixes, viz. er and en; each of which is (we believe) for es, adopted from the third declension of Latin nouns; and which we still retain, but generally contract it into s.
2. Nouns ending in O, have the irregularity of sometimes contracting the affix es, and sometimes not: as, Folio, Folios; Nuncio, Nuncios; Punctilio, Punctilios; Seraglio, Seraglios: Cargo, Cargoes; Echo, Echoes; Hero, Heroes; Negro, Negroes; Manifesto, Manifestoes, &c.
This is such a petty irregularity, and at the same time so easily remedied, that it ought not, surely, to remain let the e be uniformly dropped, or uniformly retained: the former seems the more advisable
3. Most nouns ending in ƒ or fe, are rendered plural by changing for fe into ves: as, loaf, loaves; half, halves; wife, wives: but why should not these be loafs, halfs, wifes, staffs; like griefs, reliefs, reproofs, ruffs, &c.? If grammatic authority serve only to establish anomaly, it is itself a nuisance; and our understandings and our practice are more honoured in the breach than in the observance of its tyrannic laws.
4. "Nouns which have y in the singular, with no other vowel in the same syllable, change it into ies in the plural: as, beauty, beauties; fly, flies," &c.
But why should these not be beautys, flys, dutys, &c.; like key, keys; delay, delays, &c.?
This is one of the evils of having more than one alphabetic sign for one sound; and it is of recent introduction, like many other anomalies.
5. Such irregularities as the following seem to have originated in the Saxon antipathy to polysyllables, so discernible in many words, which are reduced to the favourite monosyllable: foot, feet; goose, geese; tooth, teeth; louse, lice; mouse, mice; penny, pence; die, dice. But why not follow analogy, as children and foreigners do in learning our language; and say, foots, gooses, tooths, louses, mouses, pennys, dies, &c.? But how strange and ridiculous such words sound! exclaim all the dutiful subjects of established usage. But is it not much more ridiculous to be the slaves of mere custom, however absurd? Only accustom your eyes and ears and mouths for a single month, to the analogies of your own language, in those instances in which the strangest blunders have been consecrated into grammatic proprieties, and you will be reconciled to them for ever.
It is the custom at present, in adopting words from the learned languages, to preserve their learned plural termination. In this we act more strangely than our neighbours; for how are mere English scholars to know the meaning and use of foreign terminations? Why not make the plural of auto
maton, automatons; criterion, criterions; appendix, appendixes; medium, mediums; memorandum, memorandums; stratum, stratums; vortex, vortexes, &c.? Surely good sense is better than learned pedantry; and it is manifestly more pedantic than judicious to graft foreign peculiarities on a vernacular language; or, in naturalizing learned strangers, not to make them conform to the manners of the people.
THIS is the most difficult of all the grammatic entities; and, therefore, as might be expected, it is honoured with an uncommon share of mystical verbosity and metaphysical inanity. The name verb (VERBUM) means word; which latter is merely a corruption of the former. We have only to suppose, then, that this very formidable part of speech was designated the word, by way of eminence, on account of its vast importance. Nor is it worth while to quarrel with a name, when it does not indicate some egregious error or absurdity. If, then, a verb be a word, what is that word when considered as a part of speech? What is its grammatic character? Lindley Murray must reply: "A VERB is a word which signifies to BE, to Do, or to SUFFER; as, 'I am, I rule, I am ruled." Other grammatists have attempted greater accuracy of definition; but their at