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tempts have not been sufficiently successful to deserve notice.
It will probably appear to the reader (as it always did to the author) very extraordinary, that the grammatist should define the verb to be a word; and instantly exemplify his definition by giving, not one word, but two or more words: as, "I am, I rule, I am ruled." The blunder is easily explained. The definition was not made for the English, or, indeed, any modern language, but for the Greek and the Latin; in which it can be strictly exemplified: as, SUM, I am; REGO, I rule; REGOR, I am ruled: so, also, if we take what is called the infinitive: ESSE, to be; REGERE, to rule; REGI, to be ruled. In all these Latin instances the verb is one word; but each of the English instances consists of, at least, two words. This is another proof of the absurdity of transferring grammatic definitions, distinctions, and rules, from Greek and Latin to the English language; which is as truly ridiculous as it would be to give the history of Greece or Rome, with a few slight changes of names and dates, as a correct history of England. But how insignificantly diminutive would a vernacular grammar appear without the lucubrations of old Lily, or of Crates Mellotes, done into English! Hence that mass of absurdity which the grammatists have consecrated into English grammar; and by which they have endeavoured, very sincerely no doubt, to enlighten and edify the youth of the British dominions. Most of it was, from its first
existence, (perhaps in Egypt or Babylon,) dark and chaotic; and all of it as blindly applied to the modern languages, especially to the English, (so dissimilar to Greek and Latin,) is as devoid of reasonableness and utility as the philosophy of Aristotle. To many persons such statements are redundant; and for the sake of brevity, as also of intelligibleness, to mere English scholars, we adhere as closely as possible to the English language.
The question then is, What is a verb? We deny that there is any such entity as a verb in the sense of the grammatists: i. e. one, single, separate, uncompounded word, which signifies to be, to do, or to suffer. But it may be replied, Have you not just admitted, that in Latin the definition holds," a verb is a word"; for SUM, is one word; as also REGO, &c.? True; but each of these is properly a compound word: i. e. two or more words joined together; just as if we were to write, Iam, Irule, Iamruled; or, tobe, torule, toberuled. The movable affix in the Latin words, is as properly a distinct word as the prefix is in the instances Irule, torule.
Though, then, the definition "A verb is a word which signifies to be, to do, or to suffer," does hold as to Latin and Greek; it is not true, as to any language whatever, that one simple or uncompounded word can signify, to be, to do, or to suffer. The error of the grammarians originated in mistaking syntactic for verbal meaning; i. c. in supposing
that one word can convey a meaning which requires two or more words. This error, productive of other errors, and of numerous absurdities and unmeaning verbosities, originated in ignorance concerning the elliptic or abridged state of language, as found existing among every people; for nothing was more calculated to deceive superficial theorists, who would naturally suppose that one word performed the office of several; as if there could be existence without some existent concerning whom the affirmation is made; or action, apart from an agent.
We have already considered the difficulty attending the origin of language, and the origin of some words called verbs: and it would answer no useful purpose to detain the reader with another discussion of the same troublesome question. In all those words called verbs, which are manifestly nouns, there is no difficulty: as, "to hand, to face, to back,” &c.; "I hand, we hand, they hand;" "brave men back their friends and face their enemies." In such instances, all that is necessary is to join two nouns ; or a connoun and a noun, or to prefix the preposition to, to convey the notion of agency.
Mr. Horne Tooke (as already noticed) holds, that every verb is properly a noun; and that it is something more than a noun: he intimates, moreover, that he agrees with the Stoics in considering the infinitive the proper verb, free from all incumbrance
of number and person. It is difficult to conjecture what he really intended; but he seems to have considered the affix of the Greek, Latin, Saxon, &c., (in what is called the infinitive mood,) as well as to, in the English, to be equivalent to do, or act; as if the expression, to back a friend, to face an enemy, were, do back a friend, do face an enemy. If such were the case then, to, and the Latin affix are, &c., are to be considered as properly the verb; and the proper inquiry would be, what is the nature of that which is thus connected with a noun to convert it into a verb? After the fullest inquiry and reflection, we are convinced that the verbal affixes, to what is called the infinitive mood, in Latin, Greek, Saxon, &c., are the very same as the simple adjective affixes: are is the same word, whether it appear in Amare, to love, or Cellare, of a cell: en (ein, Gr.) is the same word, whether it appear in ‡ Loven, to love, or Golden, of gold. In all such cases the affix merely serves to connect the word going before with the word coming after; or to give notice that the word to which it is attached, is to be taken in connexion with some other word for the purpose of conveying a particular meaning. In short, the affix in such cases answers the same purpose as our preposition to; which also indicates that one word is to be taken in connexion with another; and which, like the forementioned affixes, is doubtless a mere particle or fragment of a compound word.
If, then, the common definition, A verb is a word which signifies to be, to do, and to suffer, be wrong; what definition is to be received as correct? But though we point out the falseness or absurdness of an old doctrine, it does not follow that we must forthwith supply its place with a new one. It is impossible to put any thing sound and solid in the place of baseless theories; and the purpose of inquiry is generally answered when they are made to vanish away like dreams when men awake. We have just seen that there is no such thing, in the English language, as a verb; i. e. a word which signifies to be, to do, or to suffer; for, to express existence, possession, relation, agency, &c., two or more words are necessary; and whenever one word seems competent to the business, (as in Latin, &c.,) it is not a simple, but a compound word, i. e. two or more words joined together.
But though we discard the old definition; must, at least for a little, retain the term verb; if only as a fulcrum on which to rest our lever in demolishing established absurdity.
"Verbs," we are told, "are of three kinds; AcTIVE, PASSIVE, and NEUTER." The sole reason why such distinctions were ever applied to the English language, is, that they previously existed in connexion with Latin; but to suppose that the same distinctions will equally suit all languages, is as unreasonable as to attempt to make a coat to fit