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The General Properties of a Verb




Verbs express events, processes, states, actions, activities, performances and achievements. It is an open class of words. Any word can be verbalized. Morphologically, syntactically and semantically it is a heterogeneous class of words, the most developed one, with the largest paradigm. The verb is a macrosystem of categories ( person. number, aspect, tense, correlation, voice, mood) which are microsystems. Each category is based on the opposition of forms, these oppositions being binary and ternary; privative and equipollent (read::reads; read::have read; read::is read; read::is reading, went::goes::shall go, etc.).

The verb can be described in terms of the field theory. It has a field-like structure with a nucleus and a periphery. Its nucleus carries the actional, processive and statal verbs with a full-fledged, developed paradigm, verbs with complete predication, notional verbs with a full nominative value. We see here transitives, intransitives, semantically dual verbs, functioning both as transitives and intransitives ( fly, wear, close, develop, eat, wash, etc.). The periphery is composed of semi-notionals with a partial nominative value. These are the verbs with a defective paradigm and an incomplete predication ( link-verbs: be, seem, appear, happen, get, grow; modal verbs: must, may, can, should, will; modal equivalents: be to, have to, have got to, etc., auxiliaries : do, have, shall, should, will, would, get, go: Everything has been going just great. The house got burnt); verbs with the relational semantics (include, belong, refer, resemble); verbs with phrasal semantics (begin, stop, continue, come, go, get, stand: He went running, He came running, He got going), substitutes replacing notionals (Do you want to go? Yes, I do). All these verbs have no nominative value, they can’t predicate by themselves.

We find among verbs those with post-positions ( to put off, to get off, etc.). Notional verbs are apt to be easily functionalized (I have come to understand you at last), which shows English to be an analytical language. Some verbs are used to impart dynamics to a sentence ( Try and do it! I can’t go and shoot him!). As compared with Russian, English is twice or thrice as verbal.

The Category of Tense

Tense is a grammatical expression of objective distinctions of time into the past, present and future. The existence of this category is undebated in all Indo-European languages, but within the category there are some debated problems:1.the number of tenses; 2.the existence of the Future Tense; 3. the syntagmatic meanings of the past tenses; 4.the nature of the Future-in- the Past.

Classifications of Tenses

There exist classifications embracing a rich variety of tenses. Temporal relations are considered by some scholars to be more complex than merely the present, the past and the future. Otto Jespersen’s classification is most peculiar. He distinguishes main or simple times (Present and Past), subordinate times which are points in time posterior or anterior to some other point ( in the present, in the past or in the future). This is a logical scheme( the before past time, the after past time, the before future time, the after future time), with no simple future (She gave birth to a son who was to cause her great anxiety ( the after past). He excluded the future on the ground that in English there are no grammatical means to express pure futurity, the “so called future” being modal.

The writer of a popular manual in practical grammar prof. Kaushanskaya distinguished 16 tenses. Her practical scheme of tenses is based on O. Jespersen’s scheme and comprises Progressive tenses (continuous, long) and Perfect tenses. There are 4 Indefinite tenses, 4 Continuous tenses, 4 Perfect tenses and 4 Perfect Continuous tenses.



The classifications embracing 3 tenses were advanced by Profs. Smirnitsky, Ilyish, Khlebnikova, et al. These classifications are based on a three tenses oppositional approach. It is the Past, the Present and the Future ( a tertiary equipollent opposition: went::goes:shall/will go). In two-tense classifications we find The Past and the Present, or The Present and the Future ( a binary privative opposition). In some schemes the Present is treated as an abstraction which cannot be objectively established. Others treat the Present stretching limitlessly into the future and into the past (prospectively and retrospectively).

The Future Tense

As a colourless, neutral synthetic future which is to be found in Russian and French it is non-existent in English. O. Jespersen, Palmer, L. Barkhudarov hold that shall and will are modal verbs meaning obligation and volition. English does very well without regular auxiliaries to express futurity (The train leaves tomorrow. The train is leaving tomorrow. The train is to leave tomorrow. The train is about to leave tomorrow. The train is on the point of leaving). We do not find the Future in clauses of time and condition ( If he comes, tell me about it. When he comes, tell me about it).

According to N.A.Kobrina, B.A.Ilyish, E.A.Korneeva, the English Tense system is represented by the opposition The Past : the Present : the Future. These scholars find that shall and will indicate merely futurity , they have become fully grammaticalized, losing their modality. N.A. Kobrina and E.A.Korneeva add that there exist two constructions shall/will + infinitive, in one shall and will are modals and in the other they are future auxiliaries. When they are auxiliaries, they can be contracted into ‘ll. This marker of futurity can be attached to any class of words (What he says’ll have authority).

M.Y.Blokh distinguishes newer categories within the Future. On the basis of the oppositions come :: shall come, come :: will come he distinguishes the category ofprospect, on the basis of the opposition shall come:: will come he distinguishes the category of futurity option. The distinction between the members of this opposition is neutralized in the element ‘ll. Shall and will are not substitutable. Will can be used in all persons, shall is relevant only for the first person singular and plural. So we can conclude that The Future is an unfinished system in English.

The Present Tense

As to its syntagmatic semantics, the Present is the richest tense form. Its paradigmatic meaning is that of immediate present coinciding with the moment of speech. It’s syntagmatic meanings are: habitual recurrent actions characterising a person (He hates authority); universal truths (usually in maxims)(The old believe everything, the middle-aged suspect everything, the young know everything. O.Wilde); the biblical timeless present ( One generation passeth away and another generation cometh, but the Earth abideth forever…); futurity ( He returns from London tomorrow); a long stretch of time from the past into the future( I know him all my life); a past occurrence ( the so called Historic, Dramatic Present) (Yesterday she comes in, sits down, gasps and dies. A. Christie. Then he turned the corner and what do you think happensnext?).

The Past Tense

It seems to be semantically simpler as it merely refers to something that happened in the past. According to Otto Jespersen’s theory of the imaginative use of tenses, the Past or the before Past conveys, under certain conditions, hypothetical actions, unreality, impossibility (I wish you did it. I wish You had done it yesterday. He looks as if he had never been here). O.Espersen did not distinguish the Subjunctive Mood (neither Subjuncive I nor Subjunctive II).





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