IV.—SYNTAX OF THE
1.—CONCORD OF VERBS.
We cannot say I writes, or He or The man write.
We always say I write, He writes, and The man writes.
In other words, certain pronouns and nouns require a certain form of a verb to go with them. If the
pronoun is of the first person, then the verb will have a certain form; if it is
of the third person, it will have a different form. If the noun or pronoun is
singular, the verb will have one form; if it is plural, it may have another
form. In these circumstances, the verb is said to agree
with its subject.
All these facts are usually embodied in
a general statement, which may also serve as a rule.
RULE XXVI.—A Finite Verb must agree with its subject
in Number and Person.
Thus we say: “He calls,” “They walk.”
(i) The subject answers to the question Who? or What?
(ii) The subject of a finite verb is always in the nominative case.
are conjunctions which do not add the things mentioned to each other, but allow
the mind to take them
separately—the one excluding
the other. We may therefore say:—
RULE XXVII.— Two or
more singular nouns that are subjects, connected by or or
nor, require their verb to be in the singular. Thus we say: “Either
Tom or John is going.” “It was either a roe-deer
or a large goat!”
On the other hand, when two or more singular nouns are connected by
and, they are added to each other; and, just as one and one
make two, so two singular nouns are equal to one plural. We may
therefore lay down the following rule:—
RULE XXVIII.—Two or more singular nouns that are subjects,
connected by and, require their verb to be in the plural.
We say: “Tom and John are going.” “There were a roe-deer and
a goat in the field.”
Cautions.— (i) The compound conjunction as well as
does not require a plural verb, because it allows the mind to take each subject
separately. Thus we say,
“Justice, as well as mercy, allows it.” We can see the truth of this remark by
transposing the clauses of the sentence, and saying, “Justice allows it, as well
as mercy [allows it].”
(ii) The preposition with
cannot make two singular subjects into one plural. We must say, “The Mayor, with
his attendants, was
there.” Transposition will show the force of this remark also: “The Mayor was
there with his attendants.”
Nouns take a singular
verb or a plural
verb, as the notion of unity
or of plurality
is uppermost in the mind of the speaker. Thus we say: “Parliament was dissolved.” “The committee
divided in opinion.”
(i) When two or more nouns represent
one idea, the verb is singular. Thus, in Milton’s
“Lycidas,” we find—
“Bitter constraint and sad occasion dear
Compels me to disturb your season due.
And, in Shakespeare’s “Tempest” (v.104),
“All torment, trouble, wonder, and
In this case we may look upon the
statement as = “A condition which embraces all torment,” etc.
(ii) When the verb precedes
a number of different nominatives, it is often singular.
The speaker seems not to have yet made up his mind what nominatives he is going
to use. Thus, in the well-known passage in Byron’s “Childe Harold” we have—
“Ah! then and there was
hurrying to and fro,
And gathering tears,
and tremblings of distress.”
And so Shakespeare, in “Julius Cæsar,”
makes Brutus say, “There is
tears for his love, joy for his fortune, honour for his valour, and death for
his ambition.” And, in the same way, people say, “Where is
my hat and stick?”
RULE XXX.—The verb to be
is often attracted
into the same number as the nominative that follows
it, instead of agreeing with the nominative that is its true subject. Thus we
find: “The wages of sin is
death.” “To love and to admire has been the joy of his existence.” “A high
look and a proud heart is
2.—GOVERNMENT OF VERBS.
RULE XXXI.—A Transitive Verb in the active
voice governs its direct object in the objective case.
Thus we say: “I like him;” “they dislike her.”
The following sub-rules are of some importance:—
(i) The participle, which is an adjective, has the same governing power as the
verb of which it is a part—as, “Seeing the rain, I remained at home”—where
seeing agrees with I as an adjective, and governs rain as a
(ii) The gerund, which is a noun,
has the same governing power as the verb to which it belongs. Thus we say:
“Hating one’s neighbour is forbidden by the Gospel,” where hating is a noun,
the nominative to is forbidden, and a gerund governing neighbour
in the objective.
RULE XXXII.—Active-transitive Verbs of giving, promising, offering,
and suchlike, govern the Direct Object in the
objective case, and the Indirect Object in the dative. “I gave
him an apple.”
“He promises me a book.”
(i) In turning these active verbs into passive, it is the direct
object that should be turned into the subject of the passive
verb; and we ought to say, “An apple was given me.” But custom allows of either
mode of change; and we also say, “I was given an apple;” “I was promised a
book.” Dr Abbott calls the objectives apple and book retained objects, because they are
in the sentence, even although we know that no passive verb can govern an
RULE XXXIII.—Such verbs as make, create, appoint, think, believe,
etc., govern two objects—the one direct, the other factitive.
Thus we say: “They made him king;” “the king appointed him governor;”
“we thought her a clever woman.”
(i) The second of these objectives remains with the passive verb,
when the form of the sentence has been changed; and we say, “He was made king;”
“he was appointed governor.” Here the nouns king and governor
are retained objects.
RULE XXXIV.—One verb governs another in the Infinitive. Or,
The Infinitive Mood of a verb, being a pure noun, may be the
of another verb, if that verb is active-transitive. Thus we say: “I saw
him go;” “we saw the ship sink;” “I ordered him to
(i) In the first two sentences, him and ship are the subjects of
and sink. But the subject of an infinitive is always in the
The infinitives go and sink have a double face. They are verbs in relation to their
and go; they are nouns
in relation to the verbs
that govern them.
(ii) In the sentence, “I ordered him to
is in the dative case; and the sentence is = “I ordered writing to him.” To write
is the direct object of
(iii) Conclusion from the above:
An Infinitive is always a noun, whether it be a subject or an object. It is (a)
a subject in the sentence, “To play football is pleasant.” It is (b)
an object in the sentence, “I like to play football.”
RULE XXXV.—Some Intransitive Verbs
govern the Dative
Case. Thus we have “Methought,”
(i) Worth is the imperative of an old English
to become. (The German form of this verb is werden.)
(ii) Shakespeare even construes the verb
look with a dative. In “Cymbeline,” iii. 5,
32, he has—
She looks us
A thing more made of malice, than of
3.—MOODS OF VERBS.
1. The Indicative Mood is the mood of direct
assertion or statement, and it speaks of actual facts. The Subjunctive Mood
is the mood of assertion also, but with a modification given to the assertion
by the mind
through which it passes. If we use the term
as describing what
independently of our minds, and
as describing that which
exists in the mind
of the speaker,—whether it really exists outside or not,—we can then say that—
(i) The Indicative Mood
is the mood of óbjective
(ii) The Subjunctive Mood
is the mood of súbjective
The Indicative Mood may be compared to a
ray of light coming straight through the air; the Subjunctive Mood to the effect
produced by the water on the same ray—the water deflects it, makes it form a
quite different angle, and hence a stick in the water looks broken or crooked.
2. The Imperative Mood is the mood of command
or of request.
3. The Infinitive Mood
is the substantive mood
or noun of the verb. It is always equal to a noun;
it is always either a subject or an object; and hence it is incapable of making
4. The Subjunctive Mood has for some years been gradually dying
out. Few writers, and still fewer speakers, use it. Good writers are even found
to say, “If he was here, I should tell him.” But a knowledge of the uses of the
subjunctive mood is necessary to enable us to understand English prose and verse
anterior to the present generation. Even so late as the year 1817, Jane Austen,
one of the best prose-writers of this century, used the subjunctive mood in
almost every dependant clause. Not only does she use it after
but after such conjunctions as
till, until, because,
RULE XXXVI.—The Subjunctive Mood
was used—and ought to be used—to express doubt, possibility, supposition,
consequence (which may not
happen), or wish,
all as moods of the mind
of the speaker.
(i) “If thou read
this, O Caesar, thou mayst live.” (Doubt.)
(ii) “If he come,
I will speak to him.” (Possibility.)
(iii) “Yet if one heart throb
higher at its sway,
The wizard note has not been
touched in vain.” (Supposition.)
(iv) “Get on your night-gown, lest
us to be watchers.” (Consequence.)
(v) “I would my daughter were
dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear!” (Wish.)
all of the above sentences, the clauses with subjunctives do not state facts,
but feelings or notions of what may
or might be.
RULE XXXVII.—The Subjunctive Mood, being a subjoined
mood, is always dependant on some other clause
antecedent in thought, and generally also in expression. The antecedent
clause, which contains the condition, is called the conditional clause;
and the clause which contains the consequence of the supposition is
called the consequent clause.
If it were so, it was a grievous fault.
If it were done when ‘tis done,
Then ‘twere well it were done
Remarks on Exceptions.
1. Sometimes the conditional clause is
suppressed. Thus we can say, “I would not endure such language” [if it were
addressed to me = conditional clause].
2. The conjunction is often omitted. Thus,
in Shakespeare’s play of “Julius Caesar,” we find—
And Brutus Antony, there were an Antony
Would ruffle up your spirits.”
RULE XXXVIII.—The Simple Infinitive—without
the sign to—is
used with auxiliary verbs, such as may, do, shall, will, etc.; and with such verbs as
let, bid, can, must, see, hear, make,
feel, observe, have, know,
darkness keep her raven gloss.
the porter come.
(iii) I saw
after a gilded butterfly.
(iv) We heard
(v) They made him
go, etc., etc.
It was the Danes who introduced a
preposition before the infinitive. Their sign was
which was largely used with the infinitive in the Northern dialect.
RULE XXXIX.—The Gerund
is both a noun
and a verb.
As a noun, it is governed
by a verb or preposition; as a verb, it governs
other nouns or pronouns.
There are two gerunds—(i) one with
and (ii) one that ends in ing.
(i) The first is to be carefully
distinguished from the ordinary infinitive. Now the ordinary infinitive never
expresses a purpose;
the gerund with to
almost always does. Thus we find—
“And fools who came to scoff
remained to pray.”
This gerund is often called the gerundial infinitive.
(ii) The second is to be distinguished
from the present participle in ing,
and very carefully from the abstract noun of the same form. The present
participle in ing,
as loving, hating, walking,
etc., is always
agreeing with a noun or pronoun. The gerund in ing
is always a noun,
and governs an object. “He was very fond of playing
cricket.” Here playing
is a noun in relation to of,
and a verb
in the objective. In the words walking-stick, frying-pan,
are nouns, and therefore gerunds. If they were adjectives and participles, the
compounds would mean the stick
that walks, the pan that fries.
(iii) The gerund in ing
must also be distinguished from the verbal noun in ing,
which is a descendant of the verbal noun in ung.
“He went a hunting”
(where a = the
“Forty and six years was this temple in building;”
“He was very impatient during the reading
of the will.” In these sentences hunting, building,
are all verbal nouns, derived from the old verbal noun in ung,
and are called abstract nouns.
But if we say, “He is fond of
hunting deer;” “He is engaged
a hotel;” “He likes reading
poetry,”—then the three words
are gerunds, for they act as verbs, and govern the three objectives, deer, hotel,
RULE XL.—The Gerundial Infinitive
is frequently construed with
nouns and adjectives. Thus we say: “A house
sell or let;”
“Wood to burn;”
“Deadly to hear,
and deadly to tell;”
“Good to eat.”