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Notes on English Grammar.

Read before the Liverpool Literary and Philosophical Society,

9th February, 1863.

The Future Tense.

No Teutonic language has a simple Future Tense, formed by inflexion from the stem of the verb, like the Future of the Greek, the Latin, and the Romance languages. “There is,” says Archdeacon Hare (Philological Museuin, vol. ii, p. 218), “an awful, irrepressible, and almost instinctive consciousness of the uncertainty of the Future, and of our own powerlessness over it, which in all cultivated languages has silently and imperceptibly modified the mode of expression with regard to it." Whether this feeling of awe is the real cause of the original want of a Future Tense in certain languages, I do not venture to decide. In Hebrew and Welsh, at any rate, such a feeling could not operate; for there we have a Future, and we lack that Tense which seems the most real of all, viz., the Present. The conception of Futurity cannot be avoided by the rudest of men, and the want of an adequate expression of it is nothing but a defect, which, in the advancing culture of a language, cannot fail to be perceived and to be rectified.

The English language has now a composite Future which may be said to answer all practical purposes. It is formed by the Infinitive of the verb, and one or the other of the two verbs shall and will used as auxiliaries. In principal affirmative sentences, shall is used in the first person, both singular and plural, and will with the second and third persons, as

I shall sail, thou wilt sail, he will sail.

We shall sail, ye will sail, they will sail. In interrogative sentences, shall is used for the first and second persons, *) and will only for the third, as

* In the second person there is by no means a perfect agreement. Mamy us will invariably, and cannot be made to see the difference between volition and simple Futurity, which indeed, in some cases, are hardly distinguishable. W. Rushton, Professor of English at Cork (Queen's University), gives in a private communication) the Interrogative Future as, wilt thou,

Shall I sail? shalt thou sail? will he sail?

Shall we sail? shall ye sail? will they sail ? In secondary sentences, the use of shall and will is not quite so clear; at least, in the second and third persons, shall and will are both used, and sometimes indifferently, as (If, that, because, &c.) I shall sail, thou shalt or wilt sail, he shall or

will sail.
We shall sail, ye shall or will sail, they shall or will sail.

The reason why, in secondary sentences, there is some uncertainty in the use of shall and will is partly to be found in the fact, that in such sentences we very generally avoid employing the Future Tense, and use the Present instead. For instance If you shall sail to-morrow, I shall not see you again. This is quite correct, but we almost invariably say – If you sail to-morrow, I shall not see you again. The verb of the principal sentence is sufficient to extend the conc ion of Futurity to the secondary verb, wbich, consequently, can be left in the simple form of the present. Now, as compound Tenses are always clumsy and beavy, we avail ourselves whenever we can of the opportunity of using the present in secondary sentences, and hence, the feeling which imperatively decides in other sentences between shall and will, could not grow to sufficient strength in the case of secondary sentences, and form a clear law of language. *)

I have said that the English Future answers all practical purposes. By saying that, I do not mean, however, that it is perfect. In the first place, a compound Tense is lumbering, slow, and weak, compared with one formed by internal organic change of the root or by termination. “Dediesem" is a more forcible expression than "I should have given;" but this inferiority of the English Future, compared with the Latin or French, is of comparatively little moment. We get accustomed to look upon compound tenses, and to pronounce them, almost as if they were simple; so that often the difference is more a matter of spelling than formation.") But a material objection to the English Future lies in this, that the verbs shall and will have not entirely lost their original signification, and that, therefore, in many instances, the idea of simple Futurity is troubled and obscured by the admixture of the idea of volition or compulsion. This could easily be avoided if we agreed to restrict shall and will to their auxiliary functions in the

will you, which, he says, simply ask for information. It is true, he gives shalt thou, shall you also, but seems to make no distinction between the use of shall and will in the second person of the interrogative verb.

*) In the conditional future should and would are employed as follows 1st. In principal sentences, I should, thou wouldst, he would, &c. 2nd. In interrogative sentences, Should I, wouldst thou, would he? 3rd. In secondary sentences, If I should, if thou shouldst, if be should.

**) The French Future is compounded with the infinitive, and the verb avoir, only the French do not spell je parler' ai, tu parler as, il parler a, but je parlerai, tu parleras, il parlera.

formation of the Future, and to employ other verbs, of which we have ample cboice, to express volition or compulsion. But though the tendency of the language seems to be in that direction, this has not been done yet, and we have consequently to put up with a certain degree of indistinctness in the English Future.

In the first person, in affirmative sentences (principal or secondary), there is no doubt whatever, that sball means Futurity alone. It has stripped off all idea of obligation and necessity. If we wish to express this (the German ich soll) we say, “I am to sail, we have to work, I must, ought, am obliged,” &c.; but never “I or we shall.” In interrogative sentences, bowever, there is uncertainty. “Shall I die, doctor?” asks the desponding patient. He means simple Futurity. «Shall I die for you?" exclaims the despairing lover on his knees. "Shall I bring up the pudding ?” says the servant. Here simple Futurity is out of the question; it is order and compulsion that are implied. The Scotch, evidently, here have the advantage over the English. They use will to express the future, and shall to express obligation «Will I die, doctor; will I have any more pain ?” and on the other hand, “Shall I knock his head off*?"

In the second person the simple Future is expressed in affirmative principal sentences by will, and in interrogative sentences by shall, as, you will sail; shall you sail? If we say, you shall sail, we express an order, and if we say, will you sail? we mean to ask if there is an intention,' at least, if we are very accurate and precise in our expression. But I have observed that a great many writers and speakers are in the habit of using will you, where shall you is more correct, viz., where no volition is implied.

To express volition in affirmative sentences, we either use some other verb, such as intend, wish, or we lay a stress on will, as, “In spite of warning, you will continue your evil practices." This stress is a sufficient distinction. If it is not apparent in writing or printing it is the fault of our imperfect orthography. If we wish to express obligation interrogatively (the German sollst du), we never say, shall you? but we take the same verbs as in the first person, are you to sail ? have you to work? must, ought you, are you obliged ? &c.

In secondary sentences, as we have remarked above, there is some degree of indefiniteness in the use of shall and will. Sir E. Head says (shall and will, p. 2) – «The practise with the second person in oblique sentences does not seem quite clear.” The tendency now is, I believe, to say will, in all cases, or to use the Present Tense. The Prayer Book has “We believe that thou shalt come.” The more current expression now would be “We believe that thou wilt come.” “We hope you will recover," is said by everybody. Nobody thinks of saying — «We hope you shall recover.” Sir E. Head considers the following two sentences equally correct "You think you shall do it," and "you think you will do it.” Granted that they are equally correct, I believe nine persons out of ten say will; and certainly shall will not do, unless the subject of the principal sentence is you. We Archiv f. n. Sprachen. XXXV.


I think you


cannot say

I, or we think you shall do it. It must be will do it. The use of shall in such secondary sentences, which have the same subject as the principal sentence, is a notable peculiarity, and will be adverted to again, when we speak of the third person. It is a remnant of antiquity, and seems destined to be swept away soon.

"If you shall insist, I will obey," is certainly correct; but again, I heliere that most people would prefer saying – "If you insist, I will obey,” because as I remarked before, in a secondary sentence the simple present preferred. The use of should and would in secondary sentences is by no means very clearly established, and often depends upon an indescribable and indefinable feeling of their relative appropriateness. “You said you should be in town on Saturday," is quite correct, but so is, «You said you would be in town on Saturday;" and it is imperative to use would, if the subject of the principal sentence is altered. Again, “you thought you would die," and "you said you should die." What is the difference? I believe that in all these cases will and would are striving for mastery with shall and should, and that the tendency of the language is to favor the former. We come

to speak of the third person in the three different kinds of sentences, affirmative, interrogative, and secondary. Here we find will and would established throughout, except in certain kinds of dependent clauses. We say, he will sail, will he sail? the ship that will sail to-morrow.

As in the second person, we can, by laying a stress on will, convert the auxiliary into a verb implying volition. “He will blunder, though I caution him ever so much.” “Will you be attentive to your work ?” “A man that will make a fool of himself deserves no pity." The emphasis is enough to mark the difference in the meaning of will, and if it were felt to be desirable, this difference could easily be indicated in writing.

In some secondary clauses shall is substituted for will, viz., when the subject of the secondary clause is the same as that of the principal, e. g., "the captain thinks he shall sail to-morrow.” Here he, the subject of the second sentence, is identical with captain, the subject of the first. If we substitute some other subject in the first clause, the shall of the second becomes will, e. g., “My brother thinks the captain will sail to-morrow." Moreover, in some adverbial sentences shall and should are necessary. “Whenever (or if, provided) it shall happen that, &c. If it should be found out.” This seems to be owing to the hypothetical nature of these sentences. We should use will and would in other adverbial clauses, as, “Because he will be found out; because he would fail. I can tell you when he will arrive. We did not know when he would arrive. He labours so diligently that he will be sure to succeed."

Upon the whole, then, as we have seen, there is no great practical difficulty in distinguishing between the cases where shall and those where will is required. The difficulty is confined to those instances where either one or the other may be used, and where only grammatical over-refinement can establish a fundamental difference, or where the Present Tense is

commonly used for the Future.") It is curious that many Latin grammars retained till lately, or still retain, the practice of rendering the Latin Future in all persons by shall and will. For instance, the Eton Latin Grammar (edition, 1838) has

Audiam, I shall or will hear.
Audies, thou shalt or wilt hear.

Audiet, he shall or will hear. The edition of 1861 has, I shall hear, thou wilt, he will hear. When the alteration was made I cannot now ascertain. How is it, then, that only in England the proper use of shall and will is thoroughly understood and practised without error? The Scotch, the Irisb, and to a great extent, also, the Americans, constantly use will in the first person, where we use sball, as – “I will be obliged to you, if you lend me L5.” “Will I die, doctor?” «Will I have any more pain?” &c.

Everybody knows the jocular taunt thrown at our northern and western neighbours. It is stated that they would say — "I will be drowned and nobody shall save me.” I am assured by my Scottish friends that the second part of this phrase is not good Scotch, and that they would use will and not shall. They invariably use will to express Futurity, and shall to express obligation, and for this they are ridiculed by all patriotic Englisbmen, and they are pronounced to be actually backward in civilisation and good breeding. Archdeacon Hare says (Phil. Mus. ii, 218) “Our Future or at least what answers to it, is I shall, thou wilt, he will. When speaking in the first person, we speak submissively; when speaking to or of another, we speak courteously. In our older writers, for instance in our translation of the Bible, shall is applied to all three persons; we had not then reached that stage of politeness which shrinks from the appearance even of speaking compulsorily of another. On the other hand, the Scotch use will in the first person; that is, as a nation, they have not acquired that particular shade of good breeding which shrinks from thrusting itself forward."

Now, this is rather a serious charge. The bulk of the Scotch, in the middle of the nineteenth century, and even some of their most eminent writers are here supposed not to be so far advanced in general good breeding and politeness as the English were more than 300 years ago, and that in spite of the good example that has been set them for such a long time. They have not only been unable to find out for themselves how they ought to speak politely, “without thrusting themselves forward,” but, when they

*) In the town of Liverpool, the correct use of shall and will is, however, by no means universal even in the case of persons born and bred here. This is probably caused by the considerable number of Scotch and Irish residents. I have particularly observed that mistakes are common and difficult to eradicate in the children of Scotch and Irish families. But even professional men, though of English descent and education, have occasionally iheir feeling of grammatical accuracy blunted by the intercourse with persons who speak incorrectly.

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