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Person and number

Traditionally, the category of number is treated as the correlation of the plural and the singular, and the category of person as the correlation of three deictic functions, reflecting the relations of the referents to the participants of speech communication: the first person the speaker, the second person the person spoken to, and the third person the person or thing spoken about. But in the system of the verb in English these two categories are so closely interconnected, both semantically and formally, that they are often referred to as one single category: the category of person and number.

First, the semantics of both person and number categories is not inherently verbal, these two categories are reflective: the verbal form reflects the person and number characteristics of the subject, denoted by the noun (or pronoun) with which the verb is combined in the sentence. And in the meaning of the subject the expression of number semantics is blended with the expression of person semantics; for example, in the paradigm of personal pronouns the following six members are distinguished by person and number characteristics combined: first person singular - I, first person plural - we, second person singular you (or, archaic thou), second person plural - you, third person singular - he/she/it, third person plural - they. Second, formally, the categories of person and number are also fused, being expressed by one and the same verbal form, e.g.: he speaks; this fact supports the unity of the two categories in the system of the verb.


The verbal category of tense in the most general sense expresses the time characteristics of the process denoted by the verb.

It is necessary to distinguish between time as a general category and time as a linguistic category. Time in the general philosophical presentation along with space is the form of existence of matter; it is independent of human perception and is constantly changing. Time is reflected by human beings through their perception and intellect and finds its expression in language, in the meaning of various lexical and grammatical lingual units. Linguistic expression of time may be either oriented toward the moment of speech, present-oriented, absolutive, or it may be non-present-oriented, non-absolutive. The absolutive time denotation embraces three spheres: the past, the present and the future. The sphere of the present includes the moment of speech and can be expressed lexically by such words and word-combinations as this moment, today, this week, etc. The sphere of the past precedes the sphere of the present by way of retrospect and can be expressed lexically by such words and word-combinations as last week, yesterday, many years ago, etc. The sphere of the future follows the sphere of the present by way of prospect and can be expressed lexically by such words and word-combinations as soon, in two days, next week, etc. The non-present-oriented time denotation may be either relative or factual . The relative time denotation shows the correlation of two or more events and embraces the priority (the relative past), the simultaneity (the relative present) and the posteriority (the relative future) of one event in relation to another. Relative time is lexically expressed by such words and word-combinations as after that, before that, at the same time with, some time later, soon after, etc. The factual expression of time denotes real astronomical time or historical landmarks unrelated with either the moment of speech or any other time center; it can be expressed lexically by such words and word-combinations as in the morning, during World War II, etc.

The tense category in English differs a lot from the verbal categories of tense in other languages, In English there are four verbal tense forms: the present (study), the past (studied), the future (shall/will study), and the future-in-the-past (should/would study). The two future tense forms of the verb express the future in two separate ways: as an after-event in relation to the present, e.g.: He will study tomorrow (not right not), and as an after-event in relation to the past, e.g.: He said he would study the next day. The future forms of the verb in English express relative time posteriority in relation to either the present or the past. The present and the past forms of the verb render absolutive time semantics, referring the events to either the plane of the present or to the plane of the past; this involves all the finite verb forms, including the perfect, the continuous, and the future forms.

Thus, there is not just one verbal category of tense in English but two interconnected tense categories. The first verbal tense category, which can be called primary time, absolutive time, or retrospective time, is expressed by the opposition of the past and the present forms. The suffix -ed of the regular verbs is the formal feature which marks the past as the strong member of the opposition. Besides this productive form, there are some unproductive past forms of verbs, such as suppletive forms (e.g.: eat ate), or past forms homonymous with the present (cut cut).

The second verbal tense category, which may be called prospective , or relative , is formed by the opposition of the future and the non-future separately in relation to the present or to the past. The strong member of the opposition is the future, marked by the auxiliary verbs shall/will (the future in relation to the present) or should/would (the future in relation to the past). It is used to denote posterior actions, after-actions in relation to some other actions or to a certain point of time in the present or in the past.


The general meaning of the category of aspect is the inherent mode of realization of the process. Aspect is closely connected with time semantics, showing, as A. M. Peshkovsky puts it, the distribution of the action in time, or the temporal structure of the action.

Aspect can be expressed both by lexical and grammatical means. In English the aspective meaning is manifested in the lexical subdivision of verbs into limitive and unlimitive, e.g.: to go to come, to sit sit down, etc. But most verbs in English migrate easily from one subclass to the other and their aspective meaning is primarily rendered by grammatical means through special variable verbal forms.

The expression of aspective semantics in English verbal forms is interconnected with the expression of temporal semantics.

The category of Aspect a system of two categories: the first category is realized through the paradigmatic opposition of the continuous (progressive) forms and the non-continuous (indefinite, simple) forms of the verb; this category can be called the category of development. The marked member of the opposition, the continuous, is formed by means of the auxiliary verb to be and participle I of the notional verb, e.g.: I am working. The grammatical meaning of the continuous has been treated traditionally as denoting a process going on simultaneously with another process; this temporal interpretation of the continuous was developed by H. Sweet, O. Jespersen and others. The majority of linguists today support the point of view developed by A. I. Smirnitsky, B. A. Ilyish, L. S. Barkhudarov, and others, that the meaning of the continuous is purely aspective - action in progress, developing action .

The category of development can be reduced and in most cases the contextual reduction is dependent on the lexico-semantic aspective characteristics of the verbs. The neutralization of the category regularly takes place with unlimitive verbs, especially statal verbs like to be, to have, verbs of sense perception, relation, etc., e.g.: I have a problem; I love you. Their indefinite forms are used instead of the continuous for semantic reasons: statal verbs denote developing processes by their own meaning.

The second aspective category is formed by theopposition of the perfect and the non-perfect forms of the verb; this category can be called the category of retrospective coordination . The strong member of the opposition, the perfect, is formed with the help of the auxiliary verb to have and participle II of the notional verb, e.g.: I have done this work.

M. Deutchbein, G. N. Vorontsova and other linguists consider the perfect to be a purely aspective form, laying the main emphasis on the fact that the perfect forms denote some result, some transmission of the pre-event to the post-event. A. I. Smirnitsky was the first to put forward the idea that the perfect forms its own category, which is neither a tense category, nor an aspect category; he suggested the name the category of time correlation . The main argument which led to the interpretation of the perfect outside the aspect system of the verb was the combination of the meaning of the perfect with the meaning of development in the perfect continuous forms, which is logically impossible within the same category.

Thus, we can characterize the opposition of the perfect and the non-perfect as a separate verbal category, semantically intermediate between aspective and temporal. The perfect forms denote a preceding action successively, or transmissively connected with a certain time limit or another action; the following situation is included in the sphere of influence of the preceding situation. So, the two semantic components constituting the hybrid semantics of the perfect are as follows: priority (relative time) and coordination, transmission, or result (aspective meaning).


The verbal category of voice shows the direction of the process as regards the participants of the situation reflected in the syntactic structure of the sentence. Voice does not reflect the actual properties of the process denoted, but the speakers appraisal of it; the speaker chooses which of the participants in the situation the agent (the subject, the doer of the action) or the patient (the object, the receiver of the action, the experiencer) should be presented as the subject of the syntactic construction. Second, though it is expressed through the morphological forms of the verb, voice is closely connected with the structural organization of the syntactic construction: the use of passive or active forms of the verb involves the use of the passive or active syntactic construction.

The category of voice is expressed by the opposition of the passive and active forms of the verb; the active form of the verb is the unmarked, weak member of the opposition, and the passive is the strong member marked by the combination of the auxiliary verb to be (or the verbs to get, to become in colloquial speech) and participle II of the notional verb. It denotes the action received or a state experienced by the referent of the subject of the syntactic construction; in other words, the syntactic subject of the sentence denotes the patient, the receiver of the action in the situation described, while the syntactic object, if any, denotes the doer, or the agent of the action, e.g.: The cup was broken by his daughter. In the active syntactic construction the subject and the object both in the situation described and in the syntactic structure of the sentence coincide, cf.: His daughter broke the cup.

There are also the so-called medial voice types, whose status is problematic: semantically, they are neither strictly passive nor active, though the verb used is formally active. There are three medial voice types distinguished in English: reflexive , reciprocal , and middle . In reflexive constructions the action performed by the referent of the subject is not passed to any outer object, but to the referent itself, i.e. the subject of the action is the object of the action at the same time, e.g.: He dressed quickly. This meaning can be rendered explicitly by the reflexive -self pronouns, e.g.: He dressed himself; He washed himself; etc. In reciprocal constructions the subject denotes a group of doers whose actions are directed towards each other; again, the subject of the action is its object at the same time, e.g.: They struggled; They quarreled; etc. This meaning can be rendered explicitly with the help of the reciprocal pronouns one another, each other, with one another, e.g.: They quarreled with each other. In middle constructions the subject combined with the otherwise transitive verb is neither the doer of the action nor its immediate object, the action is as if of its own accord, e.g.: The door opened; The concert began; The book reads easily; The book sells like hot cakes.

Exercise 1. A)Define the person and the number of the verbal forms in the sentences, comment on their usage:

1) There is a girl and two boys in the room. 2) Wheres those records I gave you? 3) The great majority is helpless. 4) The majority were determined to press their victory.

Date: 2015-11-15; view: 1347; ; --> ...

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