Thursday, September 29, 2016

Why is First Person Singular I always written with a Capital Letter in English ?

We may wonder   why first person singular is always written with a capital letter in English unlike  other important languages like French or German Some people believed that it showed the Englishman's  love of self-assertion and self glorification !   But  the  great savant Otto Jespersen strongly  disagrees with this view and he considers it as little short of calumny!  .  According to him this practice of using capital letter is simply an orthographic habit .

In Anglo-Saxon ic was the spelling of first person singular . During the 13 th century  c got dropped off and i was left alone. The scribes who copied manuscripts  used capital letter lest the small letter i should be easily missed by reader of the manuscripts . Thus the convention of using capital letter for I began in the 13th century which has continued to our day !

William Caxton introduced   printing in England in the 15th century and his use of capital letter for first person singular in his books  must have made the practice universal .

Thanking  you ,



Sunday, September 25, 2016

Does English have a Future Tense?

It has been said that English has no future tense. What on earth does it mean? It simply means that English does not have an inflected form  of the verb to indicate future tense. In modern languages like French we can see separate forms of verbs  to indicate future tense . In French parlerai indicates future tense of the verb parler used with first person singular.There is no such inflection in English for future tense .

The Anglo-Saxons in their wisdom did not think it necessary to evolve inflected forms to indicate future .After all , future is full of uncertainties and one can look at it in different ways . An inflected form to express such a thing as future seemed untenable to the Anglo-Saxons!Simple present forms of verbs with future time reference were  enough to express future .  This way of expressing future still continues in English when we express planned future. Example: The President goes to Britain next year .

It seems that all  Germanic people think alike  In Modern German,too, simple present is used with future time reference to indicate future tense in the informal style . Modern English has only  a made-up future  tense  will+base form of the main verb . In German ,too,future is expressed with the help of the auxiliary werden followed by the infinitive of the main verb . . Look at the following examples

I will  play tennis(English)
Ich werde  Tennis spielen (German)

This shows that English is basically a Germanic language , though it often seems to shine in borrowed French feathers!


Friday, September 23, 2016

Why were is used with singular subjects in subjunctive mood ?

Question Why do we use were with singular subjects in the subjunctive mood?

Answer The use of were with singularsubjects has puzzled  many a foreign learner of English.They may understand  the use of past tense was in subjunctive mood  because that is the way of the English language  !But why were?

There was a time when two words existed side by side in English - was and were .  They were derived from the root word wesan which means to be in Anglo-Saxon.The  word was became were due to the operation of Verner's Law.

In course of time were came to be associated with subjunctive mood and was with indicative mood . This  practice has survived to our days , at least in formal style!

In my next blogs I will try to answer some commonly asked questions about the English language.   thanking you

Prof V.P.Rajappan