An English Grammar
by W. M. Baskervill and J. W. Sewell
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Of making many English grammars there is no end; nor should there be till theoretical scholarship and actual practice are more happily wedded. In this field much valuable work has already been accomplished; but it has been done largely by workers accustomed to take the scholar's point of view, and their writings are addressed rather to trained minds than to immature learners. To find an advanced grammar unencumbered with hard words, abstruse thoughts, and difficult principles, is not altogether an easy matter. These things enhance the difficulty which an ordinary youth experiences in grasping and assimilating the facts of grammar, and create a distaste for the study. It is therefore the leading object of this book to be both as scholarly and as practical as possible. In it there is an attempt to present grammatical facts as simply, and to lead the student to assimilate them as thoroughly, as possible, and at the same time to do away with confusing difficulties as far as may be.

To attain these ends it is necessary to keep ever in the foreground the real basis of grammar; that is, good literature. Abundant quotations from standard authors have been given to show the student that he is dealing with the facts of the language, and not with the theories of grammarians. It is also suggested that in preparing written exercises the student use English classics instead of "making up" sentences. But it is not intended that the use of literary masterpieces for grammatical purposes should supplant or even interfere with their proper use and real value as works of art. It will, however, doubtless be found helpful to alternate the regular reading and aesthetic study of literature with a grammatical study, so that, while the mind is being enriched and the artistic sense quickened, there may also be the useful acquisition of arousing a keen observation of all grammatical forms and usages. Now and then it has been deemed best to omit explanations, and to withhold personal preferences, in order that the student may, by actual contact with the sources of grammatical laws, discover for himself the better way in regarding given data. It is not the grammarian's business to "correct:" it is simply to record and to arrange the usages of language, and to point the way to the arbiters of usage in all disputed cases. Free expression within the lines of good usage should have widest range.

It has been our aim to make a grammar of as wide a scope as is consistent with the proper definition of the word. Therefore, in addition to recording and classifying the facts of language, we have endeavored to attain two other objects,—to cultivate mental skill and power, and to induce the student to prosecute further studies in this field. It is not supposable that in so delicate and difficult an undertaking there should be an entire freedom from errors and oversights. We shall gratefully accept any assistance in helping to correct mistakes.

Though endeavoring to get our material as much as possible at first hand, and to make an independent use of it, we desire to express our obligation to the following books and articles:—

Meiklejohn's "English Language," Longmans' "School Grammar," West's "English Grammar," Bain's "Higher English Grammar" and "Composition Grammar," Sweet's "Primer of Spoken English" and "New English Grammar," etc., Hodgson's "Errors in the Use of English," Morris's "Elementary Lessons in Historical English Grammar," Lounsbury's "English Language," Champney's "History of English," Emerson's "History of the English Language," Kellner's "Historical Outlines of English Syntax," Earle's "English Prose," and Matzner's "Englische Grammatik." Allen's "Subjunctive Mood in English," Battler's articles on "Prepositions" in the "Anglia," and many other valuable papers, have also been helpful and suggestive.

We desire to express special thanks to Professor W.D. Mooney of Wall & Mooney's Battle-Ground Academy, Franklin, Tenn., for a critical examination of the first draft of the manuscript, and to Professor Jno. M. Webb of Webb Bros. School, Bell Buckle, Tenn., and Professor W.R. Garrett of the University of Nashville, for many valuable suggestions and helpful criticism.



NASHVILLE, TENN., January, 1896.














So many slighting remarks have been made of late on the use of teaching grammar as compared with teaching science, that it is plain the fact has been lost sight of that grammar is itself a science. The object we have, or should have, in teaching science, is not to fill a child's mind with a vast number of facts that may or may not prove useful to him hereafter, but to draw out and exercise his powers of observation, and to show him how to make use of what he observes.... And here the teacher of grammar has a great advantage over the teacher of other sciences, in that the facts he has to call attention to lie ready at hand for every pupil to observe without the use of apparatus of any kind while the use of them also lies within the personal experience of every one.—DR RICHARD MORRIS.

The proper study of a language is an intellectual discipline of the highest order. If I except discussions on the comparative merits of Popery and Protestantism, English grammar was the most important discipline of my boyhood.—JOHN TYNDALL.


What various opinions writers on English grammar have given in answer to the question, What is grammar? may be shown by the following—

[Sidenote: Definitions of grammar.]

English grammar is a description of the usages of the English language by good speakers and writers of the present day.—WHITNEY

A description of account of the nature, build, constitution, or make of a language is called its grammar—MEIKLEJOHN

Grammar teaches the laws of language, and the right method of using it in speaking and writing.—PATTERSON

Grammar is the science of letter; hence the science of using words correctly.—ABBOTT

The English word grammar relates only to the laws which govern the significant forms of words, and the construction of the sentence.—RICHARD GRANT WHITE

These are sufficient to suggest several distinct notions about English grammar—

[Sidenote: Synopsis of the above.]

(1) It makes rules to tell us how to use words.

(2) It is a record of usage which we ought to follow.

(3) It is concerned with the forms of the language.

(4) English has no grammar in the sense of forms, or inflections, but takes account merely of the nature and the uses of words in sentences.

[Sidenote: The older idea and its origin.]

Fierce discussions have raged over these opinions, and numerous works have been written to uphold the theories. The first of them remained popular for a very long time. It originated from the etymology of the word grammar (Greek gramma, writing, a letter), and from an effort to build up a treatise on English grammar by using classical grammar as a model.

Perhaps a combination of (1) and (3) has been still more popular, though there has been vastly more classification than there are forms.

[Sidenote: The opposite view.]

During recent years, (2) and (4) have been gaining ground, but they have had hard work to displace the older and more popular theories. It is insisted by many that the student's time should be used in studying general literature, and thus learning the fluent and correct use of his mother tongue. It is also insisted that the study and discussion of forms and inflections is an inexcusable imitation of classical treatises.

[Sidenote: The difficulty.]

Which view shall the student of English accept? Before this is answered, we should decide whether some one of the above theories must be taken as the right one, and the rest disregarded.

The real reason for the diversity of views is a confusion of two distinct things,—what the definition of grammar should be, and what the purpose of grammar should be.

[Sidenote: The material of grammar.]

The province of English grammar is, rightly considered, wider than is indicated by any one of the above definitions; and the student ought to have a clear idea of the ground to be covered.

[Sidenote: Few inflections.]

It must be admitted that the language has very few inflections at present, as compared with Latin or Greek; so that a small grammar will hold them all.

[Sidenote: Making rules is risky.]

It is also evident, to those who have studied the language historically, that it is very hazardous to make rules in grammar: what is at present regarded as correct may not be so twenty years from now, even if our rules are founded on the keenest scrutiny of the "standard" writers of our time. Usage is varied as our way of thinking changes. In Chaucer's time two or three negatives were used to strengthen a negation; as, "Ther nas no man nowher so vertuous" (There never was no man nowhere so virtuous). And Shakespeare used good English when he said more elder ("Merchant of Venice") and most unkindest ("Julius Caesar"); but this is bad English now.

If, however, we have tabulated the inflections of the language, and stated what syntax is the most used in certain troublesome places, there is still much for the grammarian to do.

[Sidenote: A broader view.]

Surely our noble language, with its enormous vocabulary, its peculiar and abundant idioms, its numerous periphrastic forms to express every possible shade of meaning, is worthy of serious study, apart from the mere memorizing of inflections and formulation of rules.

[Sidenote: Mental training. An aesthetic benefit.]

Grammar is eminently a means of mental training; and while it will train the student in subtle and acute reasoning, it will at the same time, if rightly presented, lay the foundation of a keen observation and a correct literary taste. The continued contact with the highest thoughts of the best minds will create a thirst for the "well of English undefiled."

[Sidenote: What grammar is.]

Coming back, then, from the question, What ground should grammar cover? we come to answer the question, What should grammar teach? and we give as an answer the definition,—

English grammar is the science which treats of the nature of words, their forms, and their uses and relations in the sentence.

[Sidenote: The work it will cover.]

This will take in the usual divisions, "The Parts of Speech" (with their inflections), "Analysis," and "Syntax." It will also require a discussion of any points that will clear up difficulties, assist the classification of kindred expressions, or draw the attention of the student to everyday idioms and phrases, and thus incite his observation.

[Sidenote: Authority as a basis.]

A few words here as to the authority upon which grammar rests.

[Sidenote: Literary English.]

The statements given will be substantiated by quotations from the leading or "standard" literature of modern times; that is, from the eighteenth century on. This literary English is considered the foundation on which grammar must rest.

[Sidenote: Spoken English.]

Here and there also will be quoted words and phrases from spoken or colloquial English, by which is meant the free, unstudied expressions of ordinary conversation and communication among intelligent people.

These quotations will often throw light on obscure constructions, since they preserve turns of expressions that have long since perished from the literary or standard English.

[Sidenote: Vulgar English.]

Occasionally, too, reference will be made to vulgar English,—the speech of the uneducated and ignorant,—which will serve to illustrate points of syntax once correct, or standard, but now undoubtedly bad grammar.

The following pages will cover, then, three divisions:—

Part I. The Parts of Speech, and Inflections.

Part II. Analysis of Sentences.

Part III. The Uses of Words, or Syntax.




1. In the more simple state of the Arabs, the nation is free, because each of her sons disdains a base submission to the will of a master.—GIBBON.

[Sidenote: Name words]

By examining this sentence we notice several words used as names. The plainest name is Arabs, which belongs to a people; but, besides this one, the words sons and master name objects, and may belong to any of those objects. The words state, submission, and will are evidently names of a different kind, as they stand for ideas, not objects; and the word nation stands for a whole group.

When the meaning of each of these words has once been understood, the word naming it will always call up the thing or idea itself. Such words are called nouns.

[Sidenote: Definition.]

2. A noun is a name word, representing directly to the mind an object, substance, or idea.

[Sidenote: Classes of nouns.]

3. Nouns are classified as follows:—

(1) Proper.

(2) Common. (a) CLASS NAMES: i. Individual. ii. Collective. (b) MATERIAL.

(3) Abstract. (a) ATTRIBUTE. (b) VERBAL

[Sidenote: Names for special objects.]

4. A proper noun is a name applied to a particular object, whether person, place, or thing.

It specializes or limits the thing to which it is applied, reducing it to a narrow application. Thus, city is a word applied to any one of its kind; but Chicago names one city, and fixes the attention upon that particular city. King may be applied to any ruler of a kingdom, but Alfred the Great is the name of one king only.

The word proper is from a Latin word meaning limited, belonging to one. This does not imply, however, that a proper name can be applied to only one object, but that each time such a name is applied it is fixed or proper to that object. Even if there are several Bostons or Manchesters, the name of each is an individual or proper name.

[Sidenote: Name for any individual of a class.]

5. A common noun is a name possessed by any one of a class of persons, animals, or things.

Common, as here used, is from a Latin word which means general, possessed by all.

For instance, road is a word that names any highway outside of cities; wagon is a term that names any vehicle of a certain kind used for hauling: the words are of the widest application. We may say, the man here, or the man in front of you, but the word man is here hedged in by other words or word groups: the name itself is of general application.

[Sidenote: Name for a group or collection of objects.]

Besides considering persons, animals, and things separately, we may think of them in groups, and appropriate names to the groups.

Thus, men in groups may be called a crowd, or a mob, a committee, or a council, or a congress, etc.

These are called COLLECTIVE NOUNS. They properly belong under common nouns, because each group is considered as a unit, and the name applied to it belongs to any group of its class.

[Sidenote: Names for things thought of in mass.]

6. The definition given for common nouns applies more strictly to class nouns. It may, however, be correctly used for another group of nouns detailed below; for they are common nouns in the sense that the names apply to every particle of similar substance, instead of to each individual or separate object.

They are called MATERIAL NOUNS. Such are glass, iron, clay, frost, rain, snow, wheat, wine, tea, sugar, etc.

They may be placed in groups as follows:—

(1) The metals: iron, gold, platinum, etc.

(2) Products spoken of in bulk: tea, sugar, rice, wheat, etc.

(3) Geological bodies: mud, sand, granite, rock, stone, etc.

(4) Natural phenomena: rain, dew, cloud, frost, mist, etc.

(5) Various manufactures: cloth (and the different kinds of cloth), potash, soap, rubber, paint, celluloid, etc.

7. NOTE.—There are some nouns, such as sun, moon, earth, which seem to be the names of particular individual objects, but which are not called proper names.

[Sidenote: Words naturally of limited application not proper.]

The reason is, that in proper names the intention is to exclude all other individuals of the same class, and fasten a special name to the object considered, as in calling a city Cincinnati; but in the words sun, earth, etc., there is no such intention. If several bodies like the center of our solar system are known, they also are called suns by a natural extension of the term: so with the words earth, world, etc. They remain common class names.

[Sidenote: Names of ideas, not things.]

8. Abstract nouns are names of qualities, conditions, or actions, considered abstractly, or apart from their natural connection.

When we speak of a wise man, we recognize in him an attribute or quality. If we wish to think simply of that quality without describing the person, we speak of the wisdom of the man. The quality is still there as much as before, but it is taken merely as a name. So poverty would express the condition of a poor person; proof means the act of proving, or that which shows a thing has been proved; and so on.

Again, we may say, "Painting is a fine art," "Learning is hard to acquire," "a man of understanding."

9. There are two chief divisions of abstract nouns:—

(1) ATTRIBUTE NOUNS, expressing attributes or qualities.

(2) VERBAL NOUNS, expressing state, condition, or action.

[Sidenote: Attribute abstract nouns.]

10. The ATTRIBUTE ABSTRACT NOUNS are derived from adjectives and from common nouns. Thus, (1) prudence from prudent, height from high, redness from red, stupidity from stupid, etc.; (2) peerage from peer, childhood from child, mastery from master, kingship from king, etc.

[Sidenote: Verbal abstract nouns.]

II. The VERBAL ABSTRACT NOUNS Originate in verbs, as their name implies. They may be—

(1) Of the same form as the simple verb. The verb, by altering its function, is used as a noun; as in the expressions, "a long run" "a bold move," "a brisk walk."

(2) Derived from verbs by changing the ending or adding a suffix: motion from move, speech from speak, theft from thieve, action from act, service from serve.

[Sidenote: Caution.]

(3) Derived from verbs by adding -ing to the simple verb. It must be remembered that these words are free from any verbal function. They cannot govern a word, and they cannot express action, but are merely names of actions. They are only the husks of verbs, and are to be rigidly distinguished from gerunds (Secs. 272, 273).

To avoid difficulty, study carefully these examples:

The best thoughts and sayings of the Greeks; the moon caused fearful forebodings; in the beginning of his life; he spread his blessings over the land; the great Puritan awakening; our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting; a wedding or a festival; the rude drawings of the book; masterpieces of the Socratic reasoning; the teachings of the High Spirit; those opinions and feelings; there is time for such reasonings; the well-being of her subjects; her longing for their favor; feelings which their original meaning will by no means justify; the main bearings of this matter.

[Sidenote: Underived abstract nouns.]

12. Some abstract nouns were not derived from any other part of speech, but were framed directly for the expression of certain ideas or phenomena. Such are beauty, joy, hope, ease, energy; day, night, summer, winter; shadow, lightning, thunder, etc.

The adjectives or verbs corresponding to these are either themselves derived from the nouns or are totally different words; as gladjoy, hopefulhope, etc.


1. From your reading bring up sentences containing ten common nouns, five proper, five abstract.

—NOTE.—Remember that all sentences are to be selected from standard literature.

2. Under what class of nouns would you place (a) the names of diseases, as pneumonia, pleurisy, catarrh, typhus, diphtheria; (b) branches of knowledge, as physics, algebra, geology, mathematics?

3. Mention collective nouns that will embrace groups of each of the following individual nouns:—

man horse bird fish partridge pupil bee soldier book sailor child sheep ship ruffian

4. Using a dictionary, tell from what word each of these abstract nouns is derived:—

sight speech motion pleasure patience friendship deceit bravery height width wisdom regularity advice seizure nobility relief death raid honesty judgment belief occupation justice service trail feeling choice simplicity


[Sidenote: Nouns change by use.]

13. By being used so as to vary their usual meaning, nouns of one class may be made to approach another class, or to go over to it entirely. Since words alter their meaning so rapidly by a widening or narrowing of their application, we shall find numerous examples of this shifting from class to class; but most of them are in the following groups. For further discussion see the remarks on articles (p. 119).

[Sidenote: Proper names transferred to common use.]

14. Proper nouns are used as common in either of two ways:—

(1) The origin of a thing is used for the thing itself: that is, the name of the inventor may be applied to the thing invented, as a davy, meaning the miner's lamp invented by Sir Humphry Davy; the guillotine, from the name of Dr. Guillotin, who was its inventor. Or the name of the country or city from which an article is derived is used for the article: as china, from China; arras, from a town in France; port (wine), from Oporto, in Portugal; levant and morocco (leather).

Some of this class have become worn by use so that at present we can scarcely discover the derivation from the form of the word; for example, the word port, above. Others of similar character are calico, from Calicut; damask, from Damascus; currants, from Corinth; etc.

(2) The name of a person or place noted for certain qualities is transferred to any person or place possessing those qualities; thus,—

Hercules and Samson were noted for their strength, and we call a very strong man a Hercules or a Samson. Sodom was famous for wickedness, and a similar place is called a Sodom of sin.

A Daniel come to judgment!—SHAKESPEARE.

If it prove a mind of uncommon activity and power, a Locke, a Lavoisier, a Hutton, a Bentham, a Fourier, it imposes its classification on other men, and lo! a new system.—EMERSON.

[Sidenote: Names for things in bulk altered for separate portions.]

15. Material nouns may be used as class names. Instead of considering the whole body of material of which certain uses are made, one can speak of particular uses or phases of the substance; as—

(1) Of individual objects made from metals or other substances capable of being wrought into various shapes. We know a number of objects made of iron. The material iron embraces the metal contained in them all; but we may say, "The cook made the irons hot," referring to flat-irons; or, "The sailor was put in irons" meaning chains of iron. So also we may speak of a glass to drink from or to look into; a steel to whet a knife on; a rubber for erasing marks; and so on.

(2) Of classes or kinds of the same substance. These are the same in material, but differ in strength, purity, etc. Hence it shortens speech to make the nouns plural, and say teas, tobaccos, paints, oils, candies, clays, coals.

(3) By poetical use, of certain words necessarily singular in idea, which are made plural, or used as class nouns, as in the following:—

The lone and level sands stretch far away.—SHELLEY.

From all around— Earth and her waters, and the depths of air— Comes a still voice.—BRYANT.

Their airy ears The winds have stationed on the mountain peaks. —PERCIVAL.

(4) Of detached portions of matter used as class names; as stones, slates, papers, tins, clouds, mists, etc.

[Sidenote: Personification of abstract ideas.]

16. Abstract nouns are frequently used as proper names by being personified; that is, the ideas are spoken of as residing in living beings. This is a poetic usage, though not confined to verse.

Next Anger rushed; his eyes, on fire, In lightnings owned his secret stings.—COLLINS.

Freedom's fame finds wings on every wind.—BYRON.

Death, his mask melting like a nightmare dream, smiled.—HAYNE.

Traffic has lain down to rest; and only Vice and Misery, to prowl or to moan like night birds, are abroad.—CARLYLE.

[Sidenote: A halfway class of words. Class nouns in use, abstract in meaning.]

17. Abstract nouns are made half abstract by being spoken of in the plural.

They are not then pure abstract nouns, nor are they common class nouns. For example, examine this:—

The arts differ from the sciences in this, that their power is founded not merely on facts which can be communicated, but on dispositions which require to be created.—RUSKIN.

When it is said that art differs from science, that the power of art is founded on fact, that disposition is the thing to be created, the words italicized are pure abstract nouns; but in case an art or a science, or the arts and sciences, be spoken of, the abstract idea is partly lost. The words preceded by the article a, or made plural, are still names of abstract ideas, not material things; but they widen the application to separate kinds of art or different branches of science. They are neither class nouns nor pure abstract nouns: they are more properly called half abstract.

Test this in the following sentences:—

Let us, if we must have great actions, make our own so.—EMERSON.

And still, as each repeated pleasure tired, Succeeding sports the mirthful band inspired.—GOLDSMITH.

But ah! those pleasures, loves, and joys Which I too keenly taste, The Solitary can despise.—BURNS.

All these, however, were mere terrors of the night.—IRVING.

[Sidenote: By ellipses, nouns used to modify.]

18. Nouns used as descriptive terms. Sometimes a noun is attached to another noun to add to its meaning, or describe it; for example, "a family quarrel," "a New York bank," "the State Bank Tax bill," "a morning walk."

It is evident that these approach very near to the function of adjectives. But it is better to consider them as nouns, for these reasons: they do not give up their identity as nouns; they do not express quality; they cannot be compared, as descriptive adjectives are.

They are more like the possessive noun, which belongs to another word, but is still a noun. They may be regarded as elliptical expressions, meaning a walk in the morning, a bank in New York, a bill as to tax on the banks, etc.

NOTE.—If the descriptive word be a material noun, it may be regarded as changed to an adjective. The term "gold pen" conveys the same idea as "golden pen," which contains a pure adjective.


[Sidenote: The noun may borrow from any part of speech, or from any expression.]

19. Owing to the scarcity of distinctive forms, and to the consequent flexibility of English speech, words which are usually other parts of speech are often used as nouns; and various word groups may take the place of nouns by being used as nouns.

[Sidenote: Adjectives, Conjunctions, Adverbs.]

(1) Other parts of speech used as nouns:—

The great, the wealthy, fear thy blow.—BURNS.

Every why hath a wherefore.—SHAKESPEARE.

When I was young? Ah, woeful When! Ah! for the change 'twixt Now and Then! —COLERIDGE.

(2) Certain word groups used like single nouns:—

Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow.—SHAKESPEARE.

Then comes the "Why, sir!" and the "What then, sir?" and the "No, sir!" and the "You don't see your way through the question, sir!"—MACAULAY

(3) Any part of speech may be considered merely as a word, without reference to its function in the sentence; also titles of books are treated as simple nouns.

The it, at the beginning, is ambiguous, whether it mean the sun or the cold.—Dr BLAIR

In this definition, is the word "just," or "legal," finally to stand?—RUSKIN.

There was also a book of Defoe's called an "Essay on Projects," and another of Dr. Mather's called "Essays to do Good."—B. FRANKLIN.

[Sidenote: Caution.]

20. It is to be remembered, however, that the above cases are shiftings of the use, of words rather than of their meaning. We seldom find instances of complete conversion of one part of speech into another.

When, in a sentence above, the terms the great, the wealthy, are used, they are not names only: we have in mind the idea of persons and the quality of being great or wealthy. The words are used in the sentence where nouns are used, but have an adjectival meaning.

In the other sentences, why and wherefore, When, Now, and Then, are spoken of as if pure nouns; but still the reader considers this not a natural application of them as name words, but as a figure of speech.

NOTE.—These remarks do not apply, of course, to such words as become pure nouns by use. There are many of these. The adjective good has no claim on the noun goods; so, too, in speaking of the principal of a school, or a state secret, or a faithful domestic, or a criminal, etc., the words are entirely independent of any adjective force.


Pick out the nouns in the following sentences, and tell to which class each belongs. Notice if any have shifted from one class to another.

1. Hope springs eternal in the human breast.

2. Heaven from all creatures hides the book of Fate.

3. Stone walls do not a prison make. Nor iron bars a cage.

4. Truth-teller was our England's Alfred named.

5. A great deal of talent is lost to the world for want of a little courage.

6. Power laid his rod aside, And Ceremony doff'd her pride.

7. She sweeps it through the court with troops of ladies.

8. Learning, that cobweb of the brain.

9. A little weeping would ease my heart; But in their briny bed My tears must stop, for every drop Hinders needle and thread.

10. A fool speaks all his mind, but a wise man reserves something for hereafter.

11. Knowledge is proud that he has learned so much; Wisdom is humble that he knows no more.

12. Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast.

13. And see, he cried, the welcome, Fair guests, that waits you here.

14. The fleet, shattered and disabled, returned to Spain.

15. One To-day is worth two To-morrows.

16. Vessels carrying coal are constantly moving.

17. Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest, Some Cromwell guiltless of his country's blood.

18. And oft we trod a waste of pearly sands.

19. A man he seems of cheerful yesterdays And confident to-morrows.

20. The hours glide by; the silver moon is gone.

21. Her robes of silk and velvet came from over the sea.

22. My soldier cousin was once only a drummer boy.

23. But pleasures are like poppies spread, You seize the flower, its bloom is shed.

24. All that thou canst call thine own Lies in thy To-day.



[Sidenote: What gender means in English. It is founded on sex.]

21. In Latin, Greek, German, and many other languages, some general rules are given that names of male beings are usually masculine, and names of females are usually feminine. There are exceptions even to this general statement, but not so in English. Male beings are, in English grammar, always masculine; female, always feminine.

When, however, inanimate things are spoken of, these languages are totally unlike our own in determining the gender of words. For instance: in Latin, hortus (garden) is masculine, mensa (table) is feminine, corpus (body) is neuter; in German, das Messer (knife) is neuter, der Tisch (table) is masculine, die Gabel (fork) is feminine.

The great difference is, that in English the gender follows the meaning of the word, in other languages gender follows the form; that is, in English, gender depends on sex: if a thing spoken of is of the male sex, the name of it is masculine; if of the female sex, the name of it is feminine. Hence:

[Sidenote: Definition.]

22. Gender is the mode of distinguishing sex by words, or additions to words.

23. It is evident from this that English can have but two genders,—masculine and feminine.

[Sidenote: Gender nouns. Neuter nouns.]

All nouns, then, must be divided into two principal classes,—gender nouns, those distinguishing the sex of the object; and neuter nouns, those which do not distinguish sex, or names of things without life, and consequently without sex.

Gender nouns include names of persons and some names of animals; neuter nouns include some animals and all inanimate objects.

[Sidenote: Some words either gender or neuter nouns, according to use.]

24. Some words may be either gender nouns or neuter nouns, according to their use. Thus, the word child is neuter in the sentence, "A little child shall lead them," but is masculine in the sentence from Wordsworth,—

I have seen A curious child ... applying to his ear The convolutions of a smooth-lipped shell.

Of animals, those with which man comes in contact often, or which arouse his interest most, are named by gender nouns, as in these sentences:—

Before the barn door strutted the gallant cock, that pattern of a husband, ... clapping his burnished wings.—IRVING.

Gunpowder ... came to a stand just by the bridge, with a suddenness that had nearly sent his rider sprawling over his head—id.

Other animals are not distinguished as to sex, but are spoken of as neuter, the sex being of no consequence.

Not a turkey but he [Ichabod] beheld daintily trussed up, with its gizzard under its wing.—IRVING.

He next stooped down to feel the pig, if there were any signs of life in it.—LAMB.

[Sidenote: No "common gender."]

25. According to the definition, there can be no such thing as "common gender:" words either distinguish sex (or the sex is distinguished by the context) or else they do not distinguish sex.

If such words as parent, servant, teacher, ruler, relative, cousin, domestic, etc., do not show the sex to which the persons belong, they are neuter words.

26. Put in convenient form, the division of words according to sex, or the lack of it, is,—

(MASCULINE: Male beings. Gender nouns { (FEMININE: Female beings.

Neuter nouns: Names of inanimate things, or of living beings whose sex cannot be determined.

27. The inflections for gender belong, of course, only to masculine and feminine nouns. Forms would be a more accurate word than inflections, since inflection applies only to the case of nouns.

There are three ways to distinguish the genders:—

(1) By prefixing a gender word to another word.

(2) By adding a suffix, generally to a masculine word.

(3) By using a different word for each gender.

I. Gender shown by Prefixes.

[Sidenote: Very few of class I.]

28. Usually the gender words he and she are prefixed to neuter words; as he-goatshe-goat, cock sparrowhen sparrow, he-bearshe-bear.

One feminine, woman, puts a prefix before the masculine man. Woman is a short way of writing wifeman.

II. Gender shown by Suffixes.

29. By far the largest number of gender words are those marked by suffixes. In this particular the native endings have been largely supplanted by foreign suffixes.

[Sidenote: Native suffixes.]

The native suffixes to indicate the feminine were -en and -ster. These remain in vixen and spinster, though both words have lost their original meanings.

The word vixen was once used as the feminine of fox by the Southern-English. For fox they said vox; for from they said vram; and for the older word fat they said vat, as in wine vat. Hence vixen is for fyxen, from the masculine fox.

Spinster is a relic of a large class of words that existed in Old and Middle English,[1] but have now lost their original force as feminines. The old masculine answering to spinster was spinner; but spinster has now no connection with it.

The foreign suffixes are of two kinds:—

[Sidenote: Foreign suffixes. Unaltered and little used.]

(1) Those belonging to borrowed words, as czarina, senorita, executrix, donna. These are attached to foreign words, and are never used for words recognized as English.

[Sidenote: Slightly changed and widely used.]

(2) That regarded as the standard or regular termination of the feminine, -ess (French esse, Low Latin issa), the one most used. The corresponding masculine may have the ending -er (-or), but in most cases it has not. Whenever we adopt a new masculine word, the feminine is formed by adding this termination -ess.

Sometimes the -ess has been added to a word already feminine by the ending -ster; as seam-str-ess, song-str-ess. The ending -ster had then lost its force as a feminine suffix; it has none now in the words huckster, gamester, trickster, punster.

[Sidenote: Ending of masculine not changed.]

30. The ending -ess is added to many words without changing the ending of the masculine; as,—

baron—baroness count—countess lion—lioness Jew—Jewess heir—heiress host—hostess priest—priestess giant—giantess

[Sidenote: Masculine ending dropped.]

The masculine ending may be dropped before the feminine -ess is added; as,—

abbot—abbess negro—negress murderer—murderess sorcerer—sorceress

[Sidenote: Vowel dropped before adding -ess.]

The feminine may discard a vowel which appears in the masculine; as in—

actor—actress master—mistress benefactor—benefactress emperor—empress tiger—tigress enchanter—enchantress

Empress has been cut down from emperice (twelfth century) and emperesse (thirteenth century), from Latin imperatricem.

Master and mistress were in Middle English maistermaistresse, from the Old French maistremaistresse.

31. When the older -en and -ster went out of use as the distinctive mark of the feminine, the ending -ess, from the French -esse, sprang into a popularity much greater than at present.

[Sidenote: Ending -ess less used now than formerly.]

Instead of saying doctress, fosteress, wagoness, as was said in the sixteenth century, or servauntesse, teacheresse, neighboresse, frendesse, as in the fourteenth century, we have dispensed with the ending in many cases, and either use a prefix word or leave the masculine to do work for the feminine also.

Thus, we say doctor (masculine and feminine) or woman doctor, teacher or lady teacher, neighbor (masculine and feminine), etc. We frequently use such words as author, editor, chairman, to represent persons of either sex.

NOTE.—There is perhaps this distinction observed: when we speak of a female as an active agent merely, we use the masculine termination, as, "George Eliot is the author of 'Adam Bede;'" but when we speak purposely to denote a distinction from a male, we use the feminine, as, "George Eliot is an eminent authoress."

III. Gender shown by Different Words.

32. In some of these pairs, the feminine and the masculine are entirely different words; others have in their origin the same root. Some of them have an interesting history, and will be noted below:—

bachelor—maid boy—girl brother—sister drake—duck earl—countess father—mother gander—goose hart—roe horse—mare husband—wife king—queen lord—lady wizard—witch nephew—niece ram—ewe sir—madam son—daughter uncle—aunt bull—cow boar—sow

Girl originally meant a child of either sex, and was used for male or female until about the fifteenth century.

Drake is peculiar in that it is formed from a corresponding feminine which is no longer used. It is not connected historically with our word duck, but is derived from ened (duck) and an obsolete suffix rake (king). Three letters of ened have fallen away, leaving our word drake.

Gander and goose were originally from the same root word. Goose has various cognate forms in the languages akin to English (German Gans, Icelandic gas, Danish gaas, etc.). The masculine was formed by adding -a, the old sign of the masculine. This gansa was modified into gan-ra, gand-ra, finally gander; the d being inserted to make pronunciation easy, as in many other words.

Mare, in Old English mere, had the masculine mearh (horse), but this has long been obsolete.

Husband and wife are not connected in origin. Husband is a Scandinavian word (Anglo-Saxon husbonda from Icelandic hus-bondi, probably meaning house dweller); wife was used in Old and Middle English to mean woman in general.

King and queen are said by some (Skeat, among others) to be from the same root word, but the German etymologist Kluge says they are not.

Lord is said to be a worn-down form of the Old English hlaf-weard (loaf keeper), written loverd, lhauerd, or lauerd in Middle English. Lady is from hloefdige (hloef meaning loaf, and dige being of uncertain origin and meaning).

Witch is the Old English wicce, but wizard is from the Old French guiscart (prudent), not immediately connected with witch, though both are ultimately from the same root.

Sir is worn down from the Old French sire (Latin senior). Madam is the French ma dame, from Latin mea domina.

[Sidenote: Two masculines from feminines.]

33. Besides gander and drake, there are two other masculine words that were formed from the feminine:—

Bridegroom, from Old English bryd-guma (bride's man). The r in groom has crept in from confusion with the word groom.

Widower, from the weakening of the ending -a in Old English to -e in Middle English. The older forms, widuwawiduwe, became identical, and a new masculine ending was therefore added to distinguish the masculine from the feminine (compare Middle English widuerwidewe).


34. Just as abstract ideas are personified (Sec. 16), material objects may be spoken of like gender nouns; for example,—

"Now, where the swift Rhone cleaves his way."—BYRON.

The Sun now rose upon the right: Out of the sea came he. —COLERIDGE.

And haply the Queen Moon is on her throne, Clustered around by all her starry Fays. —KEATS,

Britannia needs no bulwarks, No towers along the steep; Her march is o'er the mountain waves, Her home is on the deep. —CAMPBELL

This is not exclusively a poetic use. In ordinary speech personification is very frequent: the pilot speaks of his boat as feminine; the engineer speaks so of his engine; etc.

[Sidenote: Effect of personification.]

In such cases the gender is marked by the pronoun, and not by the form of the noun. But the fact that in English the distinction of gender is confined to difference of sex makes these departures more effective.


[Sidenote: Definition.]

35. In nouns, number means the mode of indicating whether we are speaking of one thing or of more than one.

36. Our language has two numbers,—singular and plural. The singular number denotes that one thing is spoken of; the plural, more than one.

37. There are three ways of changing the singular form to the plural:—

(1) By adding -en.

(2) By changing the root vowel.

(3) By adding -s (or -es).

The first two methods prevailed, together with the third, in Old English, but in modern English -s or -es has come to be the "standard" ending; that is, whenever we adopt a new word, we make its plural by adding -s or -es.

I. Plurals formed by the Suffix -en.

[Sidenote: The -en inflection.]

38. This inflection remains only in the word oxen, though it was quite common in Old and Middle English; for instance, eyen (eyes), treen (trees), shoon (shoes), which last is still used in Lowland Scotch. Hosen is found in the King James version of the Bible, and housen is still common in the provincial speech in England.

39. But other words were inflected afterwards, in imitation of the old words in -en by making a double plural.

[Sidenote: -En inflection imitated by other words.]

Brethren has passed through three stages. The old plural was brothru, then brothre or brethre, finally brethren. The weakening of inflections led to this addition.

Children has passed through the same history, though the intermediate form childer lasted till the seventeenth century in literary English, and is still found in dialects; as,—

"God bless me! so then, after all, you'll have a chance to see your childer get up like, and get settled."—QUOTED BY DE QUINCEY.

Kine is another double plural, but has now no singular.

In spite of wandering kine and other adverse circumstance.—THOREAU.

II. Plurals formed by Vowel Change.

40. Examples of this inflection are,—

man—men foot—feet goose—geese louse—lice mouse—mice tooth—teeth

Some other words—as book, turf, wight, borough—formerly had the same inflection, but they now add the ending -s.

41. Akin to this class are some words, originally neuter, that have the singular and plural alike; such as deer, sheep, swine, etc.

Other words following the same usage are, pair, brace, dozen, after numerals (if not after numerals, or if preceded by the prepositions in, by, etc, they add -s): also trout, salmon; head, sail; cannon; heathen, folk, people.

The words horse and foot, when they mean soldiery, retain the same form for plural meaning; as,—

The foot are fourscore thousand, The horse are thousands ten. —MACAULAY.

Lee marched over the mountain wall,— Over the mountains winding down, Horse and foot, into Frederick town. —WHITTIER.

III. Plurals formed by Adding -s or -es.

42. Instead of -s, the ending -es is added—

(1) If a word ends in a letter which cannot add -s and be pronounced. Such are box, cross, ditch, glass, lens, quartz, etc.

[Sidenote: -Es added in certain cases.]

If the word ends in a sound which cannot add -s, a new syllable is made; as, niche—niches, race—races, house—houses, prize—prizes, chaise—chaises, etc.

-Es is also added to a few words ending in -o, though this sound combines readily with -s, and does not make an extra syllable: cargo—cargoes, negro—negroes, hero—heroes, volcano—volcanoes, etc.

Usage differs somewhat in other words of this class, some adding -s, and some -es.

(2) If a word ends in -y preceded by a consonant (the y being then changed to i); e.g., fancies, allies, daisies, fairies.

[Sidenote: Words in -ies.]

Formerly, however, these words ended in -ie, and the real ending is therefore -s. Notice these from Chaucer (fourteenth century):—

[Sidenote: Their old form.]

The lilie on hir stalke grene. Of maladie the which he hadde endured.

And these from Spenser (sixteenth century):—

Be well aware, quoth then that ladie milde. At last fair Hesperus in highest skie Had spent his lampe.

(3) In the case of some words ending in -f or -fe, which have the plural in -ves: calfcalves, halfhalves, knifeknives, shelfshelves, etc.

Special Lists.

43. Material nouns and abstract nouns are always singular. When such words take a plural ending, they lose their identity, and go over to other classes (Secs. 15 and 17).

44. Proper nouns are regularly singular, but may be made plural when we wish to speak of several persons or things bearing the same name; e.g., the Washingtons, the Americas.

45. Some words are usually singular, though they are plural in form. Examples of these are, optics, economics, physics, mathematics, politics, and many branches of learning; also news, pains (care), molasses, summons, means: as,—

Politics, in its widest extent, is both the science and the art of government.—Century Dictionary.

So live, that when thy summons comes, etc.—BRYANT.

It served simply as a means of sight.—PROF. DANA.

[Sidenote: Means plural.]

Two words, means and politics, may be plural in their construction with verbs and adjectives:—

Words, by strongly conveying the passions, by those means which we have already mentioned, fully compensate for their weakness in other respects.—BURKE.

With great dexterity these means were now applied.—MOTLEY.

By these means, I say, riches will accumulate.—GOLDSMITH.

[Sidenote: Politics plural.]

Cultivating a feeling that politics are tiresome.—G.W. CURTIS.

The politics in which he took the keenest interest were politics scarcely deserving of the name.—MACAULAY.

Now I read all the politics that come out.—GOLDSMITH.

46. Some words have no corresponding singular.

aborigines amends annals assets antipodes scissors thanks spectacles vespers victuals matins nuptials oats obsequies premises bellows billiards dregs gallows tongs

[Sidenote: Occasionally singular words.]

Sometimes, however, a few of these words have the construction of singular nouns. Notice the following:—

They cannot get on without each other any more than one blade of a scissors can cut without the other.—J.L. LAUGHLIN.

A relic which, if I recollect right, he pronounced to have been a tongs.—IRVING.

Besides this, it is furnished with a forceps.—GOLDSMITH.

The air,—was it subdued when...the wind was trained only to turn a windmill, carry off chaff, or work in a bellows?—PROF. DANA.

In Early Modern English thank is found.

What thank have ye?—Bible

47. Three words were originally singular, the present ending -s not being really a plural inflection, but they are regularly construed as plural: alms, eaves, riches.

[Sidenote: two plurals.]

48. A few nouns have two plurals differing in meaning.

brother—brothers (by blood), brethren (of a society or church).

cloth—cloths (kinds of cloth), clothes (garments).

die—dies (stamps for coins, etc.), dice (for gaming).

fish—fish (collectively), fishes (individuals or kinds).

genius—geniuses (men of genius), genii (spirits).

index—indexes (to books), indices (signs in algebra).

pea—peas (separately), pease (collectively).

penny—pennies (separately), pence (collectively).

shot—shot (collective balls), shots (number of times fired).

In speaking of coins, twopence, sixpence, etc., may add -s, making a double plural, as two sixpences.

[Sidenote: One plural, two meanings.]

49. Other words have one plural form with two meanings,—one corresponding to the singular, the other unlike it.

custom—customs: (1) habits, ways; (2) revenue duties.

letter—letters: (1) the alphabet, or epistles; (2) literature.

number—numbers: (1) figures; (2) poetry, as in the lines,—

I lisped in numbers, for the numbers came.—POPE.

Tell me not, in mournful numbers.—LONGFELLOW.

Numbers also means issues, or copies, of a periodical.

pain—pains: (1) suffering; (2) care, trouble,

part—parts: (1) divisions; (2) abilities, faculties.

[Sidenote: Two classes of compound words.]

50. Compound words may be divided into two classes:—

(1) Those whose parts are so closely joined as to constitute one word. These make the last part plural.

courtyard dormouse Englishman fellow-servant fisherman Frenchman forget-me-not goosequill handful mouthful cupful maidservant pianoforte stepson spoonful titmouse

(2) Those groups in which the first part is the principal one, followed by a word or phrase making a modifier. The chief member adds -s in the plural.

aid-de-camp attorney at law billet-doux commander in chief court-martial cousin-german father-in-law knight-errant hanger-on

NOTE.—Some words ending in -man are not compounds of the English word man, but add -s; such as talisman, firman, Brahman, German, Norman, Mussulman, Ottoman.

51. Some groups pluralize both parts of the group; as man singer, manservant, woman servant, woman singer.

[Sidenote: Two methods in use for names with titles.]

52. As to plurals of names with titles, there is some disagreement among English writers. The title may be plural, as the Messrs. Allen, the Drs. Brown, the Misses Rich; or the name may be pluralized.

The former is perhaps more common in present-day use, though the latter is often found; for example,—

Then came Mr. and Mrs. Briggs, and then the three Miss Spinneys, then Silas Peckham.—DR. HOLMES.

Our immortal Fielding was of the younger branch of the Earls of Denbigh, who drew their origin from the Counts of Hapsburgh.—GIBBON.

The Miss Flamboroughs were reckoned the best dancers in the parish.—GOLDSMITH.

The Misses Nettengall's young ladies come to the Cathedral too.—DICKENS.

The Messrs. Harper have done the more than generous thing by Mr. Du Maurier.—The Critic.

53. A number of foreign words have been adopted into English without change of form. These are said to be domesticated, and retain their foreign plurals.

Others have been adopted, and by long use have altered their power so as to conform to English words. They are then said to be naturalized, or Anglicized, or Englished.

[Sidenote: Domesticated words.]

The domesticated words may retain the original plural. Some of them have a secondary English plural in -s or -es.


Find in the dictionary the plurals of these words:—


apparatus appendix axis datum erratum focus formula genus larva medium memorandum nebula radius series species stratum terminus vertex


analysis antithesis automaton basis crisis ellipsis hypothesis parenthesis phenomenon thesis

[Sidenote: Anglicized words.]

When the foreign words are fully naturalized, they form their plurals in the regular way; as,—

bandits cherubs dogmas encomiums enigmas focuses formulas geniuses herbariums indexes seraphs apexes

[Sidenote: Usage varies in plurals of letters, figures, etc.]

54. Letters, figures, etc., form their plurals by adding -s or 's. Words quoted merely as words, without reference to their meaning, also add -s or 's; as, "His 9's (or 9s) look like 7's (or 7s)," "Avoid using too many and's (or ands)," "Change the +'s (or +s) to -'s (or -s)."


[Sidenote: Definition.]

55. Case is an inflection or use of a noun (or pronoun) to show its relation to other words in the sentence.

In the sentence, "He sleeps in a felon's cell," the word felon's modifies cell, and expresses a relation akin to possession; cell has another relation, helping to express the idea of place with the word in.

56. In the general wearing-away of inflections, the number of case forms has been greatly reduced.

[Sidenote: Only two case forms.]

There are now only two case forms of English nouns,—one for the nominative and objective, one for the possessive: consequently the matter of inflection is a very easy thing to handle in learning about cases.

[Sidenote: Reasons for speaking of three cases of nouns.]

But there are reasons why grammars treat of three cases of nouns when there are only two forms:—

(1) Because the relations of all words, whether inflected or not, must be understood for purposes of analysis.

(2) Because pronouns still have three case forms as well as three case relations.

57. Nouns, then, may be said to have three cases,—the nominative, the objective, and the possessive.

I. Uses of the Nominative.

58. The nominative case is used as follows:—

(1) As the subject of a verb: "Water seeks its level."

(2) As a predicate noun, completing a verb, and referring to or explaining the subject: "A bent twig makes a crooked tree."

(3) In apposition with some other nominative word, adding to the meaning of that word: "The reaper Death with his sickle keen."

(4) In direct address: "Lord Angus, thou hast lied!"

(5) With a participle in an absolute or independent phrase (there is some discussion whether this is a true nominative): "The work done, they returned to their homes."

(6) With an infinitive in exclamations: "David to die!"


Pick out the nouns in the nominative case, and tell which use of the nominative each one has.

1. Moderate lamentation is the right of the dead; excessive grief, the enemy of the living.

2. Excuses are clothes which, when asked unawares, Good Breeding to naked Necessity spares.

3. Human experience is the great test of truth.

4. Cheerfulness and content are great beautifiers.

5. Three properties belong to wisdom,—nature, learning, and experience; three things characterize man,—person, fate, and merit.

6. But of all plagues, good Heaven, thy wrath can send, Save, save, oh save me from the candid friend!

7. Conscience, her first law broken, wounded lies.

8. They charged, sword in hand and visor down.

9. O sleep! O gentle sleep! Nature's soft nurse, how have I frighted thee?

II. Uses of the Objective.

59. The objective case is used as follows:—

(1) As the direct object of a verb, naming the person or thing directly receiving the action of the verb: "Woodman, spare that tree!"

(2) As the indirect object of a verb, naming the person or thing indirectly affected by the action of the verb: "Give the devil his due."

(3) Adverbially, defining the action of a verb by denoting time, measure, distance, etc. (in the older stages of the language, this took the regular accusative inflection): "Full fathom five thy father lies;" "Cowards die many times before their deaths."

(4) As the second object, completing the verb, and thus becoming part of the predicate in acting upon an object: "Time makes the worst enemies friends;" "Thou makest the storm a calm." In these sentences the real predicates are makes friends, taking the object enemies, and being equivalent to one verb, reconciles; and makest a calm, taking the object storm, and meaning calmest. This is also called the predicate objective or the factitive object.

(5) As the object of a preposition, the word toward which the preposition points, and which it joins to another word: "He must have a long spoon that would eat with the devil."

The preposition sometimes takes the possessive case of a noun, as will be seen in Sec. 68.

(6) In apposition with another objective: "The opinions of this junto were completely controlled by Nicholas Vedder, a patriarch of the village, and landlord of the inn."


Point out the nouns in the objective case in these sentences, and tell which use each has:—

1. Tender men sometimes have strong wills.

2. Necessity is the certain connection between cause and effect.

3. Set a high price on your leisure moments; they are sands of precious gold.

4. But the flood came howling one day.

5. I found the urchin Cupid sleeping.

6. Five times every year he was to be exposed in the pillory.

7. The noblest mind the best contentment has.

8. Multitudes came every summer to visit that famous natural curiosity, the Great Stone Face.

9. And whirling plate, and forfeits paid, His winter task a pastime made.

10. He broke the ice on the streamlet's brink, And gave the leper to eat and drink.

III. Uses of the Possessive.

60. The possessive case always modifies another word, expressed or understood. There are three forms of possessive showing how a word is related in sense to the modified word:—

(1) Appositional possessive, as in these expressions,—

The blind old man of Scio's rocky isle.—BYRON.

Beside a pumice isle in Baiae's bay.—SHELLEY.

In these sentences the phrases are equivalent to of the rocky isle [of] Scio, and in the bay [of] Baiae, the possessive being really equivalent here to an appositional objective. It is a poetic expression, the equivalent phrase being used in prose.

(2) Objective possessive, as shown in the sentences,—

Ann Turner had taught her the secret before this last good lady had been hanged for Sir Thomas Overbury's murder.—HAWTHORNE.

He passes to-day in building an air castle for to-morrow, or in writing yesterday's elegy.—THACKERAY

In these the possessives are equivalent to an objective after a verbal expression: as, for murdering Sir Thomas Overbury; an elegy to commemorate yesterday. For this reason the use of the possessive here is called objective.

(3) Subjective possessive, the most common of all; as,—

The unwearied sun, from day to day, Does his Creator's power display. —ADDISON.

If this were expanded into the power which his Creator possesses, the word Creator would be the subject of the verb: hence it is called a subjective possessive.

61. This last-named possessive expresses a variety of relations. Possession in some sense is the most common. The kind of relation may usually be found by expanding the possessive into an equivalent phrase: for example, "Winter's rude tempests are gathering now" (i.e., tempests that winter is likely to have); "His beard was of several days' growth" (i.e., growth which several days had developed); "The forest's leaping panther shall yield his spotted hide" (i.e., the panther which the forest hides); "Whoso sheddeth man's blood" (blood that man possesses).

[Sidenote: How the possessive is formed.]

62. As said before (Sec. 56), there are only two case forms. One is the simple form of a word, expressing the relations of nominative and objective; the other is formed by adding 's to the simple form, making the possessive singular. To form the possessive plural, only the apostrophe is added if the plural nominative ends in -s; the 's is added if the plural nominative does not end in -s.

Case Inflection.

[Sidenote: Declension or inflection of nouns.]

63. The full declension of nouns is as follows:—


1. Nom. and Obj. lady ladies Poss. lady's ladies'

2. Nom. and Obj. child children Poss. child's children's

[Sidenote: A suggestion.]

NOTE.—The difficulty that some students have in writing the possessive plural would be lessened if they would remember there are two steps to be taken:—

(1) Form the nominative plural according to Secs 39-53

(2) Follow the rule given in Sec. 62.

Special Remarks on the Possessive Case.

[Sidenote: Origin of the possessive with its apostrophe.]

64. In Old English a large number of words had in the genitive case singular the ending -es; in Middle English still more words took this ending: for example, in Chaucer, "From every schires ende," "Full worthi was he in his lordes werre [war]," "at his beddes syde," "mannes herte [heart]," etc.

[Sidenote: A false theory.]

By the end of the seventeenth century the present way of indicating the possessive had become general. The use of the apostrophe, however, was not then regarded as standing for the omitted vowel of the genitive (as lord's for lordes): by a false theory the ending was thought to be a contraction of his, as schoolboys sometimes write, "George Jones his book."

[Sidenote: Use of the apostrophe.]

Though this opinion was untrue, the apostrophe has proved a great convenience, since otherwise words with a plural in -s would have three forms alike. To the eye all the forms are now distinct, but to the ear all may be alike, and the connection must tell us what form is intended.

The use of the apostrophe in the plural also began in the seventeenth century, from thinking that s was not a possessive sign, and from a desire to have distinct forms.

[Sidenote: Sometimes s is left out in the possessive singular.]

65. Occasionally the s is dropped in the possessive singular if the word ends in a hissing sound and another hissing sound follows, but the apostrophe remains to mark the possessive; as, for goodness' sake, Cervantes' satirical work.

In other cases the s is seldom omitted. Notice these three examples from Thackeray's writings: "Harry ran upstairs to his mistress's apartment;" "A postscript is added, as by the countess's command;" "I saw what the governess's views were of the matter."

[Sidenote: Possessive with compound expressions.]

66. In compound expressions, containing words in apposition, a word with a phrase, etc., the possessive sign is usually last, though instances are found with both appositional words marked.

Compare the following examples of literary usage:—

Do not the Miss Prys, my neighbors, know the amount of my income, the items of my son's, Captain Scrapegrace's, tailor's bill—THACKERAY.

The world's pomp and power sits there on this hand: on that, stands up for God's truth one man, the poor miner Hans Luther's son.—CARLYLE.

They invited me in the emperor their master's name.—SWIFT.

I had naturally possessed myself of Richardson the painter's thick octavo volumes of notes on the "Paradise Lost."—DE QUINCEY.

They will go to Sunday schools to teach classes of little children the age of Methuselah or the dimensions of Og the king of Bashan's bedstead.—HOLMES.

More common still is the practice of turning the possessive into an equivalent phrase; as, in the name of the emperor their master, instead of the emperor their master's name.

[Sidenote: Possessive and no noun limited.]

67. The possessive is sometimes used without belonging to any noun in the sentence; some such word as house, store, church, dwelling, etc., being understood with it: for example,—

Here at the fruiterer's the Madonna has a tabernacle of fresh laurel leaves.—RUSKIN.

It is very common for people to say that they are disappointed in the first sight of St. Peter's.—LOWELL.

I remember him in his cradle at St. James's.—THACKERAY.

Kate saw that; and she walked off from the don's.—DE QUINCEY.

[Sidenote: The double possessive.]

68. A peculiar form, a double possessive, has grown up and become a fixed idiom in modern English.

In most cases, a possessive relation was expressed in Old English by the inflection -es, corresponding to 's. The same relation was expressed in French by a phrase corresponding to of and its object. Both of these are now used side by side; sometimes they are used together, as one modifier, making a double possessive. For this there are several reasons:—

[Sidenote: Its advantages: Euphony.]

(1) When a word is modified by a, the, this, that, every, no, any, each, etc., and at the same time by a possessive noun, it is distasteful to place the possessive before the modified noun, and it would also alter the meaning: we place it after the modified noun with of.

[Sidenote: Emphasis.]

(2) It is more emphatic than the simple possessive, especially when used with this or that, for it brings out the modified word in strong relief.

[Sidenote: Clearness.]

(3) It prevents ambiguity. For example, in such a sentence as, "This introduction of Atterbury's has all these advantages" (Dr. Blair), the statement clearly means only one thing,—the introduction which Atterbury made. If, however, we use the phrase of Atterbury, the sentence might be understood as just explained, or it might mean this act of introducing Atterbury. (See also Sec. 87.)

The following are some instances of double possessives:—

This Hall of Tinville's is dark, ill-lighted except where she stands.—CARLYLE.

Those lectures of Lowell's had a great influence with me, and I used to like whatever they bade me like.—HOWELLS

Niebuhr remarks that no pointed sentences of Caesar's can have come down to us.—FROUDE.

Besides these famous books of Scott's and Johnson's, there is a copious "Life" by Thomas Sheridan.—THACKERAY

Always afterwards on occasions of ceremony, he wore that quaint old French sword of the Commodore's.—E.E. HALE.


(a) Pick out the possessive nouns, and tell whether each is appositional, objective, or subjective.

(b) Rewrite the sentence, turning the possessives into equivalent phrases.

1. I don't choose a hornet's nest about my ears.

2. Shall Rome stand under one man's awe?

3. I must not see thee Osman's bride.

4. At lovers' perjuries, They say, Jove laughs.

5. The world has all its eyes on Cato's son.

6. My quarrel and the English queen's are one.

7. Now the bright morning star, day's harbinger, Comes dancing from the East.

8. A man's nature runs either to herbs or weeds; therefore, let him seasonably water the one, and destroy the other.

9. 'Tis all men's office to speak patience To those that wring under the load of sorrow.

10. A jest's prosperity lies in the ear Of him that hears it, never in the tongue Of him that makes it.

11. No more the juice of Egypt's grape shall moist his lip.

12. There Shakespeare's self, with every garland crowned, Flew to those fairy climes his fancy sheen.

13. What supports me? dost thou ask? The conscience, Friend, to have lost them [his eyes] overplied In liberty's defence.

14. Or where Campania's plain forsaken lies, A weary waste expanding to the skies.

15. Nature herself, it seemed, would raise A minster to her Maker's praise!


69. Parsing a word is putting together all the facts about its form and its relations to other words in the sentence.

In parsing, some idioms—the double possessive, for example—do not come under regular grammatical rules, and are to be spoken of merely as idioms.

70. Hence, in parsing a noun, we state,—

(1) The class to which it belongs,—common, proper, etc.

(2) Whether a neuter or a gender noun; if the latter, which gender.

(3) Whether singular or plural number.

(4) Its office in the sentence, determining its case.

[Sidenote: The correct method.]

71. In parsing any word, the following method should always be followed: tell the facts about what the word does, then make the grammatical statements as to its class, inflections, and relations.


"What is bolder than a miller's neckcloth, which takes a thief by the throat every morning?"

Miller's is a name applied to every individual of its class, hence it is a common noun; it is the name of a male being, hence it is a gender noun, masculine; it denotes only one person, therefore singular number; it expresses possession or ownership, and limits neckcloth, therefore possessive case.

Neckcloth, like miller's, is a common class noun; it has no sex, therefore neuter; names one thing, therefore singular number; subject of the verb is understood, and therefore nominative case.

Thief is a common class noun; the connection shows a male is meant, therefore masculine gender; singular number; object of the verb takes, hence objective case.

Throat is neuter, of the same class and number as the word neckcloth; it is the object of the preposition by, hence it is objective case.

NOTE.—The preposition sometimes takes the possessive case (see Sec. 68).

Morning is like throat and neckcloth as to class, gender, and number; as to case, it expresses time, has no governing word, but is the adverbial objective.


Follow the model above in parsing all the nouns in the following sentences:—

1. To raise a monument to departed worth is to perpetuate virtue.

2. The greatest pleasure I know is to do a good action by stealth, and to have it found out by accident.

3. An old cloak makes a new jerkin; a withered serving man, a fresh tapster.

4. That in the captain's but a choleric word, Which in the soldier is flat blasphemy.

5. Now, blessings light on him that first invented ... sleep!

6. Necker, financial minister to Louis XVI., and his daughter, Madame de Stael, were natives of Geneva.

7. He giveth his beloved sleep.

8. Time makes the worst enemies friends.

9. A few miles from this point, where the Rhone enters the lake, stands the famous Castle of Chillon, connected with the shore by a drawbridge,—palace, castle, and prison, all in one.

10. Wretches! ye loved her for her wealth, And hated her for her pride.

11. Mrs. Jarley's back being towards him, the military gentleman shook his forefinger.


[Sidenote: The need of pronouns.]

72. When we wish to speak of a name several times in succession, it is clumsy and tiresome to repeat the noun. For instance, instead of saying, "The pupil will succeed in the pupil's efforts if the pupil is ambitious," we improve the sentence by shortening it thus, "The pupil will succeed in his efforts if he is ambitious."

Again, if we wish to know about the ownership of a house, we evidently cannot state the owner's name, but by a question we say, "Whose house is that?" thus placing a word instead of the name till we learn the name.

This is not to be understood as implying that pronouns were invented because nouns were tiresome, since history shows that pronouns are as old as nouns and verbs. The use of pronouns must have sprung up naturally, from a necessity for short, definite, and representative words.

[Sidenote: Definition.]

A pronoun is a reference word, standing for a name, or for a person or thing, or for a group of persons or things.

[Sidenote: Classes of pronouns.]

73. Pronouns may be grouped in five classes:—

(1) Personal pronouns, which distinguish person by their form (Sec. 76).

(2) Interrogative pronouns, which are used to ask questions about persons or things.

(3) Relative pronouns, which relate or refer to a noun, pronoun, or other word or expression, and at the same time connect two statements They are also called conjunctive.

(4) Adjective pronouns, words, primarily adjectives, which are classed as adjectives when they modify nouns, but as pronouns when they stand for nouns.

(5) Indefinite pronouns, which cannot be used as adjectives, but stand for an indefinite number of persons or things.

Numerous examples of all these will be given under the separate classes hereafter treated.


[Sidenote: Person in grammar.]

74. Since pronouns stand for persons as well as names, they must represent the person talking, the person or thing spoken to, and the person or thing talked about.

This gives rise to a new term, "the distinction of person."

[Sidenote: Person of nouns.]

75. This distinction was not needed in discussing nouns, as nouns have the same form, whether representing persons and things spoken to or spoken of. It is evident that a noun could not represent the person speaking, even if it had a special form.

From analogy to pronouns, which have forms for person, nouns are sometimes spoken of as first or second person by their use; that is, if they are in apposition with a pronoun of the first or second person, they are said to have person by agreement.

But usually nouns represent something spoken of.

[Sidenote: Three persons of pronouns.]

76. Pronouns naturally are of three persons:—

(1) First person, representing the person speaking.

(2) Second person, representing a person or thing spoken to.

(3) Third person, standing for a person or thing spoken of.


77. Personal pronouns are inflected thus:—

FIRST PERSON. Singular. Nom. I Poss. mine, my Obj. me

Plural. Nom. we Poss. our, ours Obj. us

SECOND PERSON. Singular. Old Form Common Form. Nom. thou you Poss. thine, thy your, yours Obj. thee you

Plural. Nom. ye you Poss. your, yours your, yours Obj. you you

THIRD PERSON. Singular. Masc. Fem. Neut.. Nom. he she it Poss. his her, hers its Obj. him her it

Plur. of all Three. Nom. they Poss. their, theirs Obj. them

Remarks on These Forms.

[Sidenote: First and second persons without gender.]

78. It will be noticed that the pronouns of the first and second persons have no forms to distinguish gender. The speaker may be either male or female, or, by personification, neuter; so also with the person or thing spoken to.

[Sidenote: Third person singular has gender.]

But the third person has, in the singular, a separate form for each gender, and also for the neuter.

[Sidenote: Old forms.]

In Old English these three were formed from the same root; namely, masculine he, feminine heo, neuter hit.

The form hit (for it) is still heard in vulgar English, and hoo (for heo) in some dialects of England.

The plurals were hi, heora, heom, in Old English; the forms they, their, them, perhaps being from the English demonstrative, though influenced by the cognate Norse forms.

[Sidenote: Second person always plural in ordinary English.]

79. Thou, thee, etc., are old forms which are now out of use in ordinary speech. The consequence is, that we have no singular pronoun of the second person in ordinary speech or prose, but make the plural you do duty for the singular. We use it with a plural verb always, even when referring to a single object.

[Sidenote: Two uses of the old singulars.]

80. There are, however, two modern uses of thou, thy, etc.:—

(1) In elevated style, especially in poetry; as,—

With thy clear keen joyance Languor cannot be; Shadow of annoyance Never came near thee; Thou lovest; but ne'er knew love's sad satiety.—SHELLEY.

(2) In addressing the Deity, as in prayers, etc.; for example,—

Oh, thou Shepherd of Israel, that didst comfort thy people of old, to thy care we commit the helpless.—BEECHER.

[Sidenote: The form its.]

81. It is worth while to consider the possessive its. This is of comparatively recent growth. The old form was his (from the nominative hit), and this continued in use till the sixteenth century. The transition from the old his to the modern its is shown in these sentences:—

1 He anointed the altar and all his vessels.—Bible

Here his refers to altar, which is a neuter noun. The quotation represents the usage of the early sixteenth century.

2 It's had it head bit off by it young—SHAKESPEARE

Shakespeare uses his, it, and sometimes its, as possessive of it.

In Milton's poetry (seventeenth century) its occurs only three times.

3 See heaven its sparkling portals wide display—POPE

[Sidenote: A relic of the olden time.]

82. We have an interesting relic in such sentences as this from Thackeray: "One of the ways to know 'em is to watch the scared looks of the ogres' wives and children."

As shown above, the Old English objective was hem (or heom), which was often sounded with the h silent, just as we now say, "I saw 'im yesterday" when the word him is not emphatic. In spoken English, this form 'em has survived side by side with the literary them.

[Sidenote: Use of the pronouns in personification.]

83. The pronouns he and she are often used in poetry, and sometimes in ordinary speech, to personify objects (Sec. 34).


I The Nominative.

[Sidenote: Nominative forms.]

84. The nominative forms of personal pronouns have the same uses as the nominative of nouns (see Sec. 58). The case of most of these pronouns can be determined more easily than the case of nouns, for, besides a nominative use, they have a nominative form. The words I, thou, he, she, we, ye, they, are very rarely anything but nominative in literary English, though ye is occasionally used as objective.

[Sidenote: Additional nominatives in spoken English.]

85. In spoken English, however, there are some others that are added to the list of nominatives: they are, me, him, her, us, them, when they occur in the predicate position. That is, in such a sentence as, "I am sure it was him," the literary language would require he after was; but colloquial English regularly uses as predicate nominatives the forms me, him, her, us, them, though those named in Sec. 84 are always subjects. Yet careful speakers avoid this, and follow the usage of literary English.

II. The Possessive.

[Sidenote: Not a separate class.]

86. The forms my, thy, his, her, its, our, your, their, are sometimes grouped separately as POSSESSIVE PRONOUNS, but it is better to speak of them as the possessive case of personal pronouns, just as we speak of the possessive case of nouns, and not make more classes.

[Sidenote: Absolute personal pronouns.]

The forms mine, thine, yours, hers, theirs, sometimes his and its, have a peculiar use, standing apart from the words they modify instead of immediately before them. From this use they are called ABSOLUTE PERSONAL PRONOUNS, or, some say, ABSOLUTE POSSESSIVES.

As instances of the use of absolute pronouns, note the following:—

'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands. —SHAKESPEARE.

And since thou own'st that praise, I spare thee mine.—COWPER.

My arm better than theirs can ward it off.—LANDOR.

Thine are the city and the people of Granada.—BULWER.

[Sidenote: Old use of mine and thine.]

Formerly mine and thine stood before their nouns, if the nouns began with a vowel or h silent; thus,—

Shall I not take mine ease in mine inn?—SHAKESPEARE.

Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice.—Id.

If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.—Bible.

My greatest apprehension was for mine eyes.—SWIFT.

This usage is still preserved in poetry.

[Sidenote: Double and triple possessives.]

87. The forms hers, ours, yours, theirs, are really double possessives, since they add the possessive s to what is already a regular possessive inflection.

Besides this, we have, as in nouns, a possessive phrase made up of the preposition of with these double possessives, hers, ours, yours, theirs, and with mine, thine, his, sometimes its.

[Sidenote: Their uses.]

Like the noun possessives, they have several uses:—

(1) To prevent ambiguity, as in the following:—

I have often contrasted the habitual qualities of that gloomy friend of theirs with the astounding spirits of Thackeray and Dickens.—J.T. FIELDS.

No words of ours can describe the fury of the conflict.—J.F. COOPER.

(2) To bring emphasis, as in these sentences:—

This thing of yours that you call a Pardon of Sins, it is a bit of rag-paper with ink.—CARLYLE.

This ancient silver bowl of mine, it tells of good old times. —HOLMES.

(3) To express contempt, anger, or satire; for example,—

"Do you know the charges that unhappy sister of mine and her family have put me to already?" says the Master.—THACKERAY.

He [John Knox] had his pipe of Bordeaux too, we find, in that old Edinburgh house of his.—CARLYLE.

"Hold thy peace, Long Allen," said Henry Woodstall, "I tell thee that tongue of thine is not the shortest limb about thee."—SCOTT.

(4) To make a noun less limited in application; thus,—

A favorite liar and servant of mine was a man I once had to drive a brougham.—THACKERAY.

In New York I read a newspaper criticism one day, commenting upon a letter of mine.—Id.

What would the last two sentences mean if the word my were written instead of of mine, and preceded the nouns?

[Sidenote: About the case of absolute pronouns.]

88. In their function, or use in a sentence, the absolute possessive forms of the personal pronouns are very much like adjectives used as nouns.

In such sentences as, "The good alone are great," "None but the brave deserves the fair," the words italicized have an adjective force and also a noun force, as shown in Sec. 20.

So in the sentences illustrating absolute pronouns in Sec. 86: mine stands for my property, his for his property, in the first sentence; mine stands for my praise in the second. But the first two have a nominative use, and mine in the second has an objective use.

They may be spoken of as possessive in form, but nominative or objective in use, according as the modified word is in the nominative or the objective.

III. The Objective.

[Sidenote: The old dative case.]

89. In Old English there was one case which survives in use, but not in form. In such a sentence as this one from Thackeray, "Pick me out a whip-cord thong with some dainty knots in it," the word me is evidently not the direct object of the verb, but expresses for whom, for whose benefit, the thing is done. In pronouns, this dative use, as it is called, was marked by a separate case.

[Sidenote: Now the objective.]

In Modern English the same use is frequently seen, but the form is the same as the objective. For this reason a word thus used is called a dative-objective.

The following are examples of the dative-objective:—

Give me neither poverty nor riches.—Bible.

Curse me this people.—Id.

Both joined in making him a present.—MACAULAY

Is it not enough that you have burnt me down three houses with your dog's tricks, and be hanged to you!—LAMB

I give thee this to wear at the collar.—SCOTT

[Sidenote: Other uses of the objective.]

90. Besides this use of the objective, there are others:—

(1) As the direct object of a verb.

They all handled it.—LAMB

(2) As the object of a preposition.

Time is behind them and before them.—CARLYLE.

(3) In apposition.

She sate all last summer by the bedside of the blind beggar, him that so often and so gladly I talked with.—DE QUINCEY.


[Sidenote: Indefinite use of you and your.]

91. The word you, and its possessive case yours are sometimes used without reference to a particular person spoken to. They approach the indefinite pronoun in use.

Your mere puny stripling, that winced at the least flourish of the rod, was passed by with indulgence.—IRVING

To empty here, you must condense there.—EMERSON.

The peasants take off their hats as you pass; you sneeze, and they cry, "God bless you!" The thrifty housewife shows you into her best chamber. You have oaten cakes baked some months before.—LONGFELLOW

[Sidenote: Uses of it.]

92. The pronoun it has a number of uses:—

(1) To refer to some single word preceding; as,—

Ferdinand ordered the army to recommence its march.—BULWER.

Society, in this century, has not made its progress, like Chinese skill, by a greater acuteness of ingenuity in trifles.—D. WEBSTER.

(2) To refer to a preceding word group; thus,—

If any man should do wrong merely out of ill nature, why, yet it is but like the thorn or brier, which prick and scratch because they can do no other.—BACON.

Here it refers back to the whole sentence before it, or to the idea, "any man's doing wrong merely out of ill nature."

(3) As a grammatical subject, to stand for the real, logical subject, which follows the verb; as in the sentences,—

It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion. —EMERSON.

It is this haziness of intellectual vision which is the malady of all classes of men by nature.—NEWMAN.

It is a pity that he has so much learning, or that he has not a great deal more.—ADDISON.

(4) As an impersonal subject in certain expressions which need no other subject; as,—

It is finger-cold, and prudent farmers get in their barreled apples.—THOREAU.

And when I awoke, it rained.—COLERIDGE.

For when it dawned, they dropped their arms.—Id.

It was late and after midnight.—DE QUINCEY.

(5) As an impersonal or indefinite object of a verb or a preposition; as in the following sentences:—

(a) Michael Paw, who lorded it over the fair regions of ancient Pavonia.—IRVING.

I made up my mind to foot it.—HAWTHORNE.

A sturdy lad ... who in turn tries all the professions, who teams it, farms it, peddles it, keeps a school.—EMERSON.

(b) "Thy mistress leads thee a dog's life of it."—IRVING.

There was nothing for it but to return.—SCOTT.

An editor has only to say "respectfully declined," and there is an end of it.—HOLMES.

Poor Christian was hard put to it.—BUNYAN.

[Sidenote: Reflexive use of the personal pronouns.]

93. The personal pronouns in the objective case are often used reflexively; that is, referring to the same person as the subject of the accompanying verb. For example, we use such expressions as, "I found me a good book," "He bought him a horse," etc. This reflexive use of the dative-objective is very common in spoken and in literary English.

The personal pronouns are not often used reflexively, however, when they are direct objects. This occurs in poetry, but seldom in prose; as,—

Now I lay me down to sleep.—ANON.

I set me down and sigh.—BURNS.

And millions in those solitudes, since first The flight of years began, have laid them down In their last sleep.—BRYANT.


[Sidenote: Composed of the personal pronouns with -self, -selves.]

94. The REFLEXIVE PRONOUNS, or COMPOUND PERSONAL, as they are also called, are formed from the personal pronouns by adding the word self, and its plural selves.

They are myself, (ourself), ourselves, yourself, (thyself), yourselves, himself, herself, itself, themselves.

Of the two forms in parentheses, the second is the old form of the second person, used in poetry.

Ourself is used to follow the word we when this represents a single person, especially in the speech of rulers; as,—

Methinks he seems no better than a girl; As girls were once, as we ourself have been.—TENNYSON.

[Sidenote: Origin of these reflexives.]

95. The question might arise, Why are himself and themselves not hisself and theirselves, as in vulgar English, after the analogy of myself, ourselves, etc.?

The history of these words shows they are made up of the dative-objective forms, not the possessive forms, with self. In Middle English the forms meself, theself, were changed into the possessive myself, thyself, and the others were formed by analogy with these. Himself and themselves are the only ones retaining a distinct objective form.

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