A Guide to Chaucer’s Language by David Burnley (auth.)

By David Burnley (auth.)

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Taking their cue from the implication of the choice of perfect rather than preterite in (b), the tabletennis enthusiasts politely enquire after the wishes of their acquaintance. Summing up this short excursion into some of the systems of the modern English verb, it is clear that time reference is a complicated matter, involving not only the simple chronological divisions of present, future, and past, but also many subdivisions within these. Moreover, the different tenses of the verb contain far more information than we are accustomed to think; for example, whether an action in the past has repercussions in the present; whether an action is thought of as habitual, continuing, or completed: such significance· is usually called the aspect of the verb.

When addressed to two or more recipients, the imperative usually ends in -eth, but also very frequently is endingless: With long swerd and with mace fighteth your fille. Go now youre wey; (A 2559-60) Taketh the moralitee, goode men. (B 4630) In addressing a single individual, there is a similar variation between forms in -eth and endingless forms, but here a stylistic distinction is found which corresponds to the use of ye and thou in addressing individuals. The -eth inflexion is usually used in the context of ye, the endingless form in the context of thou: Now telleth ye, sire monk, if that ye konne ; (A 3118) And also thynk and ther with glade the.

The forms of the possessive, myn and thyn, are those which are found before a word beginning in a vowel. Like the 'intrusive r' in modern English phrases such as 'law and order', the n serves here to break the unpleasant hiatus arising from the juxtaposition of vowel sounds in neighbouring syllables. In Chaucer's language, initial h is not regarded as a true consonant, but merely as an aspiration, so that words beginning with h can be regarded as equivalent to those beginning with a vowel: This was thyn ooth and myn also certeyn; (A 1139) Allas myn hertes queene, allas my wif.

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