English verb in 18th-19th grammars




Relevant features in the description of the English verb in some 18th and 19th century grammars 

Luis Quereda Rodríguez-Navarro

Universidad de Granada


            There is general agreement in qualifying English grammars of the 18th and 19th century as Latin-oriented, prescriptive and relying too much on meaning.[1] Our position, however, is closer to Algeo's than to these former approaches. Algeo thinks that: 

The dependence of early English grammars on Latin models has been somewhat exaggerated. Most of the first English grammars recognized the considerable structural differences between Latin and English and accounted for them, often in innovative and perceptive ways, albeit within the overarching requirement that English be described with the general categories of Latin. (Algeo, 1986:309) 

            In general, 18th and 19th century grammarians sought to describe English grammar on its own terms, and, although meaning is quite often the basis of their analysis, they also consider form and function more extensively than has traditionally been recognized. In relation to the analysis of the verb, which is our topic here, we want to point out that one of the most important theoretical problems, widely discussed both by these 18th and 19th century grammarians and by those modern grammarians who have analysed their work, has been the definition of the real position which inflected endings and auxiliary verbs occupy within the verbal system to form what has traditionally been called the different modes and tenses. Most modern descriptions of English accept that the structure of the English verb phrase is that of auxiliary + main verb. But, as far as we are aware, no serious attempt has yet been made to define and limit the scope of this auxiliary element. Most people mistakenly identify the auxiliary element with auxiliary verbs.[2] However, Quereda (1993) has proved that the auxiliary element in the English verb phrase is not only formed by auxiliary verbs (have, be, do, may, etc.), but also by semi-auxiliary verbs (is to, is going to, have to, etc.), inflections (-s, -ed1, -ed2, -ing) and by some free morphemes such as to and not, besides phonological features such as intonation, emphasis, etc. We shall study in this paper the position of these grammarians in relation to this problem and attempt to show that, in some way, their position was not as inaccurate and Latinist as many critics want us to believe.

            In these grammars we find two radical positions. In the first place, there were grammarians, a small minority, who thought that inflection was the only possibility in the English verbal paradigm: to recognize a "tense" or a "mode" in English, the verb needs to suffer some change by means of the addition or dropping of some kind of inflection. In the second place, there were other grammarians, the great majority, who considered that the English language required the help of some auxiliaries to form such "tenses" and "modes". These two positions, surprisingly, have always been presented as contradictory, when, as we shall see, those who accepted tenses and modes realized by auxiliaries never rejected the idea of "tenses" realized by means of inflections. And probably, what is less understandable, grammarians who have defended the second position have always been accused of trying to impose Latin moulds on the English language. We shall now analyse both positions and the problems related to them.

            Some grammarians saw inflectional variation as a prerequisite for the consideration of tenses and modes. One of the first grammarians to defend this theory is Wallis.[3]  He is followed, among others, by Priestley. Priestley is the most emphatic advocate of the view that English had only two tenses. Unlike all the earlier grammarians except Wallis he sees that the fundamental question is how the term tense is to be interpreted: 

  The only natural rule for the use of technical terms to express time, &c. is to apply them to distinguish the different modifications of words; and it seems wrong to confound the account of inflections, either with the grammatical uses of the combinations of words, of the order in which they are placed, or of the words which express relations, and which are equivalent to inflections in other languages ... A little reflection may, I think, suffice to convince any person, that we have no more business with a future tense in our language, than we have with the whole system of Latin moods and tenses; because we have no modification of our verbs to correspond with it. (Priestley, 1762), added in the 2nd ed. 1768, pp vii and viii). 

            In America, it is Brown (1823),[4] although perhaps in a more timid way, who defended this position.

            The first explicit repudiation of mood[5]is made by James Greenwood, in 1711.[6] Greenwood is followed by Loughton (1734), Collyer (1735) and the New English Accidence (1735). Lynch is of the same opinion since he admits:

  No more modes should be admitted in a language than there are different inflexions of the verb for expressing the various manners of mental affirmation. (Patrick Lynch, 1796:39). 

            Priestley would have liked to deny English any moods but was too honest to do so. In 1762 he goes so far as to say: 

            English has none ... except if I be. (Priestley, 1762:98). 

            Grammarians opposed to the consideration of periphrastic forms (ie., "uninflected forms") as modes and tenses argued that meaning was not a good criterion to follow. Priestley, for example, claims that: 

  It is easy to see that, upon these principles, moods might have been increased almost ad infinitum: since the ways a sentence may be modified, or vary from a direct assertion, are innumerable: for instance, for the same reason that a wish constitutes a mood, an interrogation might constitute one, a permission another, and so on without end. (Priestley, 1762:100). 

            These authors, however, found themselves in an awkward position when having to classify all the other verb_forms. By restricting English tenses to two, they had to classify those parts formed by auxiliaries not in terms of tense or mood, but in terms of the 'rest' of the verb. This, indeed, is not theoretically tenable. Thus, for example, Wallis, at the end of his study of the English verb, gives, without any further explanation, a list of the forms which English had to render Latin moods.[7] The problem of such a list is twofold. In the first place, we do not know what the real relation between the two English tenses and all the other forms is. And secondly, since these forms are neither tenses nor modes, we do not really know their role within the system.

            This, and not the Latin influence, was probably the reason why most of the 18th and 19th century grammarians considered that there was nothing wrong with accepting the combination of auxiliaries and main verb as real English "tenses" or "modes", and that, therefore, both inflectional variation and combinations with auxiliary verbs should be considered as possible English tenses or moods. Although none of them overtly declares his position in relation to this point, most of the 18th and 19th century grammarians follow this line in some way or another. Greene, for example, says: 

            Mode is indicated chiefly by auxiliary verbs. (Greene, 1874:59). 

            Ash clearly distinguishes between "tenses" realized by means of inflections and those by means of auxiliaries:[8] 

The verb itself has but two terminations respecting time: as, love, and loved; which last may be called the Inflexion of the preter or past tense. (Ash, 1785:47): 

Other tenses, as well as modes, are formed with the auxiliaries to, do, did, have, had, shall, will, may, can, must, might, would, could and should. (Ash, 1785:45). 

            Most of us would agree with the following argument offered by Bullions in relation with all this controversy, which we cannot refrain from quoting, despite its length. Bullions says: 

Some Grammarians are of the opinion that no more moods or tenses ought to be assigned to the verb in English, than are distinguished by difference of form in the simple verb. This principle rejects at once the whole passive voice; and in the active, retains only the present and past tense of the indicative mood, and the present of the subjunctive. To carry out this principle to its full extent, we should reject also the plural number of the tenses that are left; for this is always in the same form with the first person singular. This certainly reduces the English verb to very narrow limits, and renders it a very simple thing; so simple, indeed, as to be of little use, being capable of expressing an action or state only in two relations of time. This simplification of the verb, however, tends only to perplex the language; for though it reduces the number of moods and tenses, it does not, and can not, reduce the number of the forms of speech by which the different times or modes of action are expressed. It is certain, for example, that we have such forms of speech as, "I have loved", "shall loved", "might love," &c. ... This theory has its foundation in the supposition, that a tense, or mood must necessarily mean a distinct form of the simple. This supposition, however, is entirely gratuitous. There is nothing in the meaning of the word mood or tense, which countenances it. A verb is a word which expresses action; tense expresses the action connected with certain relations of time; mood, represents it as farther modified by circumstances of contingency, conditionality, &c.; but whether these modifications are expressed by a change in the form of the simple verb, or by its combination with certain auxiliaries seems to be a matter perfectly indifferent. Indeed, the generally received opinion is, that the different forms of the verb, denominated mood and tense, in Latin and Greek, are nothing more than the incorporation of the auxiliary with the root of the simple verb. If so, why should not the uniform juxtaposition of the auxiliary with the verb, to answer the same purpose, be called by the same name? If a certain auxiliary, connected with a verb, express a certain relation of time, properly denominated the future tense: what essential difference can it make, whether the two words combine into one, or merely stand together? On the whole, then, there is nothing gained by the proposed simplification: Indeed, on the contrary, much, even of simplicity, is lost; and it moreover deprives our language of the analogy which it has in mood and tense with other languages, modern as well as ancient; and if adopted, instead of smoothing the path of the learner, it would tend only to perplex and obscure it. (Bullions, 1846:37-38).

            This approach is sounder than that of the defenders of inflectional variation, since the position of both forms within the system is clearly stated: a "principal" verb can be modified not only by inflections but also by auxiliary verbs. This position, nevertheless, entails another difficult problem in English grammar, one which is crucial for an accurate description of the English verb: that of clearly defining those elements which can be considered auxiliary verbs in English and those which cannot, or in other words, that of establishing the principles controlling the delimitation of the forms that constitute the auxiliary element in English, those principles underlying the decision to consider may go and should go as mood forms (grammatical modifications), but be able to go and advise someone to go as modal expressions (semantic or lexical modifications), or is working and have worked as tenses, and begin to work and finish working as aspectual catenative structures.

            Therefore, the problem in English grammar is not whether or not to accept moods and tenses by periphrases. The problem is to decide which of the many periphrases that we find in English can be given grammatical status and which cannot. Once this question is solved, the possibility suggested by Priestley (1762:100)[9] of increasing the number of moods and tenses ad infinitum would no longer be feasible. The consideration of these problems will, of course, take us to the famous discussion, quite in vogue in transformational literature in the seventies, about the definition of auxiliary verbs as main or as auxiliary verb. It is in fact this problem what Bullions had in mind when he said: 

  It is certain, for example, that we have such forms of speech as, "I have loved", "shall love", "might love," &c. Now since these and similar forms of speech only express different relations of time and manner of the one act, "to love," it certainly does seem more easy and simple to regard them as different moods and tenses of the verb to love, than to elevate the auxiliary to the rank of a principal verb and then to combine them syntactically with the verb to love. Indeed, to dispose of them in this way satisfactorily, is not a quite easy or simple matter. For example, in the sentence, "I have written a letter," it is easy enough to say that have is a verb transitive &c. and written a perfect participle; but when we inquire, what does have govern? what does written agree with? A correct and satisfactory answer will not be so easily found. This example will perhaps show that it is much easier, and quite as satisfactory, to rank the expression as a certain mood and tense of the verb "to write". 

            In this respect, the position of most of the 18th and 19th century grammarians should be considered in a way as descriptively correct. The "tenses" and "modes" which they proposed, whether intuitively or not, were formed with what they thought grammatical, and not semantic or lexical, elements. The auxiliary verbs which they suggested are, in fact, those which we normally accept nowadays as pure auxiliaries. None of the grammarians here studied suggested any optative mode formed with wish or want + to infinitive or any perfective tense formed by the combination of verb + completely.[10]  The tenses and modes which most of them suggested were all combinations of the main verb with the auxiliary verbs have, be, will, shall, can, may, must, would, should, might, or could and the inflections -ed1, -ed2, -ing and -s (as, I write; I am writing; I wrote; I have written; I had written; I will write; I was writing, I have been writing, I had been writing, I will be writing, etc.). Auxiliaries were neither chosen at random nor as an attempt to pay service to Latin. Lowth is clear in this respect: 

  As far as grammar is concerned, there are no more modes in any language, than there are forms of the verb appropriated to the denoting of such different manners of representation. (Lowth, 2nd ed. 1763:48n). (Our emphasis). 

            Murray also seems to have in mind a syntactic criterion for the consideration of auxiliary verbs, affirming that auxiliary verbs, in contrast to full verbs, are always dependent verbs which can never be used by themselves.[11]As a final piece of evidence, it is also worth pointing out the controversial position of let as an auxiliary verb in these grammars. Although some grammarians accept it as "a sign of the imperative", most of them reject such a possibility.[12] This is a clear indication that there was some discussion about "auxiliaryhood" at that time.

            Furthermore, most of these grammarians were concerned to give a formal description of the different tenses and modes. In this way, it was the normal practice to identify moods and tenses with a formal marker. Bullions is a good example of this attitude:[13] 

  The indicative mood may be known by the sense, or by its having no sign except in asking a question ... The potential mood has for its signs the auxiliaries may, can, must, might, could, would and should ... The subjunctive mood has usually for its signs the conjunctions if, though, unless, except, whether and lest ... The infinitive mood has usually for its signs the word to ... The imperative mood may be distinguished by its always being in the second person ... The present tense has for its sign the first form of the verb ... excepting the occasional use of do. The imperfect tense has no auxiliary for a sign, except did, which is sometimes used ...  The perfect tense has for its sign the word have ... The pluperfect tense has for its sign had ... The first future has for its sign shall or will ... The second future has for its sign shall have or will have. (Bullions, 1846:73). (Our emphasis). 

            The recognition by many of the 18th and 19th century grammarians of a potential mode has also been considered as a sign of the Latin influence in English grammar.[14]However, in our opinion, the decision to include the potential mode is not necessarily a point which has to be related to Latin. The inclusion of modal verbs - which were the "signs" of the potential - in the English verb system may contribute to a better understanding of the way English expresses modality. We do not mean, of course, that we agree with the way they presented it. But that modal verbs constitute a grammatical system, which covers the semantic sphere of non-factuality, and which can be opposed to those other forms with no modal verb, and which express factuality. In this respect, we entirely agree with Alexander when he clearly establishes a distinction between verb phrases with modal verbs and verb phrases without them:[15] This mode [the potential], or form of the verb, does not, I think, in any case coincide with the indicative. It always has some respect to the power, will, &c. of the agent, by which, even when conditionality is out of the question, it is distinguished from the merely declarative form: 

   "The one declares the action done, or to be done, without any further consideration; the other declares not the action done, or to be done, but the ability, inability, &c. of the agent to perform that action, and is therefore properly styled the potential mode". (Alexander, 1795:21). 

                        Murray is of the same opinion as Alexander: 

  Some grammarians have supposed that the Potential Mood, as distinguished above from the Subjunctive, coincides with the Indicative. But as the latter "simply indicates or declares a thing," it is manifest that the former, which modifies the declaration, and introduces an idea materially distinct from it, must be considerably different. 'I can walk', 'I should walk,' appear to be so essentially distinct from the simplicity of 'I walk,' 'I walked,' as to warrant a correspondent distinction of moods. (Murray, 1824:71). 

             This position is clearer than that of many modern grammarians whose treatment of modal verbs within the English system is ambiguous, because, despite classifying them as pure auxiliaries, they do not consider modal verbs within the category of mood.[16]

            Just to finish we would like to say something about the subjunctive. As happens nowadays, the 18th and 19th century grammarians differed in opinion respecting the form and extent of the subjunctive mood. Some deny the existence of a subjunctive form altogether, and consider what is called the subjunctive as only an elliptical form of the future or potential. Ash is the best representative of this line of thought. These writers rightly assert that the verb shows no formal distinction from the indicative, and that a conjunction added to the verb gives it no title to become a distinct mood. However, most grammarians do not agree with this, and accept a subjunctive mood in which one can find a combination of proper subjunctive forms together with both indicative and potential forms.

            The acceptance of a subjunctive mood cannot be disputed as long as there is some formal distinction. In this sense, we have to say that in the 18th century, the subjunctive was less questioned than in the 19th century. This can be easily explained if we take into account that formal distinctions were greater than in the 19th century or in present-day English.[17] And as Murray himself says we have to accept that "so much difference in the form of the verb, would warrant a correspondent distinction of mood, though the remaining parts of the subjunctive were, in all respects, similar to those of the indicative".  But in the 19th century the normal position was closer to that of Greene. Greene gives for the subjunctive two different forms: one called the subjunctive mode, which is formally identical to the indicative, and another one which he also calls the subjunctive mode but qualified in parentheses with the label (subjunctive form). So most grammarians recognized that the subjunctive had only a distinct form in the present and past, but they accepted it for semantic reasons. For most of them meaning, and not form, was the most important distinguishing factor. It is meaning that makes Murray accept the possibility that the same form could be understood as indicative, subjunctive or potential: 

  As the indicative mood is converted into the subjunctive, by the expression of a condition, motive, wish, supposition, &c. being superadded to it; so the potential mood may, in like manner, be turned into the subjunctive; as will be seen in the following examples: "If I could deceive him, I should abhor it," "Though he should increase in wealth, he would not be charitable." (Murray, 1824:84). 

            As can be seen the situation is quite similar to the one we have nowadays, since we have grammarians who defend the subjunctive, whereas others reject it. The preserving of a subjunctive mood in present-day English that is not formally distinguished from the indicative represents, in our opinion, a much more Latinist attitude than the acceptance of a potential mood, marked by modal verbs. The position of the subjunctive in present-day English is quite marginal, and can only be explained as a reof the older inflectional system, whose place has clearly been taken by the only productive system which the English verb has to express the idea of non-factuality: modal verbs.[18]

            Considering everything we have said, we think that it is not difficult to conclude firstly that 19th and 18th century grammars frequently took morphosyntactic criteria into account; secondly that although no one can deny some Latin influence, these grammars paid more attention to English structure than has normally been suggested, and finally that some of the descriptive problems 18th and 19th century grammarians had are still unsolved in many modern English grammars.



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Algeo, J. (1986), "A grammatical dialectic", in G. Leitner (1986), 307-33.

Algeo, J. (1991), "American English grammars in the 20th century", in G. Leitner (1991), 113-38.

Ash, J. (1785), Grammatical institutes. Boston: Battell & Green. Reprint: Delmar, N.Y.: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1979.

Bingham, C. (1785), The young lady's accidence. Boston: Greenleaf and Freeman. Reprint: Delmar, N.Y.: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1981.

Brown, G. (1823), The institutes of English grammar. Delmar, New York: Scholars' facsimiles and reprints, 1982.

Bullions, P. (1846), The principles of English grammar. New York: Wood. Reprint: Delmar, N.Y.: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1983.

Collyer, J. (1735), The general principles of grammar. British Library.

Dilworth, T. (1793), A new guide to the English tongue. Philadelphia: Bradford. Reprint: Delmar, N.Y.: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1978.

Downey, C., "Trends that shaped the development of 19th century American grammar writing", in Leitner (1991), pp. 27-38.

Greene, S.S. (1874), An analysis of the English language. Philadelphia: Cowperthwait. Reprint: Delmar, N.Y.: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1983.

Greenwood, J. (1711), An essay towards a practical English grammar. London: R. Tookey. Reprint: Menston: Scolar Press, 1968.

Kemp, J.A. (1972), John Wallis's Grammar of the English language. (1st ed. 1653. Facsimile and translation from 6th ed, 1765). London: Longman.

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Leitner, G. (ed.) (1986), The English reference grammar. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer.

Loughton, W. (1734), Practical grammar of the English tongue. British Library.

Lowth, R. (1775), A short introduction to English grammar. Philadelphia: Aitken. (2nd ed. 1763). Reprint: Delmar, N.Y.: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1979.

Lynch, P. (1796), The pentaplot preceptor: Garrick: John Stacey.

Murray, L. (1824), English grammar. 9th ed. Bridgeport, Conn.: Baldwin. [1st American ed. 1800]. Reprint: Delmar, N.Y.: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1981.

Niemeyer, J. (1991), "Tense and aspect in German grammars of English in the past fifty years", in G. Leitner (ed.), 329-347.

Palmer, F.R. (1976), Semantics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Priestley, J. (1761), The rudiments of English grammar. London: Griffiths.    Reprint: Menston: Scolar Press, 1961.

Priestley, J. (1762), A course of lectures on the theory of language and universal grammar. Warrington.

Quereda Rodríguez-Navarro, L. (1990), "Algunas consideraciones teóricas sobre el subjuntivo inglés", R.A.E.S.L.A. 6, 83-110.

Quereda Rodríguez-Navarro, L. (1991), "El uso del subjuntivo inglés en el Brown corpus: estudio sobre su frequencia y comparación con otras estructuras paralelas".  R.A.E.S.L.A. 7, 149-66.

Quereda Rodríguez-Navarro, L. (1993), A morphosyntactic study of the English verb phrase. Universidad de Granada.

Quirk, R. et al. (1985), A comprehensive grammar of the English language. London: Longman.

Robins, R.H. (1986), "The evolution of English grammar books since the Renaissance", in G. Leitner (1986), 292-306.

Smith, R.C. (1864), English grammar on the productive system. 2nd ed. Richmond, Va.: Bidgood. Reprint: Delmar, N.Y.: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1983.

Webster, N. (1781), Dissertation on the English language. Boston: Thomas. Reprint: Delmar, N.Y.: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1951.

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[1]      Examples of this are:

The effect of such an approach [that in which Latin grammar represented the "grammar"] can best be seen in the various treatments of ... verbal tense, a category in which the surface structures of Latin and English were so obviously unlike ... (Robins, 1986:300).

The category of mood illustrates ... how closely the English grammarians had tied themselves to the Latin tradition. (Michael, 1970:426).

[2]      In this respect, we disagree with positions such as that shown in Quirk et al. when it is said that:

It might be equally claimed that there is no need to distinguish form from function in the verb phrase: that auxiliary verb and main verb will satisfy both requirements. (Quirk et al., 1985:64 §2.29).

[3]      "Verbs have only two tenses - present, and imperfect past." (In Kemp, 1972:331).

[4]      "The verb has two tenses; namely, present; as, write, past perfect as wrote." (Brown, 1823:141).

[5]      cf. Michael (1970:426).

[6]      "In English there are no moods, because the verb has no diversity of endings." (Greenwood, 1711:119).

[7]       Wallis's words are:

In this way we easily dispense with all the various moods and tenses which are found in Latin. I love, I do love (Latin present indicative), I loved, I did love (Latin imperfect indicative), I have loved (Latin perfect indicative), I had loved (Latin pluperfect indicative), I shall / will loved (Latin future indicative),  love thou (Latin present imperative), I may / can love (Latin present subjunctive), I might / could / should / would love (Latin imperfect subjunctive), I should / will have loved (Latin perfect subjunctive and future perfect indicative), I should / would / could / might have loved (Latin pluperfect subjunctive), to love (Latin present infinitive), to have loved (Latin perfect infinitive), of loving (Latin genitive of gerund), in loving (Latin ablative of gerund), to love (Latin accusative (p349) of gerund), to love (Latin supine in _um), to be loved (Latin supine in _u), loving (Latin present participle), being to love (Latin future participle), loved (Latin passive past participle),  being to be loved (Latin gerundive). The same is true of the passive voice, in forming which the auxiliary am, be is used together with the passive participle. (In Kemp, 1972:345).

[8]      Brown also maintains this same idea:

The moods and tenses are formed partly by inflections, or changes made in the verb itself, and partly by the combination of the verb or its participle, with a few short verbs called auxiliaries, or helping verbs. (Brown,1823:59).

[9]      see p. 3, above.

[10]       Ash explains in his analysis of the meaning of the different tenses, that:

These Formations of the several Tenses seem to have Respect both to the Time and State of the Action signified by the Verb. The present Tense denotes the Time that now is, and the Action unfinished: as, I write; or, I am now writing the Letter. The Imperfect denotes the Time past indeterminately, and the Action to have been completed at any past Time that may be specified: as, I wrote the Letter; or, I began or finished the Writing of the Letter, this Morning, Yesterday, a Week ago, &c. The Perfect denotes the Time just past, and the Action fully completed: as, I have written the Letter; or, I have just now finished the Writing of the Letter. The Pluperfect denotes the Time past, and the Action to have been completed prior to some other Circumstance specified in the Sentence: as, I had written the Letter; or, I had finished the Writing of the Letter before you came in. The Future denotes the Time to come and the Action to be completed at any future Time that may be mentioned: as, I will write the Letter; or, I will begin and finish the Writing of the Letter, to-night, to-morrow, &c. (Ash, 1785:39-40, Note 42). (Our emphasis).

We are not sure here if Ash is simply paraphrasing the verb form to make its meaning clearer or if he is suggesting that forms such as I began or finished the Writing of the Letter, I have just now finished the Writing of the Letter, I had finished the Writing of the Letter, or I will begin and finish the Writing of the Letter are alternative tenses. Since this type of paraphrases never appears in the typical conjugation tables, we prefer to think that they are just paraphrases.

[11]       Murray's words are:

The learner will perceive that the preceding auxiliary verbs, to have and be, could not be conjugated through all the moods and tenses, without the help of other auxiliary verbs; namely, may, can, will, shall, and their variations. That auxiliary verbs in their simple state, and unassisted by others, are of a very limited extent; and that they are chiefly useful, in the aid which they afford in conjugating the principal verbs: will clearly appear to the scholar, by a distinct conjugation of each of them, uncombined with any other. (Murray, 1824:87). (Our emphasis).

[12]      Lowth, Dilworth and Murray are some of the grammarians who accept let as a sign for the imperative. In contrast, Bullions, Ash, Alexander, Greene, or Smith do not accept it. Ash gives the following explanation:

Let, commonly called a Sign of the imperative Mode, is properly a Verb in that Mode, as, in the Example, let him love, the Meaning is, permit or suffer him to love, Let, therefore seems to be a Verb of the imperative and love of the infinitive Mode, the Sign, to, being understood, though not expressed. (Ash, 1785:45).

[13]      Lowth presents tenses and modes in the same way:

Do and have make the present time; ... did, had, the past; ... shall, will the future: ... let is employed in forming the imperative mode; ... may, might, could, would, should in forming the subjunctive ... the preposition to, placed before the verb, makes the infinitive mode ... (Lowth, 1775:42-44).

[14]      Although most of the grammarians here studied accept the potential mode, there are some who reject it. Webster, for example,  was not convinced that English verbs have a potential mode. In the Preface to his Dissertation on the English language, he disagrees with those who say there is such a mode.

[15]      Palmer, in contrast, clearly disagrees with this:

As the use of the term modality is intended to suggest, these do not correspond to any clear grammatical distinction. Indeed, some uses of the modal verbs, e.g. can to express ability (He can run a mile in four minutes) or will for willingness (He won't do as I ask), are not really expressions of modality at all. (Palmer, 1976:149)

The position of Quirk et al. is, as usual, ambiguous:

Verb phrases introduced by modal auxiliaries are normally classified as indicative, but it is worth pointing that not only semantically, but syntactically, they resemble imperatives and subjunctive. They lack person and number contrast and also (to some extent) tense contrast. (Quirk et al. 1985:150) (our emphasis).

[16]       The position of Quirk et al., for example, is quite obscure. On the one hand, it seems that for them modal verbs do not enter into the category of mood, as can be seen in this quotation:

Finite verb phrases have mood, which indicates the factual, nonfactual, or counterfactual status of the predication. In contrast to the 'unmarked' INDICATIVE, we distinguish the 'marked' moods IMPERATIVE (used to express commands and other directive speech acts, and SUBJUNCTIVE (used to express a wish, recommendation, etc.). (Quirk et al., 1985:149)

Quirk et al. also, when studying the different meanings of modals, distinguish some special uses of would and should. In these uses "these modals have nothing to do with the cognate modals will and shall, but are instead used to mark the MOOD of the clause". (Quirk et al., 1985:234 §4.64). It is therefore only in these special cases of should and would that they consider these modals as Mood markers.

            But, on the other hand, Quirk et al. consider modal verbs when explaining the combinatory possibilities in the verb phrase in the following way:

There are four basic types of construction in a complex verb phrase:

                Type A (MODAL):       ... must examine

                Type B (PERFECTIVE):  ... has examined

                Type C (PROGRESSIVE): ... is examining

                Type D (PASSIVE):     ... is examined

These four basic constructions also enter into combination with each other.

[17]      The formal variations normally found in 18th century conjugation tables can be summarized in the following way:  present tense of the principal verbs [Ind. I love, Thou lovest, he loveth, We/ye/they love vs. Subj. If I / thou / he / we/ye/they love], present and imperfect tenses of the verb to be [If I, thou, he, we, ye, they be; if I were, you wert, he were, we/ye/they were vs. Ind I was, Thou wast, He was, we/ye/they were], and the second and the third of those forms which had a modal verb (wilt, shalt).

[18]      For a more detailed explanation of the position of subjunctive in present-day English, see Quereda (1990) and Quereda (1991).