English Grammar

The Verb. The Categories of Person and Number

The categories of person and number are greatly intertwined in the system of the English verb. These categories differ from the rest of morphological categories of the verb in that they express not processual, but substantial semantics thus correlating the the predicate of the sentence with its subject. For example the inflexion -s expressing the 3rd person and singular number of the verb “to take” in the sentence: He takes some books from the shelf. This inflexion -s signifies that the subject of the sentence has to be a noun in singular, which correlates with a 3rd person pronoun.

The expression of the category of person is realized only in the singular form of the verb in the present and future tense. In the present tense, the expression of person may be realized in three different ways:

Regular expression of person (most of verbs) – by means of the inflexion -s: The wind blows.

The verb to be has specific forms of person. It has the form “am” for the 1st person and “is” for the 3rd. The verb does not have special forms of the second person, since the form “are” may correlate not only with 2nd person pronouns, but also with lsl (we are) and 3rd person (they are) plural pronouns.

Modal verbs (with the exception of to be and to have) have no person inflexions.

In the future tense, the category of person is expressed through the opposition of shall (for lsl person) and will (for the 2nd and 3rd person). This opposition however may undergo reduction: i will meet you at the railway station.

The category of number is expressed in the English verb only in the present tense forms and only together with person distinctions, i.e. the English verb has no specific inflections of number. The number is distinguished only with verbs in the 3rd person in the present tense: He goes (Sg.) vs. They go (PL). The verb “to be” has special number distinctions, but they are also realized only in combination with person distinctions of the verb. In the present tense, the verb has the following forms expressing number. The singular number is expressed by “am” and “is”. The plurai number cannot be distinguished, since the form “are” is correlated both with the singular and plural nouns. In the past tense, the singular number is expressed by the form “was”. The plural number cannot be distinguished either, since the form were is used both for singular and plural.

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