Page images
PDF
EPUB

loosed him :' It ought to he, 'because he would know ;' or rather, 'being willing to know.'

'The blind man said unto him, Lord, that I might receive my sight;' 'If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead :' In both these places, may would have been better than might.

'I feared that I should have lost the parcel, before I arrived at the city :' It should be, ' I feared that I should lose,' &c.

'It would have afforded me no satisfaction, if I could perform it :' It ought to be, 'if I could have performed it;' or, 'it would afford me no satisfaction, if I could perform it.'

To preserve consistency in the time of verbs, and of words and phrases, we must recollect that, in the subjunctive mode, the present and the imperfect tenses often carry with them a future tense ; and that the auxiliaries should and would, in the imperfect time, are used to express the present and future, as well as the past.

With regard to verbs in the infinitive mode, the practice of many writers, and some even of our most respectable writers, appears to be erroneous. They seem not to advert to the true principles, which influence the different tenses of this mod*. I shall produce some rules on the subject, which, I presume, will be found perspicuous and accurate. 'All verbs, expressive of hope, desire, intention, or command, must invariably be followed by the present, and not the perfect of the infinitive.' 'The last week I intended to have written,' ' is a very common phrase; the infinitive being in the past time, as well as the verb which dt follows. But it is evidentlywrong : for how long soever it now is since I thought of writing, ' to write ' was then present to me: and must still be considered as present, when I bring hack that time, and the thoughts of it. It ought, therefore, to be ; ' The last week, I intended to write.'

The following sentence is properly and analogically expressed: 'I found him better than I expected to find him.' ' Expected to have found him,' is irreconcilable to grammar and to sense. Every person would perceive an error in this expression: 'It is long since I commanded him to have done it:' yet, 'expected to have found,"' is not better. It is as clear, that the finding must lie posterior to the expectation, as that the obedience must bo posterior to the command.

As the verbs to desire and to wish, are nearly related, one might naturally suppose, from the rule just laid down, that the latter verb, like the former, must invariably be followed by the present of the infinitive. But if we reflect, that the act of desiring always refers to the future; and that the act of wishing refers sometimes to the past, as well as Sometimes to the future ; we shall perceive the distinction between them, and that, consequently, the following modes of expression are strictly justifiable : ' I wished that Iliad written sooner ;' 'I wished to have written sooner :' and you will be perfectly satisfied, that the following phrases must be improper : ' I desire that I had written sooner ;' ' I desire to have written sooner.'

Having considered and explained the special rule, respecting the government of verbs expressive of hope, desire, intention, or command, I shall proceed to state and elucidate the general rule, on the subject of verbs in the infinitive mode. It is founded on the authority of Harris, Lowth, Campbell, Pickbournj &c. ; and I think too, on the authority of reason and common sense. 'When the action or event, signified by a verb in the infinitive mode, is contemporary or future, with respect to the verb to which it is chiefly related, the present of the infinitive is required: when it is not contemporary nor future, the perfect of the infinitive is necessary.' To comprehend and apply this rule, we have only to consider, whether the infinitive verb refers to a time antecedent, contempt rary, or future, with regard to the governing or related .verb. When this simple point is ascertained, there will be no doubt respecting the form which the infinitive verb should have. A few examples may illustrate these positions. If I wish to signify, that I rejoiced at a particular time, in recollecting the sight of a friend, sometime having intervened between the seeing and the rejoicing, I should express myself thus: 'I rejoiced to have seen my friend.' The seeing, in this case, was evidently antecedent to the rejoicing; and therefore the verb which expresses the former, must be in the perfect of the infinitive mode. The same meaning may be expressed in a,

different form - 'I rejoiced that / had seen my friend ;r or, 'in having seen my friend ;' and you may, in general, try the propriety of a doubtful point of this nature, by converting the phrase into these two corresponding forms of expression. When it is convertible into both these equivalent phrases, its legitimacy must be admitted.—If, on the contrary, I wish to signify, that I rejoiced at the sight of my friend, that my joy and his surprise were contemporary, I should say,' I rejoiced to see my friend;' or, in other words, ' I rejoiced in seeing my friend.' The correctness of this form of the infinitive may also, in most cases, be tried, by converting the phrase into other phrases of a similar import.

The subject may be still further illustrated by additional examples. In the sentence which follows, the verb is with propriety put in the perfect tense of the infinitive mode: 'It would have afforded me great pleasure, as often as I reflected upon it, to have been the messenger of such intelligence.' As the message, in this instance, was antecedent to the pleasure, and not contemporary with it, the verb expressive of the message must denote that antecedence, by being in the perfect of the infinitive. If, on the contrary, the message and the pleasure were referred to as contemporary, the subsequent verb would, with equal propriety, have been put in the present of the infinitive : as,' It would have afforded me great pleasure, to He the messenger of such inte"l- . ligence.' In the former instance, the phrase in question is equivalent to these words; 'If I had been the messenger ;' in the latter instance, to this expression ; ' Being the messenger.'

For the satisfaction of the learner, I shall present a variety of false constructions, under the general rule.

'This is a book which proves itself to be written by the person whose name it bears ;' it ought to be, 'which proves itself to have been mitten.'

'To see him would have afforded me pleasure all my life ;' it should be, ' To have seen him, would have afforded,' &c. or, ' To see him would afford me pleasure,' &c.

'The arguments were sufficient to have satisfied all who heard them ;' ' Providence did not permit the reign of Julian to have been long and prosperous :' they should be, ' were sufficient to satisfy,"' &c. and, 'to be long and prosperous.'

'It was impossible for those men, by any diligence whatever, to have prevented this accident: everything that men could have done, was done;' corrected thus; 'to prevent this accident;' 'every thing that men could do,' &c.

'The respect shown to the candidate would have been greater, if it had been practicable to have afforded repeated opportunities to the freeholders, to have annexed their names to the address:' they should be, ' if it had been practicable to afford,' and 'to annex their names.'

f From his biblical knowledge, he appears to study the Holy Scriptures with great attention :' it ought to be, 'he appears to have studied,' .&c.

'I cannot excuse the remissness of those whose business it should have been, as it certainly was their interest, to have interposed their good offices :' ' There were two circumstances which made it necessary for them to have lost no time :' ' History painters would have found it difficult to have invented such a species of beings.' In these three examples, the phrases should have been, 'to interpose, to lose, to invent.' '

It is proper to remind the learner, that, in order to express the past time with the defective verb ought, the perfect of the infinitive must always be used : as, 'He ought to have done it.' When we use this verb, this is the only possible way to distinguish the past from the present.

In support of the positions advanced under this rule, the sentiments of the most eminent grammarians can be produced. There are, however, some writers on grammar, who strenuously maintain, that the governed verb in the infinitive ought to be in the past tense, when the verb which governs it, is in the past time. Though this cannot be admitted, in the instances which are controverted under this rule, or in any instances of a similar nature, yet there can be no doubt that in many cases, in which the thing referred to, preceded the governing verb, it would be proper and allowable. We may say; 'From a conversation I once had with him^ he appeared to have studied Homer with great care and judgment.' It would be proper also to say, 'from his conversation, he appears to have studied Homer, with great care and judgment;' 'That unhappy man is supposed to have died by violence.' These examples are not only consistent with our rule, but they confirm and illustrate it. It is the tense of the governing verb only, that marks what is called the absolute time; the tense of the verb governed, marks solely its relative time with respect to the verb.

To assert, as some writers do, that verbs in the infinitive mode have no tenses, no relative distinctions of present, past, and future, is inconsistent with just grammatical views of the subject. That these verbs associate with verbs in all the tenses, is no proof of their having no peculiar time of their own. Whatever period the governing verb assumes, whether present, past, or future, the governed verb in the infinitive always respects that period, and its time is calculated from it.

Thus, the time of the infinitive may be before, after, or the same as, the time of the governing verb, according as the thing signified by the infinitive, is supposed to be before, after, or present with, the thing denoted by the governing verb. It is, therefore, with great propriety, that tenses are assigned to verbs of the infinitive mode. The point of time from which they ape computed, is of no consequence ; since present, past, and future, are completely applicable to them.

It may not be improper to observe, that though it is often correct to use the perfect of the infinitive after the governing verb, yet there are particular cases, in which it would be better to give the expression a different form. Thus, instead of saying, 'I wish to have written to him sooner,' 'I then wished to have written to him sooner,' 'He will one day wish to have written sooner:' it would be more perspicuous and forcible, as well as more agreeable to the practice of good writers, to say; 'I wish that I had written to him sooner,' 'He will one day wish that he had written sooner.'

Should the justness of these strictures be admitted, the past infinitive would not be superseded, though some

frammarians have supposed it would: there would still e numerous occasions for the use of itj as we may per

« PreviousContinue »