Conjugal visit

Today’s Bizarro:

(See this 5/6/11 posting for cartoonist Scott Hilburn’s take on conjugational visits, with information on the adjective conjugal and on conjugal visits.)

Now on the conjugation of a verb, the assembly of inflectional forms of the verb according to the features of the grammatical subjects they combine with, in particular the features of person and number (for English, three persons and two numbers; other languages conjugate verbs according to more or fewer features, and some do not vary the form of verbs at all according to features of their subjects).

The cartoon shows part of the congugation of the (carefully chosen) English verb KISS in the PRS tense (1sg, 2, 3sg, 3pl; 1pl is missing, and a gender distinction is included, though modern English doesn’t distinguish verb forms according to the gender of their subjects).

For regular verbs, the PRS has only two distinct forms according to the verb’s subject: 3sg (kisses above), otherwise kiss (identical to the BSE form); and the PST has only one (kissed). If all verbs were like KISS, the exercise of conjugating them would be trivial and uninteresting, certainly not worth a classroom exercise.

But one (and only one) verb, BE, is more highly differentiated: in the PRS, 1sg am, 3sg is, otherwise are; in the PST, 1/3sg was, otherwise were. And a whole class of verbs, the modal auxiliaries (like CAN and WILL) show no differentiation by person and number at all.

So the burden of conjugating verbs in modern English is very slight indeed. (Even the slightly irregular verb HAVE has only two forms in the PRS: sg has, otherwise have, parallel to the two forms of KISS. And other verbs with irregular PST and/or PSP forms, like COMEĀ and GO, are conjugated just like KISS in the PRS).

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