English: Was it a fact that "be" and "have" had historically interchanged their roles?

C.S.Hy

Senior Member
Mandarin Chinese
Was it a fact in the history of English that the two auxiliary verbs "be(now sign for passive voice)" and "have(now sign for perfect aspect" had interchanged their roles? i.e. "be" had been the sign for perfect aspect and "have" for passive voice?

I get this idea (feeling) from some odd evidence in English today, such as a few adjectives in the past particicle form, as agreed (are agreed on the plan), which has no implication of passive voice, and "have" being often used in the "have + noun + past participle" construction( had my face shaved).
 
  • PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    In Old English the verb "to be" was used to form the past perfect tense of unaccusative verbs (mainly those of motion (go, fly, swim, move, jump, etc.,) and change of state (melt, die, rot, etc.)) But, for all the other verbs1, "habben" (to have) was used.

    There were three forms of the verb we now call "to be": sindon, wesan (from which we get "was/were") and bēon (from which we get "to be") See Old English grammar - Wikipedia) The use of "wesan" was to form the perfect of unaccusative verbs and the passive, and thus gave the adverbial meaning to the participle.

    Around the 12th century, this use of "wesan" to form the perfect died out and the perfect was formed mainly with "to have".

    Old English/Participles - Wikibooks, open books for an open world gives more information on participles and adjectives. :thumbsup:


    1although uses of habben are found also.
     

    C.S.Hy

    Senior Member
    Mandarin Chinese
    In Old English the verb "to be" was used to form the past perfect tense of unaccusative verbs (mainly those of motion (go, fly, swim, move, jump, etc.,) and change of state (melt, die, rot, etc.)) But, for all the other verbs1, "habben" (to have) was used.

    There were three forms of the verb we now call "to be": sindon, wesan (from which we get "was/were") and bēon (from which we get "to be") See Old English grammar - Wikipedia) The use of "wesan" was to form the perfect of unaccusative verbs and the passive, and thus gave the adverbial meaning to the participle.

    Around the 12th century, this use of "wesan" to form the perfect died out and the perfect was formed mainly with "to have".

    Old English/Participles - Wikibooks, open books for an open world gives more information on participles and adjectives. :thumbsup:


    1although uses of habben are found also.
    Thank you very much,Paul.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Around the 12th century, this use of "wesan" to form the perfect died out
    Not that early. With verbs of motion, you find perfect forms with to be even in Early Modern English. Example: The gaudy, blabbing and remorseful day is crept into the bosom of the sea (Shakespeare, Henry VI, act IV, scene 1).
     
    Last edited:

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    :) I did say "mainly".

    It still makes appearances, mainly with "go" but is difficult to distinguish from an adjective.
    A: "Bring in the prisoner."
    B: "I can't, Seargent!
    A: "Why not?"
    B: "He is/has gone!"

    "He was near the edge. He seemed to slip and then he was/has gone."
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    I did say "mainly".
    Well, you said it "died out" around the 12th century. That is definitely too early. You could say as of the 12th century it started to be gradually replaced by perfect forms constructed with to have. But throughout the ME and well into the early ModE periods it definitely remained a productive verb form.
     
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