Origin of Germanic and Romance perfects using auxiliaries to be and to have

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by dihydrogen monoxide, Oct 20, 2008.

  1. dihydrogen monoxide Senior Member

    Slovene, Serbo-Croat
    What is the origin of using verbs zu sein and zu haben in German when forming past tense? Can it be traced to Proto-Germanic and PIE or is it German innovation?

    Moderator note (14 months later):
    As perfect forms constructed with to be and to have are not specifically German but occur in many Germanic and Romance languages, the scope of this thread has been extended to the origin of these forms in all Germanic and Romance languages.
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 23, 2009
  2. Frank06

    Frank06 Senior Member

    Nederlands / Dutch (Belgium)

    It's not the first time we ask this, but:
    - could you please elaborate on your question,
    - could you please give examples (then we don't have to guess what you mean),
    - could you please formulate a hypothesis yourself, or at least give an idea of what you think about it (otherwise we start to have the impression we're doing your homework),
    - could you please do at least some basic research yourself (you'll find out it's not restricted to German, etc.).

    And, by the way, nobody ever died from saying 'hi', 'bye' and 'thank you'.

    Thank you.

    Moderator EHL
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2008
  3. dihydrogen monoxide Senior Member

    Slovene, Serbo-Croat
    What I mean by zu sein and zu haben is this. German would say Ich bin gegangen and Ich habe gegessen. German would use word zu sein if the verb has motion attached to it. Auxiliary verbs like zu sein and zu haben are used when forming past tense. Of course you could form past tense in German without using these auxiliary verbs.
    I don't know if it's restricted to German. English doesn't use auxiliary verbs when forming past tense. If it would be using than an Englishman would say I am went which a German says.
    In English one can use auxiliary verbs for forming past tense like in German, but that wouldn't be past tense but past perfect, and that has nothing to do with German, since I'm interested in past tense.
    I would like to know why would German use the verb zu sein if the verb has motion attached to it. However, according to my knowledge, Slavic languages do have some special verb forms when verb has motion attached to it, especially Slovene. In Slovene when the verb has motion attached to it the verb loses final -i. So in Slovene it would be wrong to say Pojdi delati 'Go to work', but you should say Pojdi delat. To be more precise verb of motion affects the verb after it.
    I was asking if you could trace back the phenomenon to Proto-Germanic and PIE so I could know the history of it. Since it's peculiar to me why would Germanic languages use auxiliary verbs when forming past tense. English can also use German equivalent of zu haben but only in past perfect. Because English will always use zu haben in past perfect whether it be motion or not.
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2008
  4. jazyk Senior Member

    Brno, Česká republika
    Brazílie, portugalština
    French, Italian, and Dutch have a very similar thing:

    Fr: J'ai mangé.
    It: Ho mangiato.
    Du: Ik heb gegeten.

    Fr: Je suis allé(e) au cinéma.
    It: Sono andato/a al cinema.
    Du: Ik ben naar de bioscoop gegaan.

    And so on and so forth.
  5. dihydrogen monoxide Senior Member

    Slovene, Serbo-Croat
    Some languages have morphological suffix for past tense, like Slavic languages. Although Slavic languages use verb to be as an auxiliary in forming past tense, there are some exceptions, like in Croatian.
    A: Jesi li pojeo? (Did you eat?)
    B: Pojeo. (I ate/I have eaten.)
    Notice here you don't need auxiliary verb and it is past tense. What I'm interested is in your Dutch forms. Notice heb, ben gegaan, where you need zu sein and zu haben in order to form past tense. In Croatian you don't need Ja imao pojeo 'I have eaten, literally' as you would need in German. But German has something special if there is a verb of motion following which English doesn't.
    Ich bin fahren. *I have driven. sein+have, if we were to follow the rules English would have I am driven in this sense, which is ungrammatical.
    Ich bin gegangen English *I am went, but you would say I went. I am talking about auxiliary verbs zu haben and zu sein and their usage. You could also say in German Ich ginge/Ich fahrte, but that's not what I'm talking about.
    I am wondering why would you need auxiliary forms and morphological suffixes for saying exact same things. Forming past tense. That doesn't go for English since past perfect uses auxiliary have, and that's another formation and it differs from past tense. And I'm particularly interested why zu sein for the verb of motion and why use an auxiliary verb?
    I may have made a commotion with this post. But now I've found out that many languages use auxiliary verb for forming past tense, but they have forms when they don't need auxiliary verbs for past tense. For instance, Slavic languages need auxiliary verb to be when forming past tense.
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2008
  6. Grop

    Grop Senior Member


    Except of course when you say it loud ;).

    More seriously, this is a related question.

    Edit: French j'ai mangé is litterally I have eaten, although it often translates I ate. Ai is auxiliary avoir, present tense.
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2008
  7. jazyk Senior Member

    Brno, Česká republika
    Brazílie, portugalština
    As my aunt very aptly says, "Ninguém dá o que não tem".
  8. dihydrogen monoxide Senior Member

    Slovene, Serbo-Croat
    Yes, you've got me there, for saying no relation.
  9. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    The perfect tenses were neither native in Old High German nor in Old English. There was occasional use of compound forms but there were no standardized formation or usage rules. The assumption is that thoses were created under the influence of Vulgar Latin/Early Romance languages.

    Compound forms became much more frequent in MHG and ME. But there use and construction were still much less formalized than today. You find e.g. in ME still perfect forms created with to be: Hennen weren Þerinne icrope (hens had crept in there, German: Hennen waren darein gekrochen).

    It is an oversimplification to say that the German perfect with sein occurs only in verbs of motion. There are other classes of intransitive verbs which construct the perfect with sein. E.g.: er ist eingeschlafen. On the other hand, verbs of motion construct their perfect tenses with haben when used transitively. E.g.: er ist gefahren (no object) and er ist mit seinem Auto gefahren (dative adjunct) und er ist Auto gefahren (autofahren is separable a compound verb) but er hat das Auto gefahren (das Auto is a direct object).

    As a consequence of the above, I would say that there is no fundamental difference between the construction of the perfect tenses in German and in Romance languages. The basic logic is also in German that only intransitive verbs may construct their perfect tenses with sein. Also the English perfect tenses developed much in the same way as those in German. Only English has lost some of its compound past tense forms and now uses only to to have+past participle and to be+present participle with the two forms having developed distinct meanings (present perfect and continuous form) which were much less clearly separated in Middle English.
    A small note: The name of a verb in German is the bare and not the zu-infinitive. So you ought to refer to the verb to be in German as sein and not as zu sein.
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2008
  10. dihydrogen monoxide Senior Member

    Slovene, Serbo-Croat
    Finally someone who knows his stuff. Yes, I've mixed that up with English.
  11. Mr_Saikou Member

    I think I get it, and I understand "...zu sein" is similar to "...to be" and possibly "...is"


    Frei zu sein = To be free

    (This is about as complicated a concept as I can grasp at this stage)
  12. relativamente Senior Member

    catalan and spanish
    Also, not all romance languages can make the past perfect (preterito perfecto) using the verb corresponding to to be (sum in Latin).In Spanish you use allways the auxiliary verb "haber" yo he ido....etc.
    Also in clasical Latin the auxiliary sum is used as auxiliary only to form the passive, although in deponent verbs can have an active meaning.
    So maybe after all the influence could have been from Germanic to French and Italian rather than the other way rounde.
  13. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    The perfect tenses developed in Germanic languages only in the middle ages. It is hard to see how they should be models for Romance perfect forms.

    The origin of the perfect forms with "to be" for intransitive verbs in French or Italian is obviously the perfect of the Latin deponents verbs because in both verb groups the past participle has active meaning.

    The origin of the perfect forms with "to have" is a much more interesting question because there is no precursor in classical Latin. Also in German the perfect with "haben" developed several centuries later than the perfect with "sein".
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2009
  14. Flaminius

    Flaminius coclea mod

    capita Iaponiae
    日本語 / japāniski / יפנית
    Hello, berndf. :)

    I wonder if, for example in French, avoir (< L. habere) is used more or less like a place holder because I know the same auxiliary turns up in a reference to the future:
    J'ai à chanter.

    What makes it different from J'ai chanté is the form of the complement verb. I might go so far as to say that the auxiliary could have been anything, provided that it indicates the person and the number.

    Does German also use haben as auxiliary for other tenses as well?
  15. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    English has an analogous structure:

    I have to sing.

    I'm not sure if the French construct means the same as the English construct, which only indicates obligation, and not futurity, but in any case I think it's not a long way from the notion of obligation to the notion of futurity.
  16. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    The Vulgar Latin/Romance future in general is constructed with habere. Je chanterai is to be analysed as je chanter-ai < Latin cantare habeo.

    I remember having read several times Scholars arguing that the Vulgar Latin future and the perfect for transitive verbs both being constructed with habere have influenced each other. But I wouldn't say they are arbitrary place holder but there are traceable semantic origins for both forms:

    - The future connotation contained in the construction cantare habeo = to sing I have doesn't need any explanation, does it?
    - The origin of the Vulgar Latin perfect for transitive verbs is probably a passive perfect participle attributing the direct object. E.g. the original semantic of I have seen a book is then I have a seen book, i.e. I have a book which is a seen one. This origin also explains the somewhat paradoxical agreement of the past participle with a preceding object in French and Italian: Je les ai vus and Li ho visti for I have seen them. A quotation from Cicero is often given as the prototype for this construction: ...in ea provincia pecunias magnas collocatas habent = in this province / great invested monies / they have which was subsequently understood as meaning in this province, they have invested great monies.

    There is ich habe zu arbeiten which is very similar in logic to j'ai à chanter. But this is not a generally productive form.
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2009
  17. miguel89

    miguel89 Senior Member

    In Spanish, where agreement between participle and object in such constructions has been abandoned long ago, we can however say "tengo leídas dos novelas" = "he leído dos novelas" (I've read two novels), which makes clear its origin.
  18. koniecswiata Senior Member

    Am English
    Without going into to much detail, the similarity in grammatical structural use of tenses or verbal forms, such as use of auxiliaries with perfective verb forms, probably has nothing to do with being a "Germanic or Romance" language. Rather, this is an aerial characteristic of many European languages--especially West European--these languages tend to maintain the distinct use of "to be" or "to have" as auxiliaries for that go with the past perfect form of the verb (marking transitivity or intransitivity of the verb). Interestingly, Spanish and English have lost the use of "to be" here--they are geographically on the edge of this region, and not right in it so maybe this could be expected. Look into a concept called "Sprachbund"--this seems to be a manifestation of this. By that interpretation, talking about Germanic or Romance, or Martian, for that matter, is irrelevant since it would have to do more with geographical location.

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