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Impersonal

Verbs Impersonal. An abundance of Impersonal verbs is a mark of an early stage in a language, denoting that a speaker has not yet arrived so far in development as to trace his own actions and feelings to his own agency. There are many more impersonal verbs in Early English than in Elizabethan, and many more in Elizabethan than in modern English. Thus--

“It yearns me not.

“It would pity any living eye.” SPENS. F. Q. i. 6. 43. Comp. 2 Maccabees iii. 21: "It would have pitied a man."

“It dislikes me.

So "it likes me," "meseems," "methinks," &c.

“Which likes me.

And therefore like is probably (not merely by derivation, but consciously used as) impersonal in

“So like you, sir.

Want is probably not impersonal but intransitive, "is wanting," in

“There wants no diligence in seeking him?1

The singular verb is quite Shakespearian in

“Though bride and bridegroom wants (are wanting)
For to supply the places at the table.

So in “Sufficeth my reasons are both good and weighty.” Ib. i. 1. 252. “Sufficeth I am come to keep my word.” Ib. iii. 2. 108. the comma after "sufficeth" is superfluous; "that I am come to keep my word sufficeth."

In

“And so betide to me
As well I tender you and all of yours,

betide may be used impersonally. But perhaps so is loosely used as a demonstrative for "such fortune," in the same way in which as (280) assumes the force of a relative. If betide be treated as impersonal, befal in "fair befal you" may be similarly treated, and in that case "fair" is an adverb. But see (5). The supposition that "betide" is impersonal and "fair" an adverb is confirmed by "Well be (it) with you, gentlemen."--Hamlet, ii. 2. 398.

The impersonal needs (which must be distinguished from the adverbial genitive needs) often drops the s; partly, perhaps, because of the constant use of the noun need. It is often found with "what," where it is sometimes hard to say whether "what" is an adverb and need a verb, or "what" an adjective and need a noun.

“What need the bridge much broader than the flood?

either "why need the bridge (be) broader?" or "what need is there (that) the bridge (be) broader?"

Comp. the old use of "thinketh" (seemeth):

“Where it thinks best unto your royal self.

The Folio has thinkst; and perhaps this is the true reading, there being a confusion between "it thinks" and "thinkest thou." Compare "thinkst thee" in

“Doth it not, thinkst thee, stand me now upon?

The impersonal and personal uses of think were often confused. Chapman (Walker) has "methink." S seems to have been added to assimilate the termination to that of "methinks" in "methoughts" (W. T. i. 2. 154; Rich. III. i. 4. 9).

It is not easy, perhaps not possible, to determine whether, in the phrase "so please your highness," please is used impersonally or not; for on the one hand we find, "So please him come," (J. C. iii. 1. 140); and on the other,

“If they please.

“I do repent: but Heaven hath pleased it so.

1 See 293.

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