Joined: 25 Feb 2007
Location: New Orleans
|Posted: Sun Apr 29, 2012 1:10 pm
|I've been thinking about this and I still think that producing a simple 'here is the rule' statement for language learners is probably not easily possible just because any such statement would be based on previous rules given the learner. In other words, without knowing how they've been trained to think of the language, it's not possible to word a truly generic (and simply worded) guidance.
That said, let me try to list out some prerequisites to understanding this and some points of understanding:
1. All sentences and clauses contain at least one whole verb (I call this a 'verdict').
2. All verdicts (whole verbs) contain a main verb (I call this a 'vector' because its what gives the verdict its linguistic direction and quantity) and one or more auxiliaries.
3. The overall idea of the verdict is centered upon the vector. The vector may have have one or more objects or not have an object at all. The vector has an unchanging meaning that is always the same when that verb is used in the same context.
4. The differences in meaning between sentences with the same vector is expressed mostly by auxiliaries. Auxiliaries also handle agreement for person and number.
5. Auxiliaries may be divided into two overall structural classes -- verbal auxiliaries and conjugal auxiliaries. Verbal auxiliaries, regardless of their form (a fully declinable verb, an unchanging single verb form, a phrase containing a verb, etc), act as a single unit and occupy a verbal position above the vector or auxiliary they subordinate within the verdict. Conjugal auxiliaries are those affixes (prefixes, suffixes, infixes, etc), spelling changes, etc appended onto or into the vector and include such things as person and number markings (Eng 3rd per sing -s, Sp 1st per sing -o), aspectual markings (fr/sp imperf), tense markings (eng -ed, stem changes in Eng/Germ, etc), and mood markings and such.
6. Some languages use only conjugal auxiliaries, others use only verbal auxiliaries. Some still like English use both (for instance, aspect marking in English requires both a verbal auxiliary and a conjugal auxiliary such as BE+-ing).
7. In languages utilizing both verbal and conjugal auxiliaries, this allows for a limited number of morphemes to be used in varied combinations allowing for greater diversity of meaning.
8. All auxiliaries subordinate the unit following them (their subordinate (pronounced the noun way versus the first usage pronounced the verb way)) to a specific form. That specific form often requires the addition of a conjugal auxiliary (such as to+) which may be semantically 'empty' but is required to link the auxiliary to its subordinate and to determine the precise function of that auxiliary (when the form of that auxiliary is capable of representing more than one auxiliary but with the different auxiliaries having different subordinates -- this is how you know that have+ to-verb is not the same as have+ verb-pp).
9. The same form (combination of letters) can represent one or more auxiliaries and/or one or more vectors depending on how it is used in the sentence (for instance, add to the previous two uses of have which were both auxiliaries, 'have a ball' in which have is a vector). To know what something means, you have to know what role it is playing.
10. There are two types of verb-based nouns in English -- the gerund and the infintive. Gerunds always take on the form verb+ing but not all appearances of verb+ing are gerunds.
11. Infinitives may take one of three forms verb (the bare form), to+verb, or verb-ing.
12. The structural (syntactic) differences between gerunds and infinitives are that gerunds have only one form and consist of only one component (the verb-ing form and nothing else). They may not have attached objects or be marked for time or anything like that. They are syntactically interchangeable with any other noun including non-verb derived nouns and are just as versatile as any other noun. Infintives unlike gerunds may have attached objects as well as various other attached units such as adverbials and modals. They are only interchangeable with equivalent infinitives (as in changing out a to-verb for a verb-ing or verb form infinitive) that maintain all the same implications as the original (like the same objects, modals, etc).
13. From a meaning (semantic) standpoint, a gerund and infinitive having identical structural form (both verb-ing's without anything else accompanying them) tend to be very similar and it may be impossible to discern the difference. The reason though that a language has both a gerund and an infinitive is that the gerund is used to simply represent the process of the verb in whole as a noun (aka a noun symbolising the process that that verb carries out) but without paying any attention to the various verb-related lexical qualities of that verb (its actionsart, any internally conveyed information such as mood, completeness, duration, etc). The infitivie on the other hand provides a manner in which a verb, and/or its inclusive represented process, WITH its various verbal attributes intact may be discussed yet still represented as a noun. By packaging this verb as a noun, it allows the sentence to contain that verbal information while not making including that verb a part of the verject (everything neither subject nor object -- the whole of all verdicts and everything else verby in the sentence including any expressions of mood, tense, aspect, polarity, etc).
14. Because languages are verb-centric, trying to talk about a verb by just putting it into a sentence won't work because the language wants to make that verb part of a verdict within the utterance in which it appears and thus part of the verject of that utterance. Subjects and objects are what you talk about in an utterance and because subjects and objects fall outside the verject, if you include that verb you're wanting to refer to within the verject, you can't talk about it.
15. Infinitives and gerunds create a way in which verbs can act as subject or object (or within the subject, object, or verject of an utterance, as objects of prepositions and such) but either way for a verb to be something other than a verb. The infintive further creates a manner in which the verb and all of its inclusive 'verbiness' may be packaged into a unit that allows it to keep all of its characteristics yet insulates it from the other verb components of the utterance in which it appears (the utterance's verject). This allows that verb to exist as a verb surrounded by verbs without interacting with them.
Imagine that verbs are like molecules that have their own temperature. Anytime you put more than one verb together they naturally mix together and blend their temperatures until they all end up with the same median heat. The infintive acts like a thermos insulating the verbal information it contains from all the other verbal bits surrounding it so that as long as that verb is within the infintive, it will stay 'hot' or 'cold' like coffee in a thermos regardless of what's going on around it. Now exchange the metaphor or molecules and heat with verbs and meaning and you've got the function of the infinitive.
Now, those are 15 points, or 15 bits of understanding that someone would need to already have in order to know how to deal with this whole gerund versus infinitive versus vector-in-infinitive-form issue.
If you have this understanding then you can deal with it pretty simply along the lines of:
a. identify the function of the unit you're trying to analyze (is it a subject, and object, or a vector)?
-a1. if it's a vector, stop, you're done. Just figure out the combined meaning conveyed by the vector plus the auxiliary that is subordinating it (most often a modal).
-a2. if it's a subject or object go to step b.
b. if it's a subject or object, you'd go through the analyses described above like -ing versus not. If -ing with or without anythign else. If not -ing ability to exchange it for other potential forms, etc.
This isn't at all a wording-wise simplistic answer but the reason for that is that being able to figure this out is mostly intuitive and that intuition is only possible with the required equipped foreknowledge and awareness (described above). Once properly equiped that intuition is easy and so automatic that most people aren't aware they even sense a difference but they do.
There's no such thing as an exception to the rule...that's just another way of saying "we haven't figured out the rules yet!"