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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: March ::
Coriolanus TLN 3119
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0479  Tuesday, 15 March 2005

[1]     From:   Norman Hinton <
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 >
        Date:   Monday, 14 Mar 2005 16:51:45 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0467 Coriolanus TLN 3119

[2]     From:   Jonathan Hope <
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 >
        Date:   Tuesday, 15 Mar 2005 08:31:48 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0467 Coriolanus TLN 3119


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Norman Hinton <
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 >
Date:           Monday, 14 Mar 2005 16:51:45 -0600
Subject: 16.0467 Coriolanus TLN 3119
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0467 Coriolanus TLN 3119

The notion that there had to be agreement in number (etc.) between a
verb and its subject is not regarded as a necessity till well after
Shakespeare's time.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jonathan Hope <
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Date:           Tuesday, 15 Mar 2005 08:31:48 +0000
Subject: 16.0467 Coriolanus TLN 3119
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0467 Coriolanus TLN 3119

Jan Stirm asks about the following line in Coriolanus:

 >"All places yields to him ere he sits down" (4.7.28 in the Oxford World
 >Classics edition, TLN 3119 in the Norton Facsimile).
 >
 >where a plural subject ('places') apparently has a singular verb
('yields').

I'll answer on-list since this type of thing is relatively frequent in
the early texts, and is often wrongly glossed by editors (if it is
noticed at all).

Basic answer:

The '-s' form on 'yields' here is a genuine plural form - a left-over
from Middle English which had several possible third person plural
present tense endings for verbs, one of them '-s'.  So it looks like bad
grammar, or a printing error to us, but it isn't.

More detailed answer:

Early Modern English has something called 'they-constraint' (sometimes:
'the northern personal pronoun rule') - a variable grammatical rule
which optionally allows '-s' endings on third person plural verbs in the
present tense - as long as the subject is a full noun phrase.  If the
subject of the verb is a pronoun, the verb has to have zero as its
ending, as we expect in Modern English.

In other words, 'places yields' is ok, because 'places' is a full noun
phrase, but if Shakespeare had written 'they' for 'places', the phrase
would have been 'they yield'. (There is a bit more on this in my
*Shakespeare's Grammar*, pages 161-3.)

This rule is still found, alive and well, in north-east Scotland.

Jonathan Hope
Strathclyde University, Glasgow

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