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Towards a more analytic expression of grammatical relationships: the use of prepositions and adverbs in early English correspondence.


The focus of my paper is syntactic. It analyses different functions and positions of uninflected words, more precisely prepositions and adverbs, in fifteenth-century English correspondence. By Late Middle English grammatical relationships and meanings previously expressed by means of affixation (inflectional endings and prefixes) had been largely taken over by prepositions and adverbial particles which had become necessary elements in most noun and verb phrases.

Due to their analytic character, constructions containing prepositional and phrasal verbs have been considered of particular interest and are analysed in considerable detail in the paper. Moreover, the use of adverbs in negations, and prepositions and adverbs in relative structures is examined. In order to make the discussion complete, compound prepositions and adverbs are discussed as counterexamples to the general tendency towards a more analytic expression of grammatical relationships.

Medieval constructions containing prepositions and adverbs are often highly idiomatic and differ from Present-day English ones not only in terms of word order but also with regard to meaning. Therefore, some attention is paid throughout the paper to the semantic development of the discussed words.

The Cely letters (1472-88) constitute the basis for the analysis, but some examples are also drawn from the Paston and Plumpton letters.

The present article is hoped to contribute to a better understanding of the language of fifteenth-century written unofficial documents.

0. Introduction

The focus of this paper is syntactic. It analyses different functions and positions of prepositions and adverbs in fifteenth-century English correspondence. The Cely letters (henceforth CL), a collection of the earliest extant commercial letters in English (1472-88), constitute the basis for the analysis (the size of the corpus is almost 85,000 words), (1) but some examples are also drawn from the Paston and Plumpton letters. (2)

By Late Middle English grammatical relationships and meanings previously expressed by means of affixation (inflectional and derivational affixes) had been largely taken over by prepositions and adverbs which had become necessary elements in most noun and verb phrases. Interestingly, the occurrences of the most frequent prepositions, OF (3) (of(f), ov (4)), TO (to), AT (at(t)) and IN (in, yn, i, y), amount to over 8,000 words, i.e., nearly ten per cent of all the words in the whole collection of the CL.

My paper is divided into three parts: It will first discuss the functions and distribution of prepositions, then the structure, functions, comparison and distribution of adverbs. Later on, the focus will shift to periphrastic structures involving prepositions or/and adverbs. Particular attention will be paid to expressions and constructions that have either been changed or altogether lost from the language.

1. Prepositions

1.1. Functions and distribution

In the material analysed, prepositions, in most cases, retain their full prepositional force (marking the grammatical and semantic relation between two notional words, the latter of which is a substantive or pronoun). In CL prepositions take noun phrases as their complements. Prepositional phrases formed in this way act as complements or adjuncts to verbs and modifiers to nouns and pronouns. As can be seen in the following example, such uses of prepositions closely resemble those found in PDE.

1) Ryght worchepffull syr, I recomend to your goode masterschep, etc., laytyng your masterschep wett the caus of my comyng to Callys was to corn vnto you for a goshauke, as you promysyd me at my laste beyng wyth ^you^ in London. (61: 85)

Prepositions often occur in collocations with particular verbs referred to as prepositional verbs. However, these are not as strictly fixed as in today's English. Many of these collocations allow for some variation of the preposition, e.g.,

2) Daultons mother comendys hyr to you and thankys yow for the knyuys that 3e sente to hyr. (RCII 117: 512)

3) Syr, my Loord comendys hym harttely wnto yow, and thankys yow of your letter, and syche tydyngys as he knowys a wryttys yow parte. (RCII 121: 564)

Prepositions may also be necessary elements in idiomatic prepositional phrases, e.g.,

4) Firthermore sir, as for the byllis of John Eton tat Fedyan axith, in gudd fayth we cannott yett fynde them; Y trowe nor neuer shall. (JC 100: 22)

5) Also syr, he leyde arndys on me by mothe to sey to you... (JR 57: 75) (5)

6) For sothe, I can haue of Rychard Tywne, mecer, at London ix s. viij d. (RCI 50: 271)

Not infrequently, prepositions, which are part of a collocation with a verb, occur at the end of a clause, e.g.,

7) Item, syr, I vnderstonde that yowre masterschypp wold [th]at John Dalton schuld bye the horsse that he wrote to yow off. (WLC 163: 216)

8) 3e schall onderstond mor at your comyng - yt ys of meyrth the cavsse I woold haue you for. (JD 44: 26)

9) I woll speke wyth John Vandyrhay and soche merchantys as I am acostom to delle wyth. (GC 22: 35)

At times the same preposition occurs twice in the same construction, e.g.,

10) and they hawe graunttyd and gewen a saffcondutt generall duryng the space of x monthys to all maner merchauntys, of what nacyon or contrey they be off, bryngyng vetell ynto Flaunders, or ellys nott (WLC 238: 1537)


Furthermor syr, at they makyng heroff all that nov bene in Leyceter in recomaunde them vnto yow and desyred me so to wreet, and that we wold ffayne haue yow heere agayne, etc. (JD 180: 134)

No specific reason for such doubling of prepositions can be inferred from the examples, apart from, perhaps, emphasis. It can also be indeliberate.

Conversely, in certain constructions where prepositions would be considered necessary according to the grammatical rules in modem English, no preposition is employed, e.g.,

12) and I hawe delyuerd Joysse v s. x d. Fl. ffor al maner costys here, as hallff passage and brege money, etc., and ffor hys costys yn Ynglond, xx s. ster. acordyng to yowre wrytyng, etc. (WLC 181: 367)

13) Syr, ther ys in the same chambyr [iij.sup.c] xlix Cotys of my fadyrs in the sayd chambyr, praysyd xiiij noblis, howlde fellys allso. (GC 92: 114)

In example 12 one could expect the preposition OF following maner, but apparently the writers did not judge the preposition to be necessary. In (13) AT has been omitted.

However, the omission of a preposition in the discussed constructions seems optional and there are clauses where it is retained in the same environment, e.g.,

14) Syr, he hath bowght won as on Synt Telen Day, besyde Odenborow at a ffa3er, and he standys yn yowre stabull. Hys color ys maner off a gray coler. (WLC 163: 217)

15) Forst syr, and 3e con, sell [iiij.sup.c]lvj wynter London of my ffadyrs Rychard Cely hys: they be praysyd at xij noblis, xx d., and they be howlde ffelys. (GC 92: 112)

Prepositions are an uninflected part of speech and cannot take any inflectional suffixes. They do not show any derivational affixation either. However, there are examples of compound prepositions in, e.g.,

16) The messenger that brought them I herde hym sey he departede from the Kynge at be Tower of London vpon Frydey last past. (WD 171: 50)

17) Owr father rydys into Cots old vythin viij dayes, and I go to my Loorde. (RCII 47: 146)

Such complex forms (written jointly or separately in the originals of the letters) can obviously be found in PDE.

1.2. Prepositions used as infinitive markers

In some constructions prepositions have lost their prepositional force. This applies to those marking the infinitive form of the verb. The infinitive indicators found in the CL include to, f(f)or to, for, and zero. (6) Figure 1 shows the distribution of the variants to and for to in the authors using more than one indicator of the infinitive. The remaining writers use only the marker to.

The table above shows that to is much more common than for to as the infinitive marker in all authors but two. Only RCI and WM show preference for the variant for to. The percentages of particular forms in their letters are strikingly similar. The fact that both writers belong to the older generation supports the assumption that for to is a receding variant. Several younger writers use it as well but merely occasionally. (9) Below, functional features of all the variants and the differences between them are discussed.

The infinitive form is usually introduced by to, which, in this position, does not exhibit its original prepositional functions, but serves merely as an indicator of the infinitive form. The infinitive, preceded by the simple to, can also express finality, e.g., to fet in example (18) and to se in (19).

18) he hathe mayd promyse to be her wythin xiiij days after Candylmesse to fet tayme away, and he hathe promysid to helpe yow of 1 li. of Caruluss grottys for xvj d. (JPM 142: 117-118)

19) iij dayes afor the wrytyng of thys I departyd from my Loord, and come to se my father and my mother, and the morow after ^thys^ I pwrpos be grasse of God to goo ageyn. (RCII 55: 169)

The complex prepositional indicator for to was originally used to express purpose ['in order to', 'for the purpose of'] (Mustanoja 1960: 514; Mosse 1952: 100), and it still occurs in that function in most of the instances found in the CL. (10) e.g.,

20) The cavse I wryt to the ys for to beware ^of^ resayuyvng of syche goldys as gryte lose ys in at Caleys. (RCI 20: 90)

21) Syr, my master yowre fadere and my maysterys yowre moder would awyes yow that ye wovld com howre vnto them into Hessex, and nat for to com at London, and for to be mery ther wyt them thys hervest, and so for to do youre pylgrymage. (WM 58: 90-91)

This function of for to can also be found in other contemporary letters, e.g.,

22) they schalbe redy in ther defensable aray ... in the West parte on Gateley More the same day, vpon peyne of losyng of ther goodys and bodyes, for to geynsstonde suche persons as is abowtward for to dystroy owre suffereyn lorde the Kynge and the Comowns of Engelond. (William Paston III 1489: 5) (11)

23) att which time ye may nott faile to send hider all your bookes and some readie man for to answer unto him (Brian Rocliffe 1461: 11)

However, for to does not always indicate finality (though this function can be determined in the majority of occurrences). In several cases it introduces a neutral infinitive (especially in RCI), e.g.,

24) the warled ys not good, werefor it ys as good for to lese in the begeyn(yn)g as in the ende (RCI 31: 182)

25) The man of Lyne ys good payment, and that ys mery for to dele wyt syche men. (RCI 31: 187)

26) for I knowe well that Thomas Kesten ys lothe for to sell them, for I woust hem neuer for to selle non of myn but yeff that Y war there mysellfe. (WM 69: 103)

27) Wherfor, modyr, we must beseche yow to helpe vs forward wyth a lettyr fro yaw to Mastyr Pykenham to remembyr hym for to handyll well and dylygently thys mater now thys Lent. (John Paston III 1478: 02) (12)

28) My sayd Master Gascoygne hath dyligently applyed your matter, as much as is possible for to doe, as your servant Geffray can shew unto you more at large every thing by mouth. (Edward Plumpton 1495: 10)

Apart from the two variants, to and for to, three instances of for directly preceding the infinitive have been found in RCI, and one in JD: (13)

29) as thay saye, werefor ys faturs hath promysyd for (to) make you a quytons under nottarys syne. (RCI 80: 394)

30) The frendes of here hath spoke wyt me for that mater, but all they wyll not grant a grote for (to) geve them (RCI 85: 407) (14)

31) Se the carthe body be good hassche, and hexsyd rydy for goe to worke, for I haue gret nede therto. (RCI 56: 326)

32) Welbeluffyd brotheyr, I recomaund me vnto you, prayng you for do so mvch for me noo at thys tyme, to pay the freyght for a xviij sarplerys wooll and ffellys of Thomas Wigestons tyll my broder Wylliam Dalton or ellys I come (JD 28: 13)

The structures presented above differ in an important way, namely, for in example (29) and (32) does not seem to imply any finality, while in (30) and (31) it introduces the infinitive of purpose. These uses of for are exceptional in the letters analysed. However, both have been occasionally recorded in other texts in Middle English (see Mustanoja 1960: 515, 540). (15)

Additionally, there are several instances of to followed immediately by a passive participle form, e.g.,

33) and the iijde peny at xxv s. for the Ii., and to resayuyd at Bamys marte neste corn, and the secon payment vj monyht, and the reste vj monyht after that. (RCI 26: 135)

34) Item I pray (you) to be ^good^ ffrende to my wyffe in helpeng her in all s(e)che theng as sche hathe to done (TK 6:12)

It seems reasonable to interpret example (33) as the elliptical passive infinitive constructions with the implied (non-expressed) infinitive form of the verb BE. However, in example (34) done may be interpreted as an archaic infinitive form, not the past participle with the omitted auxiliary.

2. Adverbs

2.1. Structure and distribution

Adverbs differ from prepositions in that they are not purely grammatical words, used for expressing relations between other words. They have their own lexical meanings and add to the meaning of the phrase and clause in which they occur. Adverbs show derivational suffixes and, also, can be inflected by degrees. The suffix -LY (-ly, -le, -lay, -ley, -lye) is quite commonly used for deriving adverbs from adjectives (this process is still productive in PDE), e.g., scharply, dayly, veryly, grettely, schortlay, treulle, and trewlye.

There is also an interesting group of adverbs which were originally genitive forms of other parts of speech, mainly adjectives, nouns and pronouns, or borroWed the genitive suffix from words belonging to these parts of speech, e.g.,

35) Thowe I dede nat allwheys well (TK 219: 172)

36) wherfore sir Y hertly beseche and pray you atte ~e reuerence of Jhesu consideryng pe feithfull love bat Y owe and bere towardys you and so will do duryng my lyf (AN 16: 71)

37) Thorny I pray yow sell som of myn good Cottys woll that com at Estorn and &e con, and as ffor that at corn syns I pray yow lat ytt alon tyll Y corn (GC 92: 126)

38) Alsoy syr syn tyt ys soo as it ys of my mayster your fayder, in the reverens of God take it pacyenly and hvrte nott yoursell, for that ^God^ wyll haue done no mane may be gense ['against']. (JD 141: 108)

However, there are some related variants without the genitive suffix, e.g.,

39) my Lordd Chamberleyn lokyth allwey when he schall be sent ffor (WLC 176: 317)

40) I hope ther whas nott a better markett toward ffor Cottys woll many a day (GC 109: 190)

41) As towchyng the mater in your letter of the pour woman, I saw her nevyr syn byt as I com by her fathers dor I saw the mayde stond wyth her modyr. (RCII 55: 180)

42) plesse it you to vnderstond that I am latte comen to London, ande for deyueres causses ande matteres, also well agayn Wylliam Brerely as oder (TK 143: 45-47)

Some adverbs do not differ in form from adjectives, e.g., fast, last, and long.

2.2. Comparison

Like adjectives, adverbs in CL inflect only by degrees of comparison: positive, comparative, and superlative. Regular comparison takes place through the addition of suffixes: -ER (-ar and -er) to form the comparative degree and -EST (-est and -yst) to form the superlative. Here are several examples of regular comparison:

43) the [whych] I hawe redd and well vnderstond, an[d t]hat yowre m[asterschypp] marwellyd that I wrytyth non offtener. (WLC 201: 657)

44) yff 3e wyll be payd here 3e schall be payd be Ester and schorttlyer, ^and^ 3eff yowre masterschyppys wyll hawe hytt soo. (WLC 208: 873)

45) and the sayd ffellys lyeth nexte be affte the maste lowest vnder the ffellys off Thomas Bettson (WLC 132: 127)

46) the wyche be bystowyd in the sayd scheppe, all afor the mast and lowyst abafte the mast, and yowre broder Rechard Celyys ys ^fellys^ be stowyd abaft the mast vpon myn (WM 130: 149) (16)

47) I wryt no mor to you a[t] thys, byt I porpos to wryt mor schortly. (RCII 8:11)

One can see the beginnings of the periphrastic comparison of adverbs in the analysed letters. However, these are rare. Periphrastic comparison, through the addition of MORE to form the comparative degree, and MOST to form the superlative is, as in the case of adjectives, only sporadic and marked emotionally. The following are the only examples of periphrastic comparison of adverbs found in the letters:

48) I am porpossyd to com hovyr vnto yow whan this marte ys done, and than schall Y tell yow mor playnle be movthe. (GC 93: 150)

49) Syr, I hawhe bene spokyn to for a whyfe in ij plassys syn ge departtyd: whon whos be the praysayrs, as schawll whryt to yow mor playne in my next letter. (ROII 146: 741)

50) wh[erfor] Y vndyrstond by hym that he wyll take my brodyr an lettyr wherby 3e sh[all se] hys intent mor cleyrly. (GO 41: 74)

51) If you ar any oder wyll haue my serves I to do them sarves better schep then any man (TK 219: 149)

All the adverbial periphrases above are in the comparative degree, and in all cases but one the comparative form MORE modifies an adverb in the positive degree. In (51) BETTER is used to build a structure in the comparative degree.

One instance of multiple comparison, also marked emotionally, has been recorded:

52) as yee schall vnderstond more clerelyar be the copy of the sayd saffcondutt, the whych ys sent vnto mastyr Mayer of the Stapell to schew vnto all the Fellyschypp at London. (WLC 238: 1538)

Some constructions combine inflectional and periphrastic devices. These include the gradational comparative and the proportional comparative.

Gradational comparative, a construction "used to indicate that the quality in question increases or decreases at a fairly even rate" (Mustanoja 1960: 281-282), yields one occurrence in the letters. The gradual increase of time is indicated by means of EVER and the comparative form of the adverb LONG, and the concurrent decrease (or, in this case, deterioration) is expressed by a repetitive construction containing two comparative variants of EVIL joined by the conjunction AND:

53) and the exchaunge goyth euer the lenger warsse and wars. (WLC 234: 1405)

54) The mor ys done for hym the more ys he beholdyng// byt me thynky the mor comfort that sche haue of hym, and the mor helpe he haue of you, the les wyll sche sette by ws. (RCII 47: 139)

Proportional comparative, expressed by the correlative construction THE ... THE occurs twice:

55) I pray you that ye woll makt som good man yowre atomey for to do seyell them, for Y wovld fayn they ware y-sould, for the lengar that Y keppe them ther the worsse woll the fellys be. (WM 58: 95) (17)

The demonstrative type of proportional comparative, with a single THE, occurs three times in the collection:

56) wherffor ytt whyll be be[st that e] schypp yowr wholl as schortly as e ma / the sonar 3e s[chypp yowr who]ll yt schall stonde /etc. (GC 247: 308)

57) I desyret is Hollynes at I motte do my vayage sennes I was so far forthe, and so is Ollynes sendes me as is inbassador wyth materis of gret inportansse. I treste do be the sonner at ome, be Godys grace. (SJW 129: 221-222)

58) Syr, I wryt the playnear to yow for owr father sawe your letter er hyt come to my handys, and wos resenably wel plesyd therwyth, so that ge stonde sewyr. (RCII 47: 145)

In some formulaic expressions, constructions with the comparative form lever(e) (lewer, leuyr, leyuer) or superlative leuest have been found. Apparently, these forms are never used independently, and can only be interpreted as part of an idiom, meaning 'prefer' as a whole unit:

59) for the worschyppffull merchauntys of the town hadd lever than myche goode they were owte of the town. (WLC 240: 1588)

60) I haue lever my money be note resayuyd tyll anoder tyme radar nor ye schall labor youreselve and not holle. (RCI 73: 372)

A typical feature of the analysed documents is a heavy use of intensifying adverbs, which can modify both adjectives (61-3) and adverbs (64-65), e.g.,

61) and whe whoulde be ryught glade and 3e myhyt be redy to cowm in cowmpeny of my Lady wyth master Mwngewmbre, for he pwrpos to be heyr afor Cyrstemes. (RCII 136: 700)

62) Wretton at Calles the xvij day of May, wyth full hewy hart. (TK 219:190-191)

63) yt hat be sayd vnto vs her that ye hath be sore seke. (WM 70: 108)

64) Syr John ys in grehyt trobull, and God knowys full whrongefowlly. (RCII 175: 905)

65) Y am in good whay of my besynesse now, 3ett whas ther ryght lytyll done therto whan he departyd. (OC 109: 178)

MUCH and LITTLE can modify other adverbs, but they never modify adjectives, e.g.,

66) Ye schall here myche more in thys pertys nor I can at Brytys. (RCI 56: 333)

67) for the weche my Lorde takyt for a [grete] ple(s)ar for to haue syche ty(d)yng as ye here in thys partyys, for the weche ye may no lese doe but wryt meche the more of ty(d)yng, for my Lordys sake. (RCI 90: 443)

68) and ther I bowgh(t) [vj.sup.c] peltys after iiij s. iiij d. a C and lytyll moor, the wych ge schall allwaye haue the ton half of as long as I haue ony. (JD 141: 111)

Example (67) shows an interesting construction with the definite article inserted between meche (an intensifier) and more (an adverb in the comparative degree). This can probably be considered as an atypical instance of the proportional comparative used for emphasis.

2.3. Compounds

Adverbs found in the letters are often compound forms. Some of these are relative markers and will be mentioned below in the section on relative clauses. Others include, for example, the adverbs THEREOF, HEREOF, THEREIN, THERETO, etc., in the forms ther(e) of (f) , Perof her(e)ofW, ther(e)in, perin, theryn, peryn, ther(e)to, Pareto, and Perto, e.g.,

69) Item, syr, as ffor syche AnewellysA as ys here, plese hytt yow to comen wyth the brynger herof and he wyll tell yow, for I darre nott wryght, etc. (WLC 216: 1172)

70) Syr, as for John Cely ys bell, Y can her nothyng therof, and Y haue spoken vnto John Tatte therof, and he answar me he hat no seche yt y-comen. (WM 39: 40)

71) and ther he sawe a lyttyll cheste in hys chambur, and owr brother lockyd hys bokys therm (RCII 19: 46)

The use of compound adverbs cited above can be explained by the lack of the possessive form of the neuter personal pronoun IT. Many of the forms cited above are still used in formal contexts in PDE, but are probably much less frequent. They are analysable as morphologically complex forms, consisting of an adverb and a preposition. However, many adverbs perceived today as morphologically simple forms originated, in fact, in phrases, whose parts were once written separately, e.g., the adverb away (from OE on wez), the preposition among (< OE on zemang (18)), and the preposition and adverb before (OE beforan (19) and about (from OE on-butan (20)) Such changes in the orthographic shape of the words are certainly due to phonological developments, but they have also been accompanied (or, possibly, caused) by a semantic and morphological reanalysis. As these words have ceased to be perceived as compounds, it can be claimed that, in this case, compounding does not have to be a counterexample to analytic tendencies in the English language. On the contrary, these examples reflect the tendency to associate one meaning with one form, which is, in itself, analytic.

3. Periphrastic constructions involving adverbs and/or prepositions

3.1. Negation

A common type of periphrastic construction containing adverbs is negation. The negative adverbs used in the letters include: NO (no), NOT (non, not(e), noot, nott(e) (21) nat (22) nat(t)(e)), NEVER (neffyr, ner(e), nevyr, newer), NEITHER (neder, noder), NONE (non(e)), and not(h)yng 'not at all', NOWHERE (nowher).

Negative adverbs follow the verbs that they modify, e.g.,

72) Y answard hem azyn yt myt nat so be. (WM 39: 44)

73) Thowffe the be not past ij of a color or iij it skyllys not - blew, or tawne, or grene, or vyolet. (JD 51: 46)

74) I ham notte well intredyd, ffor I haue notte mony by me to pay the xvj s. viij d. of the sarpler hafter the ratte. (RBC 21: 29)

75) I knowe not whow myche mony that I haue ressayvyd of tham tyll I se the oblygacions. (HB 135: 117)

76) euery man that hath howssynge wyth(owt) the gatys ys warnyd to remeve hys howsse as schorttly as he can ynto the towne [...] and yff he do nott stond at hys owne aventture at syche tyme that schall ^'come^ to be pluckyd schorttly down, or ellys bumyd ffor the schortter warke. (WLC 115: 67-68)

Example (76) contains the verb DO. In the CL it did not function as an auxiliary, but still only as a lexical verb.

Negative adverbs may also modify other adverbs. Then they are in pre-position, e.g.,

77) In owr ffathyrs dewte he hathe me truly, and he con none ffardyr go but to me, and the mater ys soyche I trow I conot gese hym. (GC 4: 10)

78) Ytt whas no mor but all yowr howld woll, and as ffor the new, ytt ys the iijde peny, vj monthys and vj monthys, and so myght Y a done syn I come vnto Calles. (GC 22: 38)

Other, words that can carry some negative meaning include, e.g., the adverb LITTLE and the preposition SAVE.

79) And allsoo syr, I cannott spare thys mony tell tyme I hawe made a sale, ffor all schall be lykyll inowe to paye yowre costom and subsede. (WLC 202: 689)

80) I pray yow delyuer hym no more of my mony: he saythe yow lettyll worchepe, that yow schowlde howe ys man xx s. and abatte ytt of my dewtte. (RBC 21: 34)

81) and he hath sent hytt to Calles redy, and I hawe receyued hytt enerythyng acordyng to yowre remembravnce, sawe the cortens be stayned but on the ton syde. (WLC 189: 516)

There are several examples of multiple negation in the letters. Presumably, two or three negatives were felt as stronger than a single negative. This seems to be confirmed by the examples below, e.g.,

82) Syr, he ys 1100 stydffast man, nor he owyth yow noo goodd wyll thow3th he make a ffayer fface, ffor I hawe spoken to hym ffor yowre warrantys xx tymys. (WLC 170: 291)

83) But noo man saythe nor doyth nothyng to noon Englyscheman, but that they maye resorte too and ffroo as they hawe doon yn tymes past; saweng only men ben affardde off Frenschemen. (WLC 211: 985)

85) Syr, I pray you lette hyme not se thys letter ne tell hym note of tys 3end byt of the qwetans, and hy hyme to Hawelay in as gret haste as ye can. (RCII 86: 324)

The negative constructions in the above examples all seem to carry some emotional weight.

84) I awyse you to lene hym no mony, ne do no thyng wyth hym byt afor record. (RCII 47: 141)

3.2. Relative clauses

Among numerous relative markers there are adverbs and adverbial compounds, e.g., HOW (how(e), whow(e)), WHERE (wher(e), were), WHEREFORE (wherfor(e), wer(e)for(e), qwherfor), of WHEREOF (wher(e)of, wer(e)of, wheroff, qwherof, WHEREIN (wher(e)in), and WHEREBY ((q)wherby).

86) I pray you send me word how 3e do in tho maters, and qwate your profur wos, and wyth hom, and ther schawl be nothyng be doyn heyr byt 3e schaull haue knowlege. (RCII 55: 182)

87) the wych ffellys lay wher my broder Wylliam Dalton ffellys lay. (JD 44: 21)

88) and i the nexte mony that I ressauyd for owyr father whos xxx li. qwherof I loste xx s. in gowlde, a my sowll I whot not qwheyr. (RCII 74: 213)

89) Howr father has ressauyd a letter frome yow wherby he wndyrstond of the salle: ij sarpellys and a peke. (RCII 117: 513)

Relative clauses may also be introduced by prepositional phrases, consisting of a preposition, the definite article and a relative pronoun, e.g.,

90) and she hath delyuerd hym youre bylle of youre hand, be the wiche he must reseyue of you now att this marte, iiij xj li. (JC 101: 31)

91) for I ow hym iiij li., of the whyche he hathe a byll of my hand (TC 172: 239)

92) Also syr, Y vnderstond that a lytell befor yowre comyng to Calles John Dallton had sovud all myn hoder fellys the wyche Y had in Calles, for the wyche, syr Y thankt yow and hem bothe hatteley (WM 149: 168)

93) And he wyll dosoe I schall be ys good frende, and that he schall wyll understand in tyme to com, for the weche I wyll be glade for to doe for hym and wyll hymselve. (RCI 11: 28)

I was struck by the frequency of the phrase for the weche in RCI and decided to analyse its distribution in other authors' writings. It turned out that 81 out of 93 instances found in all the CL occurred in RCI's letters. His application of the marker was also pretty peculiar. Whereas in other writers' letters for was only used as part of a prepositional verb (in most cases the verb THANK), in Richard the elder's letters it must have lost its prepositional force and was not related to any particular verb in the subordinate clause. Rather, the sequence for the weche had to be analysed as one grammatical (and semantic) entity corresponding to WHEREFORE used by other authors (94-95). The only other writer using the phrase occasionally in a similar way is WLC (96).

94) ze schall onderstond that I intende to depart into Ynglond as sone as the martt ys done, wherfor yff you come not yoursellff I pray you sende me word whom you wyll that I schall leyff such thengkys of yours. (ID 18: 6-7)

95) Syr, I haue not the praysment of my brothers Robarddys fellys, nether of Wylliam Daulltons owlde fellys, wherfor I wold haue wrytyng how I schuld be demenyd. (RCII 34: 100)

96) they all be warnyd to voyde the town off Gales and the Marches, wyffe, chyldem and goodes be Fryday nexte corn, payn off deth, ffor the whych I trow Botrell woll ^nott^ dyshease yow off yowre howsse noo lenger, etc. (WLC 185: 449-450)

Although RCI showed a marked predilection for the prepositional relative market for the weche, he did use the relative adverb WHEREFORE 21 times, e.g.,

97) The sekenese ys sore in London, werefor meche pepyll of the Sete ys into the contre for fere of the sekenese. (RCI 52: 288)

98) The horse ys fayer; God saue hym and Send Loye, werefore God send you a schapeman for hym and redy money in hand. (RCI 52: 297)

I have found no instances of the sequence FOR THE WHICH in the letters by John Paston III and William Paston III. In the whole collection of the Plumpton letters there is only one occurrence of the phrase:

99) I take me oonly to your good wyll and thankfull disposition, for the which I hartely thanke you. (Henry Percy 1487: 11)

However, in Percy's letter the preposition for collocates with the verb THANK. In light of the evidence available one can conclude that RCI's use of the phrase constitutes an idiosyncrasy rather than a generally accepted feature.

3.3. Phrasal and prepositional verbs

Prepositions often occur in collocations with particular verbs forming structures referred to as prepositional verbs. However, these are not as strictly fixed as in today's English. Many of these collocations allow for some variation of the preposition, e.g.,

100) Daultons mother comendys hyr to you and thankys yow for the knyuys that ge sente to hyr. (RCII 117: 512)

101) Syr, my Loord comendys hym harttely wnto yow, and thankys yow of your letter, and syche tydyngys as he knowys a wryttys yow parte. (RCII 121: 564)

102) ffor I hawe wrytten to hym and allsoo I hawe ben theyr and spoken wyth hym. (WLC 202: 681)

103) And whereas yowre masterschypp wrytytyth that I remember lytyll that ye badd me speke to John Delowppys that he schuld wryte to Peter Bayle & Delyte. (WLC 202: 680)

104) Syr, plese hit yowre masterschypp to vnderstond that John Dalton and I hawe spoken many tymes vnto master Lefftenaunte ffor payment of yowre warrantys off xv s. off the pownd. (WLC 164: 241)

In example (100) the verb THANK occurs in collocation with the preposition FOR, but in (101), in a different letter by the same writer it collocates with OF. In the second set of examples (102-103) there is variation between the use of WITH, TO and UNTO. Again, the variation occurs in the writings of the same author. Prepositions following THANK (and RECEIVE) seem to be interchangeable. This shows inconsistency or hesitation on the part the authors. However, in case of SPEAK, I have spotted some differences in the syntactic structures in which different prepositions are used. All the three, WITH, TO and UNTO, introduce the prepositional phrase constituting the indirect object of the verb. But, if TO or UNTO are used, the indirect object is followed by an adjunct and/or another clause, specifying the objective of the conversation (such as, e.g., asking for a favour or giving somebody orders). If WITH is chosen, ususally no adjunct follows and the verb phrase seems to concentrate only on the action expressed by the verb and on the identity of the person spoken to.

Some collocations of verbs and prepositions seem to be well established and do not allow for prepositional variation, e.g.,

105) Ytt ys so that I loke ffor my Lord of Sent Jonys dayly, and at his comyng I wholl breng ^hym^ appon the way or do as my broder shall avysse me to do! (GC 124: 240)

106) Syr, ye schall vnderstond that we lokt for hem her ayen wytin thys iij wekys, etc. (WM 58: 87)

107) Ryght [re]uer[en]d and worchupfull Ser, [I r]ecomend me vnto [you wyth] reuerence, as a s[p]ows how to dow to [h]y[r] spow[s], as [h]artely as [I can], euermore dessyr(y)ng to her of your weilfar. (MC 222: 129)

108) Ryght trusty frende, I hertely comaunde me vnto yow, desyreng euermor to her of your welfar, whyche I pray God contynew vnto his pleser, amen. (TG 64: 245)

As in Present-Day English, adverbs often collocate with verbs, forming penphrastic structures called phrasal verbs. Below follow several examples of the most common structures of this kind:

109) Syr yff yt plesse yow that yow will lett hit owt, I pray yow that I may haue ij of the romes off the stabull. (JD 180:137)

110) and soo I hawe causyd Wylliam S myth preuely to cast owte anoder sarpler. (WLC 234: 1428)

111) Prayng you hertely that ge will vowchsaff to take the payne as to by ffor me such stuff nessessary as I most nedes occupy, and to lay owte the money vnto your comyng. (RR 42: 160)

112) and then take hym wpe and ser hym, and lette hym stand in the dede of whyntter. (RCII 193: 915)

113) my master yowre fader wovld that Rechard Cely schuld bryng hover anoder govshawke wyt hem, yeff ye covd hey any at Calles for viij or ix s. (WM 39: 51)

As can be seen in the examples, the adverbial particle usually follows the verb immediately. However, in the cases where a pronoun is the direct object, it takes the position between the verb and the adverb (109 and 112).

Apart from prepositional and phrasal verbs discussed above, one can also find numerous verbs that have to be followed by two particles: an adverb and a preposition. Here follow several examples:

114) I am in whay wyth Gyshbryght Van Whennysbarge ffor an ij of yowr sarpleris: Y hope Y shall go thorow wyth hym. (GC 109: 198)

115) And so, syr, ^Y^ vnderstond ther remayng behynd wheche be mad and sore brent, [ij.sup.c]xxv felles, the wyche ye woll do yowre best to put away wyt yowre fellys, for the wyche, syr, Y thanke yow hartley. (WM 149: 165)

116) I tolde hym he schulde geyff me redy money or he went owt of Cales or ellys he schulde haueff no wooll of me at thys tyme, and soo we departyd. (JD 18: 5)

Some multi-word verbs found in the letters have been lost from the language over time or have different meanings in PDE, e.g.,

117) The Dewke askyth noothyng off hem but mony, and he wyll take syche men wyth hym to goo vppon ['attack'] the Frenschemen as plesyd hym. (WLC 186: 466)

118) And there the Lefftenaunt schewyd vnto them how that the Fellyschypp ffownd them grewyd wyth the[m] becawse they were swome ffyrst vnto the Stappell and browght vpp ['raised to a good position'] theyr. (WLC 208: 887)

119) Item, syr, the same day I spake to master Leffetenaunt ffor payment off yowre warrantys, or ellys that they myght be sett vppon ['deducted from'] yowre byllys off costom and sobsede ^as he promysyd me beffore^. (WLC 170: 287)

120) and I departyd from London on Estym Ewyn, and I cowd not get frome ['leave'] my Loord of Sent Jonys not paste iij days togyddyr syn Estyr Ewe. (RCII 55: 168)

4. Conclusions

In the present paper the author has aimed at presenting an overview of different functions assumed by prepositions and adverbs as well as the main peripbrastic constructions (i.e., negation, relative clauses, and multi-word verbs) in which they occur in the analysed letters. Adverbs and prepositions are often discussed together in the same sub-section. This is due to the fact that both can occur in similar constructions. Therefore, the classification of words into clear-cut classes, such as prepositions and adverbs, is often problematic. An extreme example of this functional and distributional overlapping could be seen in the discussion of the phrase for the wech(e).

The evidence provided shows that the distribution and functions of prepositions and adverbs in fifteenth-century correspondence do not differ greatly from the present-day usage. However, some features alien to modem grammar have been spotted and discussed, e.g., the infinitive markers for and for to, frequent use of compound relative adverbs, and multiple negation.

Although there are some traces of inflection in adverbs and productive compounding processes in both prepositions and adverbs, the general tendency for these words is to occur in periphrastic structures contributing to the analytic character of the language.

The discussion has been based on the CL and only occasionally referred to other collections of letters. Certainly, deeper analysis and comparison of the CL with other contemporary letters will help determine which features are the authors' idiosyncrasies and which reflect more general tendencies in the language.



Names of the writers:

AN: Anonymous author of the drafts 16 and 17

EB: Edmond Bedyngfeld

GC: George Cely

HB: Harry Bryan

JC: John Cely

JD: John Dalton

JPM: Joyce Parmenter

JPS: John Pasmer

JR: John Roosse

MC: Margery Cely

RBC: Robert Cely

RCD: R. Coldale

RCI: Richard Cely senior

RCII: Richard Cely junior

RL: Ralph Lemyngton

RR: Robert Radclyff

RT: Roland Thomburght

SJW: Sir John Weston

TC: Thomas Colton

TG: Thomas Granger

TK: Thomas Kesten

WLC: William Cely

WD: William Dalton

WM: William Maryon

WMD: William Mydwynter Other

CL: Cely Letters

LALME: Linguistic Atlas of Late Medieval English, vol. 1

MED: Middle English Dictionary

QED: Oxford English Dictionary on-line

Symbols used in examples

[ ] enclose reconstructions, omissions and explanations

( ) enclose emendations

^ ^ enclose interlineations
Figure 1.

Distribution of infinitive indicators to, f(f)or to, and for (7)

 to (%) for to (%) for (%)

WLC 315 (92) 29 (8) (8) -
RCII 196 (98) 4 (2) -
RCI 29 (32.3) 57 (63.3) 4 (4.4)
WM 15 (33) 30 (67) -
JD 19 (90) 1 (5) 1(5)
JR 19 (95) 1 (5) -
EB 6 (86) 1 (14) -
JPS 10 (91) 1 (9) -
RL 4 (80) 1 (20) -
RT 1 (50) 1 (50) -
TC 2 (67) 1 (13) -
WMD 3 (75) 1 (25) -

(1.) The numeration of letters from the Cely collection follows Hanham's (1975) edition of the letters. Additional numbers given in examples correspond to the lines in the electronic version of the CL in the form of a Microsoft Access databasis that compiled by the present author and used for the purposes of linguistic analysis. All the abbreviations and symbols used in this paper are listed in the Appendix.

(2.) All the examples from the Plumpton letters come from Kirby (ed.) (1996) (over 38,000 words), and those from the Paston letters (only John Paston III's and william Paston III's letters have been analysed) from the Corpus of Middle English Prose and Verse available at: (nearly 50,000 words).

(3.) Capital letters refer to all the orthographic variants of a given word or phrase.

(4.) The variant ov has been recorded only once: Ryght wyrschypfull cossyn, I commaunde me to yow, praying yow to send me halfe a doson quysschyns and viij yerdys ov bankerys acordyng pareto, of Ynglyssche yerdys, verdure pe colowr (RCD 60: 149).

(5.) Arndys means 'message, errand' (Hanham 1975: 315).

(6.) Other infinitive indicators, till and at, quoted by Mustanoja (1960: 515), have not been recorded either in CL or in the analysed Paston and Plumpton letters.

(7.) Zero has not been taken into consideration, because of a large number of doubtful cases, where the definite distinction between the infinitive and the subjunctive seems impossible, which renders counts of these forms unreliable.

(8.) Including 19 occurrences of ffor to.

(9.) The percentages given for the minor writers (EB, JPS, RL, RT, TC, and WMD) are probably of little statistical value, given the sizes of their outputs.

(10.) Mustanoja's claim that for to "becomes weakened into a mere sign of the infinitive, equivalent to to, in the course of the 1 3th century" does not apply to numerous tokens found in CL, where it preserves its function of indicating finality.

(11.) The numbers refer to the year and the month when the letter was written.

(12.) The infinitive marker for to becomes rare in later letters by John Paston III.

(13.) Mosse (1952: 101) claims that for was very rare and found only in the thirteenth century. As the examples from CL show, it could also be found in texts from the end of the fifteenth century. No examples of this variant have been found in the Paston letters analysed.

(14.) In both examples (to) is Hanham's emendation.

(15.) Mustanoja (1960: 540) mentions that the use of for with the plain infinitive may be due to French influence.

(16.) Only one instance of the variant -yst has been recorded.

(17.) In this example there is an adverb in the first part of the comparison and an adjective in the second.

(18.) Zemang meant 'mingling; assemblage; crowd' (OED).

(19.) From bi- 'by' ; 'about' + foran, the dative form of for (properly an adverb) used as an adjective or noun (OED). (19)

(20.) From on in, on + butan 'without, outside of' (itself an earlier comb, of be 'by, near' + utan properly locative of ut 'out', used adjectively or substantively). The primary meaning of on-butan was thus, on or by the outside of, hence around, wholly or partially (OED).

(21.) Nott is used mainly by WLC, whereas notte occurs only in RBC. Both forms are rare, found in the North-West Midlands, and occasionally in the London area and South-West. (See LALME: 376).

(22.) This variant is preferred by WM, TK, WMD, and JPS. It is rather infrequent, found in the Midlands, the London area and the South-East. (See LALME: 373).


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1995 Case marking and reanalysis: Grammatical relations from Old to Early Modern English. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Barber, Charles

1997 Early Modern English. (2nd edition). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Blake, Norman (ed.)

McIntosh, Angus, Michael - L. Samuels - Michael Benskin

1992 The Cambridge history of the English language. Volume II: 1066-1476. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Carstensen, Broder

1959 Studien zur Syntax des Nomens, Pronomens und der Negation in den Paston Letters. Bochum-Langdeer: Verlag Heinr. Poppinghaus.

Davis, Norman

1954 "The language of the Pastons", Proceedings of the British Academy 40: 119-144.

Denison, David

1993 English historical syntax: Verbal constructions. London: Longman.

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1983 The Paston letters. Gloucester: Alan Sutton.

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1975 The Cely letters: 1472-88. London: Oxford University Press.

Jack, George B.

1978 "Negation in Later Middle English prose", Archivum Linguisticum 9: 58-71.

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1933 Select studies in colloquial English of the late Middle Ages. Lund: Hakan Ohisson.

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1999 The Cambridge history of the English language. Volume III: 1476-1776. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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1960 A Middle English syntax. Helsinki: Societe Neophilologique.

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2000 The development of standard English: 1300-1800. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Wyld, Henry Cecil

1936 A history of Modern colloquial English. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, at:
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Date:Aug 6, 2002
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