English is the most widely understood language in the world, having been spread by the British Empire.
In Europe, English is spoken in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Additionally, most people in Western Europe also speak it as a second language. In this category, Denmark and the Netherlands stand out in particular. In North America, English is spoken in the United States, in Canada, and in much of the Caribbean, particularly Jamaica and the Bahamas. In South America, English is spoken natively only in Guyana, a former British colony. In Africa, English is spoken by the educated classes of virtually every former British colony. In particular, Ghana, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and Kenya have large English-speaking populations.
As former British colonies, Singapore and Hong Kong have a majority of English speakers. Additionally, English is taught in schools in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh as a lingua franca due to former colonial ties. English would also be understood in Israel due to large numbers of American Jews and a generally literate community.
The English language originated among the Anglo-Saxons, Germanic migrants to Great Britain. Before the arrival of the Normans, English more closely resembled Old Norse and Old German than modern English. English also absorbed relatively few loanwords from the native Celtic populations of Great Britain, for reasons that remain unclear.
When the Normans invaded England in 1066, they brought with them a language closed related to French. English adopted many loanwords from Norman and French, mostly relating to law and politics. This fusion is known as Middle English. Middle English was the language that Geoffrey Chaucer wrote the Canterbury Tales in.
Early Modern EnglishEdit
Early Modern English began to take form with the divergence of its grammar from Latin. Most of the former case distinctions were lost, and the Great Vowel Shift resulted in its phonology being very different from its orthography. Early Modern English was the language of William Shakespeare, John Milton, and John Locke.
The transition from Early Modern to present-day Modern English took place in the 18th and 19th centuries. Loanwords were adopted from various languages, often also subjects of the British Empire or close diplomatic/trading partners. While Great Britain remained the definitive force in the English language, as well as a major world power, through the middle of the 20th century, American English rose to greater prominence with the emergence of the United States as a global superpower. Today, Received Pronunciation is still taught as the standard pronunciation for English, based on the London accent. However, many schools are now teaching American English spellings and pronunciation.
Simple tenses are the base tenses from which all others can be made. There are three simple tenses:
- Simple past - "I played." Simple past indicates any kind of past action that is no longer happening.
- Simple present - "I play." Simple present is used to indicate a general, present action that is habitual or continuous, but may not be happening at the given moment.
- Simple future - "I will play" or "I am going to play." This indicates a future action which has not yet started.
The three perfect tenses describe whether or not an action was completed at a single instance in time. They are formed by taking the verb "to have" in a simple tense, plus a past participle.
- Past perfect - "I had played." This shows that the person is talking about the past status of an action.
- Present perfect - "I have played." Present perfect is used to talk about the past through the present; it describes the current status of the action.
- Future perfect - "I will have played." This describes the future status of an action, as completed or not completed.
Progressive tenses are also known as continuous tenses. They describe actions that are continuous/presently occurring at a certain time. They are formed by taking the simple verb "to be" and adding the present participle.
- Past progressive - "I was playing." This describes an action that happened immediately before, and during, (through) a certain point in time.
- Present progressive - "I am playing." Present progressive tells about actions that are currently happening, as opposed to actions that do happen in the present, but only habitually or sometimes.
- Future progressive - "I will be playing." Future progressive talks about actions as whether or not they will happen through a certain time.
Perfect progressive tensesEdit
Perfect progressives talk about actions that happen (are progressive) up to an instantaneous point. They are formed by taking the perfect verb "to be" (itself formed with the simple "to have"), plus a present participle.
- Past perfect progressive - "I had been playing." This describes describes an action from the point of view of the past, looking further into the past. It describes a continuous action that happened up to that point.
- Present perfect progressive - "I have been playing." This describes an action that was continuous, and still may be. It is the present looking at the past, telling about an action that happened up to the point of speaking.
- Future perfect progressive - "I will have been playing." This is from the point of view of the future, looking back onto its past. FPP describes an action that will happen for a specific time, up to a certain point in the future, which is being referenced by the speaker.
English is typically written in the Latin alphabet. The standard English alphabet has 26 letters, and no accents or digraphs. Due to the Great Vowel Shift of the Early Modern Era, the orthography of English is significantly different than the phonology. This is because the changes in pronunciation had happened after spelling had already been established, which is around the 15th century.
English has lost most of its declensions and practically all of its grammatical gender. Gender does not affect morphology, but gender pronouns (he, she, his, her, etc.) still exist. Only pronouns are declined, in the nominative, objective, and oblique cases. The objective and oblique cases are declined exactly the same, and are only distinguishable by context: oblique case is used with objects of a verb, while objective is only used with objects of prepositions. Due to the fine distinction and identical declension, they are often considered the same case.
Verbs are conjugated based on person and number. There are 3 persons in English: first person (to refer to oneself), second person (to refer to the listener/reader), and third person (to refer to someone not present). Each person has a singular and plural form. Third person singular pronouns also indicate gender and animacy.