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It is easy to conceive, that, in numberless instances, the pronoun he will, in like manner, be ambiguous, when two or more males happen to be mentioned in the same clause of a sentence. In such a case, we ought always either to give another turn to the expression, or to use the noun itself, and not the pronoun ; for when the repetition of a word is necessary, it is not offensive. The translators of the Bible have often judiciously used this method ; I say judiciously, because, though the other - method be on some occasions preferable, yet, by attempting the other, they would have
run a much greater risk of destroying that beautiful simplicity, which is an eminent characteristic of the language of holy writ. I shall take an instance from the speech of Judah to his brother Joseph in Egypt: “ We said to my " lord, The lad cannot leave his father; for if he should “ leave his father, his father would die *.” The words his father are in this short verse thrice repeated, and yet are not disagreeable, as they contribute to perspicuity. Had the last part of the sentence run thus, “If " he should leave his father, he would die," it would not have appeared from the expression, whether it was the child or the parent that would die. Some have imagined that the pronoun ought always regularly to refer to the nearest preceding noun of the same gender and number. But this notion is founded in a mistake, and doth not suit the idiom of'any language ancient or
there is a shorter way of removing the doubt. Ses propres amis in French, and his own friends in English, would effectually answer the end. But let it be observed, that the introduction of this appropriating term hath an exclusive appearance with regard to others, that might be very unsuitable. I observe further, that the distinction in English between his and her, precludes several ambiguities that effect most other European tongues. Suppose the promise had been made to the mother instead of the father, the simple enunciation of it would be equally ambiguous in French, as in the other case. « Lisiás promít a sa mere de n'abandoner jamais ses amis,” is their expression, whether they be his friends or hers, of whom he speaks. If it were a daughter to her father, the case would be the same with them, but different with us. I may remark here, by the way, how much more this small distinction in regard to the antecedent conduces to perspicuity, than the distinctions of gender and number in regard to the nouns with which they are joined. As to this last connection, the place of the pronoun always ascertains it, so that, for this purpose at least, the change of termination is superfluous.
Gen. xliv. 22.
modern. From the rank that some words maintain in the sentence, if I may be allowed that expression, a reader will have a natural tendency to consider the pronoun as referring to them, without regard to their situa. tion. In support of this observation, I shall produce two examples. The first shall be of the neuter singular of the third personal pronoun : " But I shall leave this
subject to your management, and question not but you will throw it into such lights, as shall at once
improve and entertain your reader *.” There is no ambiguity here, nor would it, on the most cursory reading, enter into the head of any person of common sense, that the noun it relates to management, which is nearer, and not to subject, which is more remote. Nor is it the sense only that directs us in this preference. There is another principle by which we are influenced. The accusative of the active verb is one chief object of attention in a sentence; the regimen of that accusative hath but a secondary value ; it is regarded only as explanatory of the former, or at most as an appendage to it. This consideration doth not affect those only who understand grammar, but all who understand the language. The different parts of speech, through the power of custom, produce their effect on those who are ignorant of their very names, as much as on the grammarian himself; though it is the grammarian alone who can give a ra. tional account of these effects. The other example I promised to give, shall be of the masculine of the same number and person, in the noted complaint of Cardinal Wolsey immediately after his disgrace :
Had I but serv'd my God, with half the zeal
Have left me naked to mine enemiest. Here though the word king is adjoining, and the word God at some distance, the pronoun he cannot so regularly refer to that noun as to this. The reason is, the whole of the second clause beginning with these words, " with half the zeal,” maintains but a subordinate rank
* Spect. No. 628.
+ Shakespeare. Henry VIII.
in the sentence, as it is introduced in explication of the first, and might be omitted, not indeed without impairing, but without destroying the sense. Yet neither the rank in the sentence, nor the nearness of position, will invariably determine the import of the relative. Sometimes, indeed, as was observed by the French author last quoted, the sense of the words connected is sufficient to remove the ambiguity, though the reader should have no previous knowledge of the subject. And doubtless, it is equally reasonable to admit a construction which, though naturally equivocal, is fixed by the connection, as to admit an equivocal term, the sense whereof is in this manner ascertained. Of an ambiguity thus removed, the following will serve for an example: “ Alexander baving con" quered Darius, made himself master of his dominions. His may refer grammatically either to Alexander, or to Darius, but as no man is said to make himself master of what was previously his own, the words connected prevent the false sense from presenting itself to the reader.
But it is not the pronouns only that are liable to be used ambiguously. There is in adjectives particularly, a great risk of ambiguity, when they are not adjoined to the substantives to which they belong. This hazard, it must be owned, is greater in our language than in most others, our adjectives having no declension whereby case, number, and gender, are distinguished. Their relation, therefore, for the most part, is not otherwise to be ascertained but by their place. The following sentence will serve for an example: “God heapeth favours on bis ser“ vants ever liberal and faithful.” Is it God or his servants that are liberal and faithful? If the former, say “God, ever liberal and faithful, heapeth favours on bis servants.” Ifthe latter, say either, “God heapeth favours
ever liberal and faithful servants,” or _“ his * servants who are ever liberal and faithful.” There is another frequent cause of ambiguity in the use of adjectives, which hath been as yet, in our language, very little attended to. Two or more are sometimes made to refer to the same substantive, when, in fact, they do not belong to the same thing, but to different things which be
ing of the same kind, are expressed by the same generic
I explain myself by an example: “ Both the ecclesiastic and secular powers concurred in those mea. sures.” Here the two adjectives ecclesiastic and secular relate to the same substantive powers, but do not relate to the same individual things ; for the powers denominated ecclesiastic are totally different from those denominated secular. Indeed, the reader's perfect knowledge of the difference, may prevent bis attending to this am. biguity, or rather impropriety of speech. But this mode of expression ought to be avoided, because, if admitted in one instance where the meaning perhaps is clear to the generality of readers, a writer will be apt inadvertently to fall into it in other instances, where the meaning is not clear, nay, where most readers will be misled. This too common idiom may be avoided either by repeating the substantive, or by subjoining the substantive to the first adjective, and prefixing the article to the second as well as to the first. Say either, “ Both the ecclesiastic powers and the secular powers concurred in those
measures;" or, which is perhaps preferable, “Both the “ ecclesiastic powers and the secular concurred in those " measures.” The substantive being posterior to the first adjective, and anterior to the second, the second, though it refers, cannot, according to grammatical order, belong to it. The substantive is therefore understood as repeated; besides, the repetition of the article has the force to denote that this is not an additional epithet to the same subject, but belongs to a subject totally distinct, though coming under the same denomination. There is, indeed, one phrase liable to the aforesaid objection, which use hath so firmly established, that, 'I fear, it would savour of affectation to alter. The phrase I mean is, “ The lords spiritual and temporal in parliament assem" bled.” Nevertheless, when it is not expected that we should express ourselves in the style of the law, and when we are not quoting either a decision of the house of
peers, or an act of parliament, I imagine it would be better to say, “The spiritual lords and the temporal."— On the contrary, wherever the two adjectives are expressive of
qualities belonging to a subject, not only specifically, but individually the same, the other mode of speech is preferable, which makes them belong also to the same noun. Thus we say properly, “ The high and mighty states of “ Holland,” because it is not some of the states that are denominated high, and others of them mighty, but both epithets are given alike to all. It would therefore be equally faulty here to adopt such an arrangement as would make a reader conceive them to be different. In cases wherein the article is not used, the place of the substantive ought to show whether both adjectives belong to the same thing, or to different things having the same name. In the first case, the substantive ought either to precede both adjectives, or to follow both ; in the second, it ought to follow the first adjective, and may be repeated after the second, or understood, as will best suit the harmony of the sentence, or the nature of the composition; for the second adjective cannot grammatically belong to the noun which follows the first, though that noun may properly suggest to the reader the word to be supplied. Thus I should say rightly, “ It is the opinion “ of all good and wise men, that a vicious person cannot “enjoy true happiness ;” because I mean to signify, that this is the opinion of those to whom both qualities, goodness and wisdom, are justly attributed. But the following passage in our version of the sacred text, is not so proper : " Every scribe instructed into the kingdom “ of heaven, is like an householder, who bringeth out of “ his treasure things new and old*.” Both epithets cannot belong to the same things. Make but a small alteration in the order, and say new things and old, and you will add greatly both to the perspicuity and to the propriety of the expression. In cases similar to the example last quoted, if a preposition be necessary to the construction of the sentence, it ought to be repeated before the second adjective. Thus, “Death is the common lot “ of all, of good men and of bad.” But when both adjectives express the qualities of an identical subject, it is
• Matthew xiii. 52.