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I have noticed that these 4 commonn verbs have the same ending in the 3rd person plural.

Faire  , avoir , etre,  and aller( ils font  ,ils ont , ils sont and ils vont).

Are these the only verbs that end in "ont" in the 3rd person plural ?

I also notice that these 4 verbs are arguably the 4 most basic/essential verbs in any language.

Does anyone have an idea how these  endings may have developed identically and historically?

Could it just be coincidence or are Faire  , avoir , etre,  and aller somehow connected in their construction in French?



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I'm not the world's expert on language history, but I know some basics which will hopefully go towards explaining it. And it probably is partly to do with what you say about these being "basic" verbs, for slightly indirect reasons.

A general pattern that occurred as Latin evolved into French is that:

  • unstressed "u" in Latin generally disappeared, EXCEPT where a vowel was needed to "avoid having a string of unpronounceable consonants" (to put it non-technically; technically, to prevent a cluster of consonants that broke the phonotactics of the language);
  • unstressed "a" was generally retained (and became a "neutral" schwa sound, as in many cases represented by "e" in French today).

Now, in Latin, the 3rd person plural forms of -are verbs ended in -ant, whereas in other conjugations (and various irregular verbs) this was generally -ent or -unt. So as a consequence, in many cases you will end up with -ent by following one or other of the above rules. For example, cantant ("they sing") > chantent because the original vowel was "a". And in vendunt ("they sell") > vendent, we might expect the last vowel to disappear, but dnt would be an "unpronounceable" cluster of consonants so the vowel stays. (Remember that in Latin/Old French, these consonants were still all pronounced, unlike in modern French.)

Now, in the case of sunt > sont, the vowel isn't unstressed, so it actually stays, and that's why the difference here. And in eunt > ont,  what probably happened was that Latin speakers tended to diphthongise the eu, so that it was in effect a single stressed vowel, rather than having an unstressed u.

But in e.g. habent > ont and faciunt > font, there is a consonant between the vowels, so we might expect the second vowel to be unstressed and hence disappear. But almost certainly what happened was that because these were 'common' verbs, there was more of a tendency to pronounce these words "rapidly" and to "reduce" the consonants b and c [k], so that they were really pronounced more like "a'unt", "fa'unt", i.e. effectively as a single stressed vowel rather than one stressed and one unstressed vowel. And if they were pronounced as a stressed vowel, then the vowel was retained, and stressed Latin u generally became an o sound (cf Latin gutta > French gotte).

So it's a combination of (a) the forms that these verbs had historically, (b) how sounds generally changed "across the board" depending on whether they were stressed or unstressed, and (c) a possible "reduction" in pronunciation of ""eunt", "habent" and "faciunt" because they were 'common' verbs.

thanks that was fun (it also does my head in!)

Yes, I know what you mean... :) I think the thing to take away is that languages generally evolve with small, gradual changes that happen under certain conditions across the language as a whole, but that over time, these small changes can add up to quite big changes in the system. So, once upon a time, the system was that -unt was a common 3rd person plural ending in the present tense, but nowadays, -ont is restricted to only a few verbs-- but the mechanism that has made this happen is a number of small changes across the language as a whole, not one big sudden change just to do with the verb system.


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