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Some verbs, in their first person singular form, have an unpronounced '-s' at the end. For example, je suis, je finis, etc.

In Latin, the suffix for first person singular was '-o' or '-m': thus sum and finio. To my knowledge, Spanish and Italian also lacks 's' at the end of first person singular verbs.

My question is how French developed '-s' in their first person singular form. Why do we have an additional 's'? Was it pronounced some time in the history of the language, or is it just an artifact of the orthography?

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+1. I think that even now "je suis_une ..." takes liaison at least in formal speech, so it must have been pronounced at some point (if I understand correctly, words where the orthographic final consonant was added in post hoc, like "et", do not take liaison). – hunter Jan 30 '14 at 12:57
up vote 4 down vote accepted

The final -s in the first person appeared around the XIV century. Before this, in old French, you would say "je/jou/jo sui".

I'd say that the final -s came for euphony (phonetic link with vowels) and appearance reasons by analogy to the Imparfait final -s, that was popularized by Ronsard after the huges changes that it as undergone.

I would add that you could find potential avenues of investigations in old French books as Perceval ou le Roman du Graal (around XII century) in which you would not see any final -s : For example, "Chevaliers sui." (1st section) which mean "I am a knight" and would be nowadays translated as "Je suis un chevalier". If you read a translated version of this book (old french => "new" french) you will probably encounter something like "Un chevalier" as "Chevalier sui" answer a question and "Un chevalier" can be used to translate this answer to new french while staying as close as possible from the text. If you read more recent books you will see "suis" with the final -s (by more recent I mean XVI century or even XV).

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What's the origin of imperfective '-s'? Does this theory explain '-s' in je finis too? – Pteromys Feb 1 '14 at 2:59
Well, the origin of imperfective -s is the same as the origin of the present -s, which is euphony and appearance. For example, you would say "ʒə sy.iz‿ale" and "ʒə finiz‿a" (for "Je suis allé" and "Je finis à"). It explains "je finis" too because I think in old french "finir" would be "je/jeo/jou finit, tu finiz" or something like this. – servabat Feb 1 '14 at 12:09
Does there exist a theory that explains why 's', not another constant, was chosen? As for your last example, I think "je finiT" is, if true, quite interesting, because it doesn't look like Latin conjugation. – Pteromys Feb 1 '14 at 12:12
Well I'm not sure about "finit" because in old french "finir" is sometimes conjugated as a 1st group verb ("finer") and sometimes as a 2nd group verb ("finir", in this case, in old french it is "finit" at the 1st person). I think at this time "finir" was considerated rather as an erudite form as it's a direct legacy from Latin. – servabat Feb 1 '14 at 12:52
Oh, and I forgot, about why t and not s, I think it's because "z‿a" sounds better than "t‿a". – servabat Feb 1 '14 at 13:13

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