USA Charters of Freedom

Image: Mount Rushmore Monument by Dean Franklin on Flickr, CC 2.0.

It has been about 230 years, since the Constitution was written. For a house, we would say it deserves refurbishment. For text, we can update the language form, especially if we want to learn the language. The Constitution is a “syntax bonanza”, that is, an exceptionally rich resource. We only cannot have language forms that are hundreds of years aged, to learn the language as it is today.

We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Feel also welcome to the ■→Grammar Weblog. The civics are predicted for part three, speech part and syntax practice. The following is to tell briefly how I made the update to get spellcheck-clean copies for American English as it is today. The Travel in Grammar practice is to learn from the civics, not to criticize them.



To have knowledge about our objects of thought, we study regularities about them. A regularity of natural and specific occurrence is a principle. Simple English Aristotle

We can relate the grammatical articles, definite and indefinite, to semantic categories and types. We may regard the definite article as akin to the Greek τώς, meaning “in this wise” (please see ■→Perseus; I am going to make it all plain and simple, for the Travelers in Grammar).

A semantic category might embrace a type:
We, the people of the United States…

The semantic type here, the people of the United States, belongs with a wider notion, that of people generally. Our semantic category is the human being, homo sapiens.

Classic grammar guidance, as it was 230 years ago, tended to regard the articles in phrases. Today as well, it would favor for the definite article to expand the particle of, unless we are clearly unspecific:
those bound to service for a term of years…

Accordingly, the Constitution would have a clause as,
No preference shall be given, by any regulation of commerce or revenue, to the ports of one State over those of another…

Modern American English is more generative. A phrase as the ports of a State might imply we select from among ports of a State generally, we have a type of ports for designate. By comparison, the phrase the territory below means a selection from US territory overall, as not all the land or water would belong to the government (Article VI):
The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations, respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States.

We may compare another phrasing in the Constitution:
… nor shall vessels bound to, or from one State, be obliged to enter, clear, or pay duties in another.
The reference for both ports and vessels is that of a set, not type.

We can join our view to the articles with that to big or small letters, that is, capitalization. What rationale do we have for spellings as the House of Representatives, the Senate, or the Supreme Court?

If we said it is for a highlight or respect, we would have to declare focus or respect for anything and anyone spelled with a big letter. If we said it is for the specific geographic locality, a phrase as the Congress is not in session would not make sense: the Capitol Hill remains in place.

Let us compare. The Congress shall have power,
To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces.
To exercise exclusive legislation, in all cases whatsoever, over such district (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular States and acceptance of the Congress, become the seat of the Government of the United States…

Big letters are for defined notional sets. It is with regard to the Greek politeia, along with Montesquieu’s ■→tripartite governmental power, that we recognize the Legislative, the Executive, and the Judiciary.

Amendment XI:
The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend…

Today, a defined set together with classic phrasing might imply selection, as an expectation on select judges only, in Article III Section 1:
The Judges, both of the Supreme and inferior courts, shall hold their offices during good behavior…

We can tell it is a matter of the grammatical canon as it was about 230 years ago, looking to Article II, Section 2:
The President (…) shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers, and Consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers…

The grammatical canon was evidently phrasal for Article III Section 1, as well as Article IV Section 2: the definite article comes with the beginning of the sentence, both on the parchment and in John Carter’s print.
The Judges (…) shall hold their offices during good behavior…
The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities…

Today, a phrase as the citizens of a State would be likely interpreted as “some citizens”: “citizens of the world” remains a figure of speech associated with Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Amendment XIV, Section 1 clarifies on the legal thought:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

American English was becoming more generative already at the time the Constitution was being written and printed. Article III, Section 2:
The Judicial power shall extend (…) to controversies between a State and citizens of another State; between citizens of different States; between citizens of the same State claiming lands under grants of different States; and between a State, or the citizens thereof and foreign States, citizens, or subjects.

For the phrase the citizens, we can think about sides to disputes, the citizens making one, and the authorities making the other. The phrase citizens, or subjects, is appositive: it tells that people in foreign States could be also subjects. We do not consider sides here, as those other people do not belong within the semantics for the USA as a country. The matter is naturally the same with every country; otherwise, there would be neither citizens, nor subjects.


Prediction on procedures encourages the definite article:
The Congress shall have power to provide for the punishment of counterfeiting the securities and current coin of the United States.

Let us compare Article IV Section 4: domestic violence is not a regular prediction.
The United States shall guarantee, to every State in this Union, a republican form of government, and shall protect each of them against invasion; and, on application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened), against domestic violence.

Article V tells about proposing amendments: it is a regular prediction.
The Congress, whenever two-thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution; or, on the application of the Legislatures of two-thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing amendments.

Let us be mindful about the adjective procedural. In psychology today, ■→procedural knowledge is practice or experience acquired by doing something, and it is the declarative lore to use for making procedures as in Article V.

We may finish here with the First Amendment and cognitive regards:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

The definite article, as to say the Congress, would invoke the other defined sets within US governmental powers, the Executive or the Judiciary. The Amendment does not imply any such power on the part of US authorities generally.


Classic grammars may interpret the verb form “shall” as a “false imperative” or a word to express a resolve. ■→Oxford Learners Dictionary says it might tell someone “is determined”, or “wants to give an order or instruction”.

We absolutely cannot believe it for American English. The Constitution says,
The trial of all crimes, except in cases of impeachment, shall be by jury; and such trial shall be held in the State where the said crimes shall have been committed.

Let us think how the story began. In British English, the word form “shall” actually belonged with monarchy, for quite a proportion of time. Early Anglo-Saxon poetry would tell about “a king who shall win a queen”. To use the verb with the first person singular, as to say I shall, was up to royals or their service.

British commoners and other people, if they used the verb form “shall”, it was mostly with the third person, he, she, or it. For own resolves, the verb form “will” prevailed.

Along with American liberty and freedom, human ability to say I will grew stronger. The verb form “will” became fit for the third person, he, she, or it as well. The verb form “shall” became ■→suppositive. In the Constitution, it is always in contexts also to premise “if” or “when the circumstance is”.

Procedures to prosecute crime are implemented if crime occurs. Bills become law if they are approved.
Every bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate shall, before it becomes a law, be presented to the President of the United States; if he approves, he shall sign it…

Feel welcome to my mobile-friendly Google Sites:
■→USA Charters of Freedom.

Language comprehension may show with paraphrase. Feel welcome to some practice with the Grammar Weblog:
■→Voluntary practice extra.

■→This text is also avaialable in Polish.


The world may never have seen her original handwriting, if her skill was taken for supernatural. Feel welcome to Poems by Emily Dickinson prepared for print by Teresa Pelka: thematic stanzas, notes on the Greek and Latin inspiration, the correlative with Webster 1828, and the Aristotelian motif, Things perpetual — these are not in time, but in eternity.

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Świat może i nigdy nie widział jej oryginalnego pisma, jeśli jej umiejętność została wzięta za nadnaturalną. Zapraszam do Wierszy Emilii Dickinson w przekładzie Teresy Pelka: zwrotka tematyczna, notki o inspiracji greką i łaciną, korelacie z Websterem 1828 oraz wątku arystotelesowskim, Rzecz perpetualna — ta nie zasadza się na czasie, ale na wieczności.

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