Most verbs in English work like this, adding an “s” in the case of the third-person singular:

  • I sing. You sing. He sings.
  • I walk. You walk. She walks.

A few verbs in English work like this, keeping the same form for all present tense forms:

  • I can. You can. He can.
  • I will. You will. She will.

But there is one special verb that is highly irregular:

  • I am. You are. He is.

What’s going on here? In particular, let’s focus here on this question: Where does “am come from?

It turns out that “am” is the last vestige in English of an ancient verb conjugation shared by Sanskrit, Greek and Latin. In the middle of Eurasia around 4500–6500 years ago., there was a tribe who spoke a language in which the equivalent of “am” was *esmi. As the descendants of this tribe spread out in different directions over thousands of years, its language evolved into hundreds of different languages from India to Europe, known collectively as the Indo-European languages. Using linguistic evidence, the original tribe’s language has been partially reconstructed, and is referred to as Proto-Indo-European (PIE). …

Once upon a time in the middle of Eurasia, there was a tribe whose word for “above” or “beyond” was *uper. This tribe had developed some advantages (possibly related to farming or to horses) that helped it spread to neighboring plains and mountains. As this tribe expanded in multiple directions, it split off into distinct groups that very slowly started to change how they spoke...

Image for post

One group went south, and the word *uper came to be pronounced as “huper.” …

Image for post

In the depths of the suffering of the Great Depression, Langston Hughes wrote a poem about the failure of America for many of its citizens, lamenting the fate of “the millions who have nothing for our pay — except the dream that’s almost dead today.”

This poem has been alluringly set to music and choreography by the cast of Hamilton:

Today, as millions lose their jobs and racial injustice continues, the gap between the dream of America and the reality of America feels insurmountable. Yet the poem also speaks hopefully about the promise of America, a place where “opportunity is real, and life is free, equality is in the air we breathe.” It is “a great strong land of love where never kings connive and tyrants scheme.”

This November, we must bend America towards its promise.

“And yet I swear this oath — America will be!”


John Fan

Cofounder and CEO of PicCollage

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store