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  1. #1
    Abstract Idea is offline Key Member
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    Default a) could you learn me? b) were/was you

    (a) In an American western I witnessed the following dialog:

    Annie: - Could you learn me to write? I ought to learn numbers first. Adam, could you learn me numbers?
    Adam: - Sure I can.

    I think this usage of the verb learn is incorrect, the correct form should be teach, right? But I think that since Annie was illiterate, it was an on purpose mistake in the film. I just would like to confirm that.

    (b) In this very same western, some moments later, the following dialog occurs:
    Annie: - The only man I could count on were you.
    Adam: - "Was" you.
    Annie: - Well, you wasn't.

    I guess Adam is correcting Annie's spoken English. However I ask, is Adam really right here? The only grammatically correct granted way is with was you?

    Thanks for your appreciation.

    PS Feel free to correct any mistakes of mine in this post.

  2. #2
    Barb_D's Avatar
    Barb_D is offline Moderator
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    Default Re: a) could you learn me? b) were/was you

    Remember that in movies or books, characters will speak dialects or colloquial English that is not standard English.

    Absolutely, standard English would be "Can you teach me" but the character's misuse of the word "learn" shows you that he is not educated.

    And yes, it should have been "was you."

  3. #3
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    Default Re: a) could you learn me? b) were/was you

    Quote Originally Posted by ymnisky View Post
    (a) In an American western I witnessed the following dialog:

    Annie: - Could you learn me to write? I ought to learn numbers first. Adam, could you learn me numbers?
    Adam: - Sure I can.

    I think this usage of the verb learn is incorrect, the correct form should be teach, right? But I think that since Annie was illiterate, it was an on purpose mistake in the film. I just would like to confirm that.
    Yes, you are correct. It's a sign of very poor language skills for a native speaker of English to confuse the words "learn" and "teach", and so it doesn't surprise me that the character who says this is illiterate.


    Quote Originally Posted by ymnisky;510501

    (b) In this very same western, some moments later, the following dialog occurs:

    Annie: - The only man I could count on were you.
    Adam: - "[U
    Was[/U]" you.
    Annie: - Well, you wasn't.

    I guess Adam is correcting Annie's spoken English. However I ask, is Adam really right here? The only grammatically correct granted way is with was you?
    Yes, Adam is correct.

    She should have said, "The only man I could count on was you".

    The only man = he

    "He was the only man I could count on."

    "It was you who was the only man I could count on."

    The only man she could count on was him. (Of course, in Hungary we know by now that they would say "he" "The only man she could count on was he.")

    She should have said, "The only man I could count on was you".

    However, she could've said, "You were the only man that I could count on."

    So, you see why Annie might be confused about "was" and "were" in this conversation. She probably wasn't around enough people with good language skills while growing up, so not all the correct patterns took shape in her mind. And not being able to read contributed to her weak spoken language skills.

    Annie could be thinking - in a split second - "If I say "were you" as in "were you there?" then I should always say "were you". But this is losing sight of the "bigger picture". Of course, Annie hears and understands "you were" and "were you", and thinks it must go that way all the time. She hears and understands isolated pieces. To understand the "bigger picture" is to understand the logic of "was you" in the correct sentence and also for her to understand why Adam is correct and she is wrong.

    Here's something else Annie could think: If I can say "was you", then I can say "you was". That's her logic, but she doesn't see the bigger picture. In her simple way, she's taking "was you" out of context. She doesn't know she's doing this of course, but I think that's what's going on in her mind - in a split second, of course. Annie has probably made the mistake of saying "you was" before many times, and sometimes people told her to say "you were". Or she may have said "was you" and then someone said, "no, it's were you". Simple right? Maybe not. Adam told her to say "was you", and now Annie doesn't know what to do. She's confused.

    It's automatic. Language - when we are really speaking - doesn't happen in a very conscious way. We think about the content, and sometimes weigh our words carefully, but we don't consciously make decisions about grammar while we speak - generally speaking.
    Last edited by PROESL; 03-Sep-2009 at 05:30.

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