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  1. #21
    NikkiBarber's Avatar
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    Default Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    Philo, thank you for the explanation of if-clauses. These are things that I don't remember being taught, but since I finished English in the gymnasium, that is probably quite natural.
    And the last post from five seems to settle the dispute (at least as I understand it) on the use of the past/present tenses. It makes more sense when I look at it as a matter of how close or remote the contents of the sentence is, and not as a matter of time. Did I understand that right?

  2. #22
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    Default Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    Quote Originally Posted by NikkiBarber View Post
    And the last post from five seems to settle the dispute (at least as I understand it) on the use of the past/present tenses. It makes more sense when I look at it as a matter of how close or remote the contents of the sentence is, and not as a matter of time. Did I understand that right?
    You did, but I must warn you that my view is not generally accepted as the standard analysis. Some writers on grammar, e.g. George Yule, Michael Lewis, John Lyons, Suzanne Fleischman, discuss the idea of 'distancing/remoteness', but the view that tense is mainly time-related is still widely held.

  3. #23
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    Default Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    Whether or not it is widely accepted, it is the one way of looking at it that makes sense. I do understand that in many cases the tense simply has to do with time. But the examples that have been given here are easier to understand when I consider the tense as dealing with distancing the way you described it.
    Actually, it is all very interesting and it makes me regret - just a little - that I didn't choose to study English.

  4. #24
    philo2009 is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    Quote Originally Posted by konungursvia View Post

    If I was a rich man.... ya da da da da da da da da da da da da da da....
    Not that it really matters in the least, but a quick check has confirmed my suspicion that the lyrics of the song in question are actually If I were a rich man.... It would appear that Topol's mastery of English syntax was better than he was being given credit for!


  5. #25
    philo2009 is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    Quote Originally Posted by fivejedjon View Post
    As I have suggested in other threads, the problem is alleviated if we forget the word ‘past’.
    Some problems might be, but not I think, the one currently under discussion!

    I'd very much like to know how this novel way of classifying verbs would explain why 'were', rather than 'was', in a sentence such as

    If I were a bird, I could fly.

    is the only form judged fully correct by educated speakers of all varieties of English.

    I fail to see how you are ever going to provide a coherent, systematic account for the appearance of this particular form in this particular sentence-position without recourse, at some point, to the standard tense/mood-based model of verbal taxonomy...

  6. #26
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    Default Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    Quote Originally Posted by philo2009 View Post
    I'd very much like to know how this novel way of classifying verbs would explain why 'were', rather than 'was', in a sentence such as

    If I were a bird, I could fly.

    is the only form judged fully correct by educated speakers of all varieties of English.
    Not quite:

    "Was has been in competition with were for 300-400 years, and in general the usage manuals regard it as acceptable, though less formal than were.(My emphasis added)

    Huddleston, Rodney and Pullum, Geoffrey K (2002) The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, Cambridge: CUP.

  7. #27
    philo2009 is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    Quote Originally Posted by fivejedjon View Post
    Not quite:

    "Was has been in competition with were for 300-400 years, and in general the usage manuals regard it as acceptable, though less formal than were.(My emphasis added)

    Huddleston, Rodney and Pullum, Geoffrey K (2002) The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, Cambridge: CUP.
    I think you'll find that many AmE speakers would disagree!

    But, in any case, setting that debate aside for the moment, I should also like to know how your tenseless and moodless verb system labels present subjunctives...

  8. #28
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    Default Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    Quote Originally Posted by philo2009 View Post
    I think you'll find that many AmE speakers would disagree!
    True, and so would some speakers of BrE.

    But, in any case, setting that debate aside for the moment, I should also like to know how your tenseless and moodless verb system labels present subjunctives...
    1. It's not tenseless. I simply feel that the words 'present' and 'past' are not very helpful names for these tenses as they operate in modern English. I think that terms such as 'unmarked' and 'marked/remote/distancing/' would be less confusing. However, the current names have been used by so many people for such a long time that they are unlikely to change.

    2. In that the present subjunctive is so rarely used by most speakers of British English (AmE is different), I have found it far easier to present the occasional subjunctive forms still used (if that be so, long live ... , etc) as fixed, idiomatic expressions. Where learners have previously learnt about, and use correctly, a present subjunctive form, such as I suggest that he come, I do not claim that the subjunctive does not exist. I do, however, point out that many speakers would say I suggest that he should come. I also point out that I suggest that he comes is acceptable to most speakers of BrE.

    I do not intend this approach to be a formal explanation of BrE grammar, merely a way of helping my learners. You have said elsewhere (if I remember correctly) that your students benefit from learning (about) the subjunctive. I accept this. I am not trying to convert you to my way of teaching. Different teachers can successfully use different approaches.

    I have learnt recently that the use of the present subjunctive appears to be increasing in BrE. If that be the case, then I may have to rethink.

  9. #29
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    Default Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    Quote Originally Posted by fivejedjon View Post

    1. It's not tenseless. I simply feel that the words 'present' and 'past' are not very helpful names for these tenses as they operate in modern English. I think that terms such as 'unmarked' and 'marked/remote/distancing/' would be less confusing. However, the current names have been used by so many people for such a long time that they are unlikely to change.

    2. In that the present subjunctive is so rarely used by most speakers of British English (AmE is different), I have found it far easier to present the occasional subjunctive forms still used (if that be so, long live ... , etc) as fixed, idiomatic expressions. Where learners have previously learnt about, and use correctly, a present subjunctive form, such as I suggest that he come, I do not claim that the subjunctive does not exist. I do, however, point out that many speakers would say I suggest that he should come. I also point out that I suggest that he comes is acceptable to most speakers of BrE.
    I have been reading what you wrote on the tenses and it seems like a great system. Even if it isn't recognized by most people, I can see how it must be a very helpful tool for students trying to understand how the tenses are actually used in English.
    It is always a good sign when a teacher doesn't just stick to old text books but actually comes up with his own material.
    And languages develop constantly. In Danish the definitions of some words have recently been "reversed" to where they now mean the exact opposite of what they used to. This was done because the majority of speakers already used them in this - completely incorrect - way. Now they would be considered right. I am guessing things like this also happens to the different variations of English?
    If a lot of people being wrong can cause the accepted definition of a word to change then it should certainly be possible to update terms (or at least recognize that there might be more than one word for the classic terms) when it comes to grammar.

  10. #30
    philo2009 is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: If I "were" king instead of "was"

    fivejedjon wrote:

    It's not tenseless. I simply feel that the words 'present' and 'past' are not very helpful names for these tenses as they operate in modern English. I think that terms such as 'unmarked' and 'marked/remote/distancing/' would be less confusing. However, the current names have been used by so many people for such a long time that they are unlikely to change.

    I must confess that I find it extraordinarily difficult to see how re-labelling 'present' and 'past' tenses in this way could possibly do anything but cause the most enormous confusion! Permit me a little skit which will probably express my thoughts more eloquently than any amount of prose:

    TEACHER: Good morning, class. A question, Pedro?

    PEDRO: Yes, when we are going to learn how to talk about past thing? All the time in this class we use present - "what time do you get up in the morning?", "what kind of food do you like?" Is getting boring!! I wanna talk about my childhood in Barcelona, or the movie I go to last week...

    TEACHER: Now, Pedro, I told you before - we want none of that kind of talk here. There's no such thing as the 'past', or the 'present': they are just illusions peddled by traditional grammarians who want to sell their stuffy, old-fashioned grammar books. These so-called 'present' and 'past tenses' have nothing to do with time at all: you've just been brainwashed into thinking that they do!

    PEDRO: But what if I want to talk about what happen yesterday, I cannot do in English?

    TEACHER: But of course you can!

    PEDRO: But yesterday - she is the past, is it not?

    TEACHER: Well, yes, in a manner of speaking. OK, I grant you it would be the past in French, or German, or Spanish, or Latin, or Italian...but you've got to understand that English is just...well, different. You must never expect English to have things like past tenses or subjunctives, just because all the other languages do. Look, I thought we'd been through all this!

    PEDRO:So how I talk about yesterday in your stupid English?

    TEACHER: Well, you just use what we modern, enlightened teachers call 'temporally or conceptually remote from current reality' verb forms. Now that's a simple enough term, isn't it it? I mean, no long four-letter words to remember!

    PEDRO: So this "temporarily...ah...current...concept..ah..." thingy is like what, for example? How we make?

    TEACHER: Well, for regular verbs you stick -ed on the end. 'Play' becomes 'played', 'walk' becomes 'walked', and so forth.

    PEDRO: Oh, you mean PAST TENSES!! Why you not just say that? I learn them in school years ago!

    TEACHER: Learned, Pedro, learned - temporally or conceptually remote from current reality-form, not unmarked, temporally or conceptually proximal to current reality-form. Oh, dear, I can see I'm going to have to set you a lot more homework from now on!




    I have learnt recently that the use of the present subjunctive appears to be increasing in BrE. If that be the case, then I may have to rethink.

    On the positive side, I am glad that, unlike certain other contributors here, you do at least have the integrity not to present idiosyncratic theories as standard approaches. I would, however, say that, in my very humble opinion as a grammarian, any attempt to tinker with a centuries-old, tried-and-trusted and universally accepted method of linguistic description is likely, sooner or later, to end in disaster!
    Last edited by philo2009; 18-Dec-2010 at 02:48.

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