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  1. #1
    keannu's Avatar
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    Default the origin or meaning of past perfect or past assuming falsity?

    In conditional clauses as in the following,

    1. If I were the president of Korea, I would unify the two Koreas.
    2. If I had been born as Obama, I would be the president of USA.

    I always taught my students that the reason why they use the previous tense for falsity is what happened in the previous tense is no more true in the next tense. I guess that's why it came into being, but I'd like to confirm if it is the real origin.

    You may not understand what I'm saying, but suppose if you are an elementary schooler, and you insist the fact "I was a baby" is still true even now, then it's quite wrong. So the nuance of past tense(more exactly, one previous tense considering past perfect for past) making falsity was applied to conditionals. If someone knows about the origin of using previous tense for conditionals, please let me know.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: the origin or meaning of past perfect or past assuming falsity?

    it's origin? I guess it's a matter of linguistics. In persian (my native language) we also use past tense for such conditional sentences but we don't know why! This is a very interesting question that you raise but do your students really need your explainations?

    A: You can't go into the room.
    B: Why not? If it is my turn, I (will) go.

    A: I am sorry that you should wait.
    B: Yes. If it was my turn, I would go, but it isn't my turn.

    perhaps you just need 3-4 of these examples to make them understand the difference.

    Once upon a time there was man with a long beard. One day somebody asked him:"when you are sleeping do you cover your beard with the blanket or you spread it on the blanket?". Since that time he couldn't sleep well.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: the origin or meaning of past perfect or past assuming falsity?

    What follows is a rather simplified look at the subjunctive; it may answer your question.

    English verbs, like those in many Indo-European languages had a subjunctive mood, which was used for situations that were hypothetical or counterfactual. The ‘past’ subjunctive forms differed from the ‘present’ not so much in the meaning of past time, but in the idea of greater improbability or counterfactuality.

    Compare:

    1. If it is fine tomorrow, we’ll go swimming. Future time; Present Indicative - Real possibility
    2. If it be fine tomorrow, we’ll go swimming. Future Time; Present Subjunctive – more hypothetical possibility.
    3. If it were fine tomorrow, we’d go swimming. Future Time; Past subjunctive – even more hypothetical.
    4. If it were fine now, we’d be swimming. Present Time; Past subjunctive – counterfactual.
    5. If it had been fine yesterday, we’d have gone swimming. Past Time; Past Perfect Subjunctive – counterfactual.

    Notes.
    a. be is the present subjunctive form for all persons in the verb BE; in all other verbs, the present subjunctive form is recognisable only in the 3rd person singular; unlike the indicative form, this does not end in –s: if he come….
    b. were is the past subjunctive form for all persons in the verb BE. In all other verbs, the past subjunctive form in modern English is identical to the past indicative form.
    c. In BrE, except for a few formulaic phrases (such as so be it), the present subjunctive has virtually disappeared from the language. Sentence #2 is rendered as If it is fine…
    d. As the past subjunctive and indicative forms are identical in appearance for all verbs except BE, most native speakers are unaware that they are using what is technically a subjunctive. Indeed, many writers feel that there is no point in calling this a subjunctive form any longer.
    e. Even with BE, many speakers now do not use the subjunctive, saying simply if I was … . This is still considered incorrect by some people.
    f. The subjunctive is used far more commonly in AmE than in BrE

  4. #4
    keannu's Avatar
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    Default Re: the origin or meaning of past perfect or past assuming falsity?

    Quote Originally Posted by fivejedjon View Post
    What follows is a rather simplified look at the subjunctive; it may answer your question.

    English verbs, like those in many Indo-European languages had a subjunctive mood, which was used for situations that were hypothetical or counterfactual. The ‘past’ subjunctive forms differed from the ‘present’ not so much in the meaning of past time, but in the idea of greater improbability or counterfactuality.

    Compare:

    1. If it is fine tomorrow, we’ll go swimming. Future time; Present Indicative - Real possibility
    2. If it be fine tomorrow, we’ll go swimming. Future Time; Present Subjunctive – more hypothetical possibility.
    3. If it were fine tomorrow, we’d go swimming. Future Time; Past subjunctive – even more hypothetical.
    4. If it were fine now, we’d be swimming. Present Time; Past subjunctive – counterfactual.
    5. If it had been fine yesterday, we’d have gone swimming. Past Time; Past Perfect Subjunctive – counterfactual.

    Notes.
    a. be is the present subjunctive form for all persons in the verb BE; in all other verbs, the present subjunctive form is recognisable only in the 3rd person singular; unlike the indicative form, this does not end in –s: if he come….
    b. were is the past subjunctive form for all persons in the verb BE. In all other verbs, the past subjunctive form in modern English is identical to the past indicative form.
    c. In BrE, except for a few formulaic phrases (such as so be it), the present subjunctive has virtually disappeared from the language. Sentence #2 is rendered as If it is fine…
    d. As the past subjunctive and indicative forms are identical in appearance for all verbs except BE, most native speakers are unaware that they are using what is technically a subjunctive. Indeed, many writers feel that there is no point in calling this a subjunctive form any longer.
    e. Even with BE, many speakers now do not use the subjunctive, saying simply if I was … . This is still considered incorrect by some people.
    f. The subjunctive is used far more commonly in AmE than in BrE

    Thank you so much! But I do need the origin of past subjuctive, I presumed it must have come from what my theory suggests, and I hope it is correct, I will definitely try to find out what the origin is. If you happen to find it out, please let me know.

  5. #5
    birdeen's call is offline VIP Member
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    Default Re: the origin or meaning of past perfect or past assuming falsity?

    The problem with the past subunctive or the modal preterite is that it had been used before Modern English formed. In fact, even before Middle English formed. We have little insight into its origin.

    I'm not sure I understand your theory. Are you saying that the tense in

    If I were the president of Korea,


    is "previous" to the tense in

    I would unify the two Koreas?

    It could be argued that "were" and "would" are in the same "tense", "were" being the past form of "be" and "would" being the past form of "will".

    To see it better we may take a look at this obsolete usage (taken from An historical syntax of the English language by Fredericus Theodorus Visser):

    If he were honester, he were much goodlier.

    We see that both clauses have the verb "be" in the same form.

    I would recommend that you not explain the origin of the subjunctive to your students. First, it's not necessary. Second, it's an impossible task.

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    Default Re: the origin or meaning of past perfect or past assuming falsity?

    I am not a teacher.

    Another obsolete usage is seen in Jack and the Beanstalk: "Be he live or be he dead, I'll grind his bones to make my bread." The subjunctive mood used to be able to carry the whole burden of the counterfactual without any help. Today, that would be, "Whether he is alive or dead ...." even where the subjunctive is still alive.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: the origin or meaning of past perfect or past assuming falsity?

    Quote Originally Posted by keannu View Post
    If someone knows about the origin of using previous tense for conditionals, please let me know.
    Take a look at What's so unreal about the past? Past Tense and Counterfactuals by Lotte Hogeweg (Department of Linguistics University of Nijmegen).

    The book in brief in PowerPoint: click on the first entry here.


  8. #8
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    Default Re: the origin or meaning of past perfect or past assuming falsity?

    Quote Originally Posted by keannu View Post
    But I do need the origin of past subjunctive
    As BC said, the subjunctive has been around since long before English came on to the scene. I don't think that going into the origin of the past subjunctive is going to help modern students. An alternative approach, which I consider more relevant to modern English, is that, whatever the situation in the past, nowadays English uses past tenses to distance a situation (make it more remote) - in vividness (time), reality or directness.

    We can use the so-called 'present' tenses to describe a past situation:

    1a. Then this chap just walks up to me and punches me.

    This tense usage makes the situation more vivid. We make it less vivid, more remote, by distancing it (in vividness/time):

    1b. Then this chap just walkedup to me and punched me.


    Now consider:

    2a
    .Well, he has been in his new job a month now. I hope he likes
    2b.
    Well, he has been in his new job a month now. I wish he liked it.

    In both, the verb in bold refers to the present or general (i.e. not specifically future or past) time. In 2a the hope and in 2b , the wish are presented as facts. However, in 2a the liking is presented as a real possibility; in 2b the liking is presented as unreal; the speaker regrets that this is not the situation.

    The idea of distancing in reality explains the use of tenses in the so-called First and Second Conditions:

    3a. George wants to see me tomorrow. If he offers me a rise I'll stay.
    3b.George wants to see me tomorrow. If he offered me a rise I'd stay.

    In both utterances the time of the situation referred to is clearly future: tomorrow. In 3a, the speaker has chosen not to distance the tense. The situation is presented as a real possibility. In 3b , the speaker's use of the 'past' (or 'distancing') distances the situation from reality: the prospect of the offer and the staying is less real.


    Some English course books state that the use of could and would in requests is 'more polite' than can and will, as in:

    4a.
    Can/couldyou open the window please
    4b. Will/would you post this letter when you go out?

    If by 'more polite' we understand 'more diffident, more hesitant, less direct', then this is true. The reason, however, is not simply that some words are more polite than others. It is that could and would are the distancing forms of can and will; Here the distancing is in directness. We see exactly the same use of Marked forms for distancing in:

    5. I wondered if you had a moment. I wanted to ask you about the meeting.


    You can find out more about this idea here, http://www.gramorak.com/Articles/Tense.pdf , especially on pages 6-12

  9. #9
    keannu's Avatar
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    Default Re: the origin or meaning of past perfect or past assuming falsity?

    Quote Originally Posted by fivejedjon View Post
    As BC said, the subjunctive has been around since long before English came on to the scene. I don't think that going into the origin of the past subjunctive is going to help modern students. An alternative approach, which I consider more relevant to modern English, is that, whatever the situation in the past, nowadays English uses past tenses to distance a situation (make it more remote) - in vividness (time), reality or directness.

    We can use the so-called 'present' tenses to describe a past situation:

    1a. Then this chap just walks up to me and punches me.

    This tense usage makes the situation more vivid. We make it less vivid, more remote, by distancing it (in vividness/time):

    1b. Then this chap just walkedup to me and punched me.



    Now consider:

    2a.Well, he has been in his new job a month now. I hope he likes
    2b. Well, he has been in his new job a month now. I wish he liked it.

    In both, the verb in bold refers to the present or general (i.e. not specifically future or past) time. In 2a the hope and in 2b , the wish are presented as facts. However, in 2a the liking is presented as a real possibility; in 2b the liking is presented as unreal; the speaker regrets that this is not the situation.

    The idea of distancing in reality explains the use of tenses in the so-called First and Second Conditions:

    3a. George wants to see me tomorrow. If he offers me a rise I'll stay.
    3b.George wants to see me tomorrow. If he offered me a rise I'd stay.

    In both utterances the time of the situation referred to is clearly future: tomorrow. In 3a, the speaker has chosen not to distance the tense. The situation is presented as a real possibility. In 3b , the speaker's use of the 'past' (or 'distancing') distances the situation from reality: the prospect of the offer and the staying is less real.


    Some English course books state that the use of could and would in requests is 'more polite' than can and will, as in:

    4a. Can/couldyou open the window please
    4b. Will/would you post this letter when you go out?

    If by 'more polite' we understand 'more diffident, more hesitant, less direct', then this is true. The reason, however, is not simply that some words are more polite than others. It is that could and would are the distancing forms of can and will; Here the distancing is in directness. We see exactly the same use of Marked forms for distancing in:

    5. I wondered if you had a moment. I wanted to ask you about the meeting.


    You can find out more about this idea here, http://www.gramorak.com/Articles/Tense.pdf , especially on pages 6-12

    Okay, Now I got it, but that was my first thought or presumption about the origin. Distancing makes the meaning dim or weak physically, but that was not enought to make it entirely counter-factual, so I made a justification my self like the following,

    What happened in previous tense is no more true, or extremly false now, that's why they use a previous tense. For example "I was a little boy before, but I'm an adult, not a little boy, so If I say "I am(=was) a little boy as of now, it can mean falsity". This is my justification to make subjunctive more understandable to my students, but I wonder if you agree.
    Maybe basically my theory is similiar to what you let me know.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: the origin or meaning of past perfect or past assuming falsity?

    Quote Originally Posted by keannu View Post
    For example "I was a little boy before, but I'm an adult, not a little boy, so If I say "I am(=was) a little boy as of now, it can mean falsity". .
    I am not sure what you mean by this, If you say, "I am a little boy" when you are in fact an adult, you are not telling the truth. This has nothing to do with the subjunctive.

    If you say, "I wish I was/were* a little boy again", then you are expressing a wish for something that is not, and cannot be. The tense of the underlined verb indicates this.

    *BE is the only verb that has a recognisably different subjunctive form. Here, were is the subjunctive form; some speakers of BrE would use was here.
    Last edited by 5jj; 26-Feb-2011 at 09:16. Reason: typos

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