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  1. #1
    Baffled Guest

    Default They became witness to the event.

    As far as I know, this usage is neither an idiom nor a cliché. Please let's not confuse this usage with "bear witness."

    1- What part of speech is "witness" as used in this sentence?
    2- What's the meaning of "witness" as used above? That is in comparison to its meaning in "They became witnesses to the event."
    3- Do you have any references to support your disambiguation?

    Thanks a bunch!

  2. #2
    BobK's Avatar
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    Default Re: They became witness to the event.

    The phrase is 'was [a] witness to', except in a metaphorical use of 'became' - when, say, an investigator identifies witnesses (people who 'were witnesses') and then realizes that some other person with special abilities (like a blind person - previously discounted as a witness - with acute hearing) should be used as a witness. or when a defence witness becomes a witness for the prosecution. In these cases, the becoming is a change of status rather than a change of essence.

    "Witness" in your sentence is a noun (to answer your question ), and a subject complement.

    b

  3. #3
    Baffled Guest

    Default They became witness to the event.

    As far as I know, this usage is neither an idiom nor a cliché. Please let's not confuse this usage with "bear witness."

    1- What part of speech is "witness" as used in this sentence?
    2- What's the meaning of "witness" as used above? That is in comparison to its meaning in "They became witnesses to the event."
    3- Do you have any references to support your disambiguation?

    Thanks a bunch!

  4. #4
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    Default Re: They became witness to the event.

    Thanks for your answer, Bob. But let me clarify my question a little further.

    They became witness to the event.

    If "witness" is a countable noun, why is it used in the singular form? You don't say, "They became teacher."

    If it's used as an idiom or cliché, then the whole matter is settled. But as I stated in my original post, I haven't encountered any authoritative work that refers to this usage as such.

    If you were to use "witness" as a countable noun, you would say, "They became witnesses (plural) to the event."

    Thanks again!

  5. #5
    BobK's Avatar
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    Default Re: They became witness to the event.

    Read my reply again. You don't use 'became', so the comparison with 'they became teachers' is irrelevant.

    b

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    Thumbs up Re: They became witness to the event.

    Quote Originally Posted by Baffled View Post
    As far as I know, this usage is neither an idiom nor a cliché. Please let's not confuse this usage with "bear witness."

    1- What part of speech is "witness" as used in this sentence?
    2- What's the meaning of "witness" as used above? That is in comparison to its meaning in "They became witnesses to the event."
    3- Do you have any references to support your disambiguation?

    Thanks a bunch!


    It's a semi-fixed phrase. It is used in that way (without pluralising).

    For desambiguation, I've found this disctionary entry for you:

    "4 be witness to something -formal- to be present when something happens, and watch it happening:
    We were witness to the worst excesses of the military."

    According to this dictionary (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English), it is a noun (which makes sense because it is used after a copulative verb, be/become).

    There might be an etymological relationship with this uncountable use:

    "5 christian belief [uncountable and countable] American English a public statement of strong Christian belief, or someone who makes such a statement"

    But it's just a deduction!!!

  7. #7
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    Default Re: They became witness to the event.

    Hi Bob,

    Let's drop "became" so we won't be sidetracked by its metaphorical implication.

    The sentences becomes:

    They were witness to the event.

    What if we were to say, "They were witnesses to the event"? Would we be conveying a different meaning?

    What is the linguistic justification for "They were witness"?

    Is there any linguistic justification for not accepting "They were witnesses"?

    Thanks mkss for finding the Longman citation.

    It goes without saying that the use of "they were witness to" is widespread. The question is on what grounds is it accepted?

    The use of "I ain't" is also widespread. But it is frowned upon probably more than any presidential stimulus package.

    Thanks for the discussion.

  8. #8
    BobK's Avatar
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    Default Re: They became witness to the event.

    Quote Originally Posted by Baffled View Post
    Hi Bob,

    Let's drop "became" so we won't be sidetracked by its metaphorical implication.

    The sentences becomes:

    They were witness to the event.

    What if we were to say, "They were witnesses to the event"? Would we be conveying a different meaning?

    What is the linguistic justification for "They were witness"?

    Is there any linguistic justification for not accepting "They were witnesses"?

    Thanks mkss for finding the Longman citation.
    As mkss said, it's a fixed phrase. You can use the singular, and you can also use the plural. If you use the singular, 'were witness to" is essentially verbal; if you use the plural, the focus is on the nouns. A Mafia boss might say 'Three people were witnesses to the shooting; I want them all taken care of.'

    Quote Originally Posted by Baffled View Post
    It goes without saying that the use of "they were witness to" is widespread. The question is on what grounds is it accepted?
    People don't have to have theoretical "grounds" for using language. It is accepted, period.

    Quote Originally Posted by Baffled View Post

    The use of "I ain't" is also widespread. But it is frowned upon probably more than any presidential stimulus package.

    Thanks for the discussion.
    Not by me, and not by many teachers. It is just non-standard.

    b

  9. #9
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    Default Re: They became witness to the event.

    Quote Originally Posted by BobK View Post

    Not by me, and not by many teachers. It is just non-standard.

    b
    I was under the impression that "I ain't" would at least elicit a frown from you, Bob.

  10. #10
    BobK's Avatar
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    Default Re: They became witness to the event.

    Quote Originally Posted by Baffled View Post
    I was under the impression that "I ain't" would at least elicit a frown from you, Bob.
    No, just a friendly warning: 'Don't use this in the wrong context' (like an exam or a job interview...)

    b

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