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    • Join Date: Dec 2007
    • Posts: 6
    #1

    Tense question: "Is he walking yet?"

    Hi all.

    I'm actually an EFL teacher myself, but I can't find a decent answer to this question, so I'm writing here for suggestions. All help much appreciated.

    When a baby has been crawling for a little while, people start asking, "Is he walking yet?" And when they do start toddling around, the proud parents announce, "He's walking!"

    But why do both question and answer use the present continuous? It doesn't seem to fit with any of the functions of that tense that I teach to my classes; it's not something happening right now as I speak, as in "It's raining"; it's not something temporary that's going on around now (we rather assume that once he's started walking he's not going to stop), as in the example "I'm reading a book by John O'Farrell"; it's certainly not a plan for the future... so what is it?

    Thanks in advance.


    • Join Date: Aug 2006
    • Posts: 3,059
    #2

    Re: Tense question: "Is he walking yet?"

    Quote Originally Posted by timsk View Post
    Hi all.

    I'm actually an EFL teacher myself, but I can't find a decent answer to this question, so I'm writing here for suggestions. All help much appreciated.

    When a baby has been crawling for a little while, people start asking, "Is he walking yet?" And when they do start toddling around, the proud parents announce, "He's walking!"

    But why do both question and answer use the present continuous? It doesn't seem to fit with any of the functions of that tense that I teach to my classes; it's not something happening right now as I speak, as in "It's raining"; it's not something temporary that's going on around now (we rather assume that once he's started walking he's not going to stop), as in the example "I'm reading a book by John O'Farrell"; it's certainly not a plan for the future... so what is it?

    Thanks in advance.
    Hi Timsk,

    Where are you EFLing? Where do you EFL?

    Don't you think that the process, at the start, is one of walking and then doing a bit a crawling. It's not just full-fledged walking.

    But I think that the main reason is that using the present continuous form simply makes it much more vivid than the present simple.

    I don't know that you're going to make a career of teaching EFL/ESL but I can ask using either form.


    • Join Date: Dec 2007
    • Posts: 6
    #3

    Re: Tense question: "Is he walking yet?"

    Quote Originally Posted by riverkid View Post
    Where are you EFLing? Where do you EFL?
    I spent a couple of years in Thailand teaching EFL, and more recently a while in Cambridge (UK) too.

    Quote Originally Posted by riverkid View Post
    Don't you think that the process, at the start, is one of walking and then doing a bit a crawling. It's not just full-fledged walking.
    Well generally the crawling comes before the walking! And yes, while of course it is a gradual learning process to go from crawling to walking, it's still a key milestone when the child finally takes steps unaided. Before that time, we say, "He's not walking yet," and immediately after it, we say, "Yes, he's walking."

    Quote Originally Posted by riverkid View Post
    But I think that the main reason is that using the present continuous form simply makes it much more vivid than the present simple.
    Um... possibly... but that's exactly the reason that's given for e.g. sports commentators using the present simple! I'm grateful that you took the time to reply, but I don't feel that it's much of a clarification.

    Quote Originally Posted by riverkid View Post
    I don't know that you're going to make a career of teaching EFL/ESL but I can ask using either form.
    Sorry, I don't understand what you mean. Could you try again with different words?


    • Join Date: Dec 2007
    • Posts: 6
    #4

    Re: Tense question: "Is he walking yet?"

    Quote Originally Posted by riverkid View Post
    I don't know that you're going to make a career of teaching EFL/ESL but I can ask using either form.

    Ah, I think I've just understood what you mean. (When you said "ask using either form", I was thinking about forms on a website, but you must mean "ask the question about the baby walking using the present continuous or the present simple". Apologies for the confusion.)

    Well, both forms would certainly be understandable, but for some reason most people tend to use the present continuous when asking this specific question (at least in my experience, as a parent in the UK), and if a student were to ask me why that happens, I'd be unable to give a satisfactory explanation. And I'm afraid I still don't feel like I'd have anything worthwhile to say.

    As for you saying "I don't know that you're going to make a career of teaching EFL/ESL" -- I'm going to generously assume that you're not a native speaker and you don't realise just how rude and condescending that sounds; or perhaps that you omitted to re-read your words before hitting the submit button and didn't mean to be quite so direct, as if you're in a position to judge my competence in an EFL classroom on the basis of a single forum post. On that basis, I'll respond just with a friendly suggestion that you be careful with that particular turn of phrase, and re-read before hitting 'send'.


    • Join Date: Aug 2006
    • Posts: 3,059
    #5

    Re: Tense question: "Is he walking yet?"

    Originally Posted by riverkid:
    I don't know that you're going to make a career of teaching EFL/ESL but I can ask using either form.


    Quote Originally Posted by timsk View Post
    I spent a couple of years in Thailand teaching EFL, and more recently a while in Cambridge (UK) too.
    Hi again Timsk. My apologies for seeming so direct. I was in a bit of a rush then; had to get out to check on/feed the cattle.

    Let me take you thru my meaning. I assure you, it was not directed to any degree of perceived quality/lack of quality in your posting. I was actually impressed.

    I wrote;

    "Where are you EFLing? Where do you EFL?"

    Don't you think that the present continuous is more vivid, more engaging, more friendly, more ... . Had I known for sure that you were/are a career EFLer, I might have tended towards the present simple, but because I intended/wanted to illustrate the difference, I was, perhaps too forward, considering this was our first contact. So I skipped the usual formalities to try to illustrate my point. Again, sorry if I offended you in any manner.

    I think that the present simple is used by sports commentators because it's the easiest one to use for action that often takes place at a rapid pace; think ice hockey. And I'll also suggest that it's used in opposition to the past simple; "Barnes passed to Jones"; just doesn't keep the sports fan in the moment, does it?


    You're right of course, that we also use the present simple to make a past story more vivid but when we use it this way it's is more like sport commentators, again in opposition to the past simple, rather than a simple one time event like, "Is she walking?" "Yup, she's walking".
    Last edited by riverkid; 13-Dec-2007 at 00:48.


    • Join Date: Dec 2007
    • Posts: 6
    #6

    Re: Tense question: "Is he walking yet?"

    Righteo. I now (think I) fully understand your first post; apology accepted completely, and I see exactly what you meant, and it wasn't rude at all.

    With that out of the way -- back to grammar. :) To me, the difference between "Where are you working?" and "Where do you work?" is clearly to do with the expectation of permanence of the work. If someone's working through a temp agency, I would use the continuous tense to ask them about it ("Where are you working?"), because the jobs will be transitory; but if I'm introduced to someone who says she's a senior manager somewhere, then I would certainly use the present simple because it's obviously a longer term commitment; it doesn't have a feeling of temporariness about it.

    I don't think either form feels any more engaging or friendly to me though. I suppose when I was 20, I would be more likely to feel friendly towards a young, transitory EFLer than towards a senior manager of anything, but that's nothing to do with the language. Now, at 34, it's not at all unlikely that I'd be introduced to someone's friend who happened to be a bank manager or whatever, and I wouldn't feel any less friendly to them when I ask, "Where do you work?"

    Which is what confuses me about the question "Is he walking yet?" Nobody's seriously expecting him to suddenly stop walking again once he's started -- there's no temporariness about it at all -- so there must be some other reason.

    It may be nothing more identifiable than vividness, friendliness, or whatever, but I'm going to keep thinking about it!


    PS I'm prevented from replying to your PM until I've made 10 public posts, but yes, that's completely fine.


    • Join Date: Aug 2006
    • Posts: 3,059
    #7

    Re: Tense question: "Is he walking yet?"

    Quote Originally Posted by timsk View Post

    I don't think either form feels any more engaging or friendly to me though. I suppose when I was 20, I would be more likely to feel friendly towards a young, transitory EFLer than towards a senior manager of anything, but that's nothing to do with the language. Now, at 34, it's not at all unlikely that I'd be introduced to someone's friend who happened to be a bank manager or whatever, and I wouldn't feel any less friendly to them when I ask, "Where do you work?"
    I certainly didn't intend to suggest that using a present simple, "Where do you work?" is less friendly. Obviously, there are a number of considerations that affect choice. Context, context context and context.

    Quote Originally Posted by timsk View Post
    Which is what confuses me about the question "Is he walking yet?" Nobody's seriously expecting him to suddenly stop walking again once he's started -- there's no temporariness about it at all -- so there must be some other reason.

    It may be nothing more identifiable than vividness, friendliness, or whatever, but I'm going to keep thinking about it!
    I'll state it once more before I leave it alone. There is a process involved, the walking doesn't happen all at once, to a degree that it will become. That's why they go thru the toddler stage; because they often toddle like an old drunk.

    That's the ticket, Timsk, that's the ticket. Sometimes, back in my heyday of ESLing, I'd bolt awake in the middle of the night after puzzling over a collocation for hours or days and scribble down some notes on a pad I kept by my futon.

    Don't look to style manuals/prescriptive grammar books for answers. Give your mind free rein because it knows all the rules.

    Are you familiar with Michael Swan? He once said at a talk I went to that sometimes he thinks of a particular language problem for hours, sometimes days and sometimes weeks and months without ever reaching a solution.

    The toughest thing we humans will ever do is language. Of course, it's rocket science!


    • Join Date: Dec 2007
    • Posts: 6
    #8

    Re: Tense question: "Is he walking yet?"

    Quote Originally Posted by riverkid View Post
    I certainly didn't intend to suggest that using a present simple, "Where do you work?" is less friendly.


    Um... if you say that the present continuous is (quote) "more friendly" (unquote) then I don't think you can really argue when I infer that you think the alternative is "less friendly", can you? The two kind of go hand in hand.

    But yes, I'll keep thinking about it, probably for weeks, months...

    Thanks for your thoughts.


    • Join Date: Nov 2007
    • Posts: 55
    #9

    Re: Tense question: "Is he walking yet?"

    A beautiful discussion!
    Could a non-native speaker chip in?
    Aren't you stressing the 'now-at-last-happening', long awaited achievement when you say 'Is he walking yet?'
    You don't seem to be referring to a life-long ability, but to the actual stage in the baby's development...
    What do you think?
    Elena (mother of five )


    • Join Date: Dec 2007
    • Posts: 6
    #10

    Re: Tense question: "Is he walking yet?"

    Quote Originally Posted by abra View Post
    A beautiful discussion!
    Why, thank you. We aim to please

    Quote Originally Posted by abra View Post
    Aren't you stressing the 'now-at-last-happening', long awaited achievement when you say 'Is he walking yet?'
    That's certainly a sentiment that's felt, yes, but I've never heard of that feeling being expressed particularly by the present continuous. Can you think of any other examples of that happening?

    Quote Originally Posted by abra View Post
    You don't seem to be referring to a life-long ability, but to the actual stage in the baby's development...
    True, we're talking about a milestone in the baby's development rather than referring to the rest of his life on two feet. The reason I mentioned that was because one common function of the present continuous is to talk about things which are happening around now but which are temporary, as in the example I quoted, "I'm reading a book by John Le Carré". The question "Is he walking yet?" is clearly not expressing the same function of the tense, because the situation is not temporary.

    Cheers.


    Tim
    father of two (one just walking, hence the question!)

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