the dog, the cat and eleplant

Yesterday, after my students and I compiled the sentences ‘A big, black jaguar ate spicy pink pasta with [one of the students] in [our university’s restaurant] this morning, because it was hungry’  and ‘[My name] wears a lovely white lace one-piece in a wedding hall every morning because he is cute’ (explained in yesterday’s post), I set the students to writing their own sentences. The results were mixed.

One student (officially two students working together, but one fell asleep) wrote ‘A cute dog with pink fur sits on the bench at the public baths every day because its master is working there’, which is perfect. I’m still pondering the distinction (if any) between ‘sits … is working’, ‘sits … works’, ‘is sitting … works’ and ‘is sitting … is working.

Another pair wrote ‘A blue fat cat chased a injured beautiful bird yesterday in the kitchen in fast speed for 2 hours because the cat has never seen such a beautiful bird’. Four small mistakes are easily fixed: ‘blue fat cat’ > ‘fat blue cat’, ‘a injured beautiful bird’ > ‘a beautiful injured bird’ (there is an established order for attributive adjectives, but I have never seen an actual explanation for it), ‘in fast speed’ > ‘at top speed’ (‘in fast speed’ exists (two occurrences in COCA), but ‘at top speed’ is clearly the idiom) and ‘has never seen’ > ‘had never seen’.

The biggest problem is the order of ‘yesterday’ (when – time), ‘in the kitchen’ (where – location), ‘at top speed’ (how – manner) and ‘for 2 hours’ (how long – duration). The standard order (according to a brief glance at a paper by Huddleston and Pullum I found while researching this post) seems to be manner – location – time – duration, which gives ‘at top speed in the the kitchen yesterday for 2 hours’, but ‘at top speed in the kitchen for 2 hours yesterday’ sounds more natural to me. But some adverbial material can be moved to the beginning of the sentence, giving at least the option of ‘Yesterday, for 2 hours, a cat chased a bird’ or ‘For 2 hours yesterday, a cat …’. [Edit: It is also possible to move the place to the beginning: ‘Yesterday, in the kitchen …’ or ‘In the kitchen yesterday …’. But we probably can’t have too much material there: ?’Yesterday, in the kitchen, for two hours …’. The whole ‘because’ clause can also be moved there.]

Another pair wrote: ‘Eleplant ate sweet purple pizza on the street in the afternoon with Lee Min-ju*.’ Here, we’ve got more fundamental mistakes of spelling and determiners. (If I had a dollar for every time I’ve said ‘A singular countable noun needs a determiner’, I’d be a rich man. I even stressed that in the two contrived sentences, with ‘a jaguar’ and ‘a one-piece [dress]’.) (I’d also be inclined to move ‘with Lee Min-ju’ to after ‘pizza’.)

Another student wrote: ‘I want to fruit because sweet’. I … understand … that (he wrote, very hesitantly), but there no main verb, and a reason is usually a full sentence – ‘because it is sweet’. (I’m aware that some people these days informally say or write ‘because N’ or ‘because Adj’, but I’ll go for standard English first.)

And some other students’ sentences were even more fragmentary than that.

I’ve now got to read the Huddleston and Pullum paper because it bears on something I’ve been thinking about, both in general and in relation to yesterday’s and today’s posts.

* As in yesterday’s post, I’ve disguised the name, but the sentence is otherwise as the students wrote it.


4 thoughts on “the dog, the cat and eleplant

  1. The current fad of saying, “Because……..reasons” as a full sentence (I’ve actually heard this sentence, and very similar ones, more than once) drives me batty.


  2. Pingback: adjuncts | Never Pure and Rarely Simple

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