“I’d like to argue”

In a comment to a recent post, my number one of recent times commenter Batchman mentioned Monty Python’s Argument Clinic sketch. I used this in class many times to show the inter-relationship between verbs and nouns, in this instance, first, argue and argument, and also between the verb argue and the (I’m not sure what the technical term for this is) have an argument

Many English nouns and verbs relate in one of four ways: either the noun is derived from the verb, the verb is derived from the noun, they are written the same but differ in pronunciation, or they are written and pronounced the same. In the sketch, we have at least one of the following words relating to speaking:

Noun derived from verb
argue > argument
contradict > contradiction
complain > complaint 

Same written form, different pronunciation
abuse /s/ ~ abuse /z/ 

I also used the debate from Mind your language (from 5:54), which also has:

Noun derived from verb
discuss > discussion
dispute > disputation (and dispute)
propose > proposal, proposition
oppose > opposition
present > presentation
dismiss ~ dismissal

(Not surprisingly, -ion/-tion/-ation and -ment are very common noun endings.)

Same written form, same pronunciation
debate ~ debate
dispute ~ dispute (and disputation) 
talk ~ talk
fight ~ fight
question ~ question
say ~ say
vote ~ vote

Verb derived from noun
apologise < apology 

(Not surprisingly, -ise/-ize is a very common verb ending.)

Several more words either don’t fit into the categories above or have extra points arising. It is difficult to know which of speak and speech came first. They have both been part of English since the beginning. I suspect that speak is the original form because stops turn into fricatives more often than vice versa. While ask can be used as a noun, it is almost always qualified in some way: a big, tough, huge ask (rarely a small ask and probably never a weak ask). Ask is almost always a verb, and by far most often ask a question, though we can also ask a friend. Tell is never a noun in this context. We tell a story or a lie, and also a person, a woman, a man or (not) a soul. Say can be a noun, and indeed in Mind your language Mr Brown tells Giovanni to “Give everybody a say”, but we most often say a word, (not) a thing, a prayer or (not) a lot

Dispute and propose both have two noun forms, but disputation and proposition seem to have more limited meanings than dispute and proposal.

(All of these verbs can also add -er to make the person who Vs. Mind your language has two proposers and two opposers.)

The difference between V and one or more of have/take/make/do* a(n) N gets very murky very quickly: compare “I’d like to have an argument” and “I’d like to argue” in the Monty Python sketch. The latter might seem too abrupt. Compare also “Today I had an argument with my boss” (once) v “Today I argued with my boss” (once or many times). Also “Do you want to have just one argument” v ?”Do you want to argue just once?”. Going back to propose/proposal/proposition, compare “propose to someone”, “proposition someone”, “make a proposal to someone/make someone a proposal” and “make a proposition to someone/make someone a proposition”. Also “I’d like to speak” and “I’d like to make a speech”.

In Mind your language, we also have chair v take the chair (which Giovanni interprets literally; compare also take a chair and take a seat). Also Mr Brown says take a vote, then Giovanni says both have the vote and take the vote.

(* This is a very good reason why textbooks need to present common collocations and phrases as soon as possible: not just decide and decision, but make a decision as well.)

This is not comprehensive, but a few random thoughts arising from two tv comedy sketches.


27 thoughts on ““I’d like to argue”

  1. Lots to comment about here, but I’ll start by suggesting “verbal phrase” for “have an argument.” But that may be confusing, as there is another sense of “verbal” that does not confine itself to verbs. After all, the Latin “verbum” means just “word”, not “action word.”

    This brings up a pet peeve of mine: the use of “verbal” to mean “oral” as in “did they write down the request or was it given verbally?” Need I remark that unless one communicates using sign language, semaphores or grunts, all written communication is “verbal.” I can understand the reluctance to use the word “oral” because of its adult overtones (and recalls a controversial Christian televangelist of prior decades).

    Liked by 1 person

    • These are ‘verb phrases (VPs)’ in the technical sense, being a verb and its dependants, but they’re a definite subset of those: compare “I’d like to have an argument” and “I’d like to have a beer”. “Have an argument” functions as a unit in a way that “have a beer” doesn’t. I flipped through the Cambridge Grammar today and couldn’t see anything relevant.

      Interesting exercise: search Google Ngrams for oral v verbal contract, agreement, promise but compare oral evidence (which I often encounter in my editing).


  2. The use of “ask” and “spend” as nouns seems fairly recent, and still sounds odd to me.

    “tell” can be a noun in a specific sense of a clue that someone is lying or hypocritical. I recall Scott Adams (“Dilbert” cartoonist and controversial blogger) using it extensively.

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  3. The “Argument” sketch also contains extensive instances of conversational negation, as in “No, it isn’t”, “No, you don’t”, etc. I’m sure you can make use of those in a language training context.

    Liked by 1 person

      • and the ultimate foreshortening to “Didn’t!” “Did!” etc. Similarly in the “Fish License / Eric the Half-a-Bee” MP sketch.


      • In my first legal editing job, I proofread a transcript in which a legal practitioner said something like (with minimal punctuation) “The parties engaged in tis … tistn’t … tis … tisn’t”. I had no idea how to upper case and punctuate that.


  4. FWIW, the email prompt I receive after replying to a post here asks me to click a button that says “Confirm Follow.” So I guess WordPress considers “follow” a noun as well.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Nice tries. “Following” exists but has a vastly different meaning. Of course, appending Latinate suffixes to Anglo-Saxon roots is always questionable, though words like “talkative” and “starvation” are thoroughly accepted now.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I have just noticed that when I click ‘like’ for you comment, WordPress tells me ‘Like by you’ (passive voice, oh horror), rather than ‘You like’.


      • Another instance of nominification of a verb: “like” in the online sense. (Like, a Facebook post may have a large number of likes.) WordPress may be thinking “this is a like by you,” which would be “by” in the sense of authorship rather than expressing a passive mood.

        And on a like-minded topic, there is an inherent ambiguity in the phrase “People like us”, which has occurred from time to time as a song or album title. Does it describe people who share characteristics with us or does it assert that we are liked by people?
        This becomes significant when determining how to capitalize the title, since “like” would need to be capitalized if it’s a verb but not if it’s a preposition.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I wonder if it would be possible to write a song in which the chorus built up to a refrain which made sense either way. Probably not, because “People-S like-V us-O” is a complete sentence and “People-S like-prep us-N” isn’t.


  5. Re “speak” vs. “speech” and which came first, it’s helpful to know a bit about the history of the English language from its Anglo-Saxon origins. There are various phonetic transformations that took place during the Old English period; one is the change of the “k” sound (written as “c”) to the “ch” sound before high front vowels (I’m too lazy to do the IPA thing right now). Thus “speak”/”speech” (and “break”/”breach”) differ on account of ending vowels that dropped off over time but left their aftereffects. It’s hard to say whether the verb or noun form came first (they probably coexisted from the start), but it’s notable that the “ch” versions of the words tend to be less common.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Have you noticed that “make a decision” has been supplanted by “take a decision” over the last several decades, on both sides of the Atlantic as far as I can tell?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hmm… ‘Tisn’t would be a rare instance of a doubly apostrophized English negational phrase, though an archaic spelling of sha’n’t would also qualify.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Too many choices | Never Pure and Rarely Simple

  9. Many Youtube ads are subtitled in English even though the ads are in English and aimed at an English-speaking audience. One ad for an investment app or service included “not everyone has the time or knows”. We can be ‘in the know’, but I would use ‘has the knows’ like that. As it turned out, neither would the maker of the ad. It continued “or knows how to do due diligence”. The problem was a line break in the subtitles, and not the nounification of a verb.


  10. Pingback: Either way, don’t beg the question | Never Pure and Rarely Simple

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