lain-back

On Tuesday a student about the difference between lay and lie. I gave a brief explanation to the effect that lay is transitive. It needs a direct object – hens lay eggs and humans lay tables. Lie is intransitive. It does not need, in fact it actively resists, a direct object – hens do not lie eggs and humans do not lie tables. (But some people use lay intransitively – Bob Dylan invites a lady to lay on his big brass bed and Gloria Gaynor’s ex-boyfriend thought she’d lay down and die, to varying degrees of horror from the purists.) I said to the student that it is very easy to get these two verbs mixed up, and many native English speakers do. (It does not help that the past simple form of lie is lay.)

By coincidence, Wednesday’s listening included the adjective laid-back, which I didn’t comment on at the time, because I knew Thursday’s lesson expanded on hyphenated adjectives. But it struck me that laid-back is built on the transitive lay-laid-laid and not the intransitive lie-lay-lain. If you are laid-back, then presumably it’s because someone or something has laid you back somewhere, and not because you have lain back somewhere. I’ve consulted several dictionaries and searched generally online, but I can’t find anything about this. Maybe the concept is reflexive: you have laid yourself back. Or maybe informal words don’t have to follow the rules of grammar.

In yesterday’s class, I briefly mentioned this to the student, then said ‘The word is laid-back, whether it comes from lay or lie’. Another student then asked about the other lie, to tell an untruth.

He is walking

Yesterday, one of my Facebook friends posted this video. I decided to use it to start yesterday’s lesson with a review of verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs and prepositions. The simplest sentence to describe the video is ‘He is walking’, and one student supplied ‘on a machine’ (none of them knew ‘treadmill’).

From there, some gaits are better described by a verb (He is V-ing), a noun (He is walking like a(n) NP), an adjective (He is walking a(n) adj walk,* He is walking like he is adj, or He is walking like (he is) a(n) adj person), an adverb (He is walking adv-ly) or a prepositional phrase (He is walking in a(n) adj way, or He is walking with NP). There are sometimes too many choices. Some verbs and nouns have the same form, and some can be changed to adjectives or adverbs. The first gait in the video is sneak, so we could say: He is sneaking, He is walking like a sneak, He is walking a sneaky walk,* He is walking like he is sneaky, He is walking like a sneaky person, He is walking sneakily and He is walking in a sneaky way. (Is sneak a verb first, or a noun first, or both at the same time?) Some words are less flexible: ballerina is clearly a noun, so we can only say He is walking like a ballerina, not, for example, *He is ballerina-ing or *He is walking ballerina-ly (though people are very creative about verbing or adverbing nouns).

The performer is Kevin Parry, who has a longer version, without music, on his Youtube channel.

* This construction is possibly the most awkward, but we quite happily say (or sing) things like To dream the impossible dream.

CARDINAL PELL CHARGES

Today’s headline ambiguity is brought to you by the letter S. S has three major roles in English – marking plural nouns (the intended reading of this headline), 3rd person present simple verbs (the unintended reading of this headline) and (with an apostrophe) possession.

The intended reading is a noun phrase with a noun phrase modifier and a plural noun. The unintended reading is a clause with a noun phrase and a verb. The unintended reading gains strength by being standard English, while the intended reading is acceptable headlinese but not standard English. In standard English, we would have to talk about ‘Cardinal Pell’s charges’ (that is, the charges against him, not belonging to him).

Either way, the ambiguity continues because charge has multiple meanings both as a noun and a verb.

(Note: I am not commenting on the justice or injustice of the charges, or on His Eminence’s innocence or guilt. I am commenting on the linguistic ambiguity of the headline.)

‘The way I are’

I recently stumbled on a song with the questionable grammar ‘the way I are’. (Any resemblance to ‘the way we were’ in my last post is purely coincidental.) If this is part of any recognised variety of English, I haven’t encountered it before. In searching for more information, I found another song with the same grammar, and those two appear to be the only occurrences on the internet, so I must conclude that it’s not part of any recognised variety of English which has ever been posted on the internet. The first few pages of search results were references to one or other of these songs, then came ‘about 897,000,000′ results of one, two, three or all of those words in some combination or order.

One writer wrote ”Cause I like you just the way you are … Can you handle me the way I are?’, the other ‘Don’t matter who you are, just love me the way I are’. This is not a ‘mistake’, because both writers chose to do it, and I’m sure they’re aware that it’s ‘wrong’. For every other verb in English than be, you and I are followed the same verb form: ”Cause I like you just the way you eat … Can you handle me the way I eat?’ or ‘Don’t matter who you eat, just love me the way I eat‘. (Sorry, I’ve still got eating pizzas on my mind from two posts ago. (There are increasingly risqué and indeed outright rude alternative verbs.))

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overview of verb tenses – part 1

The last chapter of the textbook contains a review of verb tenses, so I thought I could double up lesson planning and blog posting. Consider:

I eat pizza.    I am eating pizza.    I have eaten pizza.    I have been eating pizza.
I ate pizza.    I was eating pizza.    I had eaten pizza.    I had been eating pizza.
Pizza is eaten.    Pizza is being eaten.    Pizza has been eaten.    Pizza has been being eaten.
Pizza was eaten.    Pizza was being eaten.    Pizza had been eaten.    Pizza had been being eaten.
I like eating pizza.
I want to eat pizza.
I will eat pizza.
Eating pizza is good.

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The muggers are very dangerous

One topic in the textbook this week is crime, and one grammar point is the passive voice, which allows us to say things like ‘The man was heard having an argument with the victim, seen leaving the scene of the crime, reported to the police, investigated, questioned, arrested, charged, tried, found guilty, condemned to death, hanged, drawn and quartered, and buried in unconsecrated ground’. Who by? By witnesses, the police, the crown prosecutor, the jury, the judge, the Lord High Executioner and four horses, and someone. Crime is an ideal context in which to practice the passive voice as it typically has an active participant (a do-er), a transitive verb and a passive participant (a done-to).

Much nonsense has been written about the passive voice (among other things, many people who write negatively about it a) can’t actually identify it, and b) use it quite naturally in the course of writing negatively about it), but it is a full part of English (and many other languages), is often used and often very useful. (It is, of course, sometimes (?often) badly used.) (Without consciously trying, I used four actives (underlined) and three passives (bolded). This way more passive than the overall average of about 15%.)

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