engaged

Yesterday we celebrated the engagement of one of my nieces and her fiancé. So who is engaging whom, or are they both engaging each other?

The past participle form of a verb can used as a verb to show a process, or as an adjective to show the result of that process.

My employers engaged me to teach English. I was engaged to teach English by my employers. I am engaged in teaching English.
She engaged me in conversation. I was engaged in conversation by her. I am engaged in conversation with her.

The change from to teach English to in teaching English and by her to with her is a sign that something has happened to the grammatical status of engaged in each case.

In my niece and nephew-in-law-to-be’s case, presumably:

He engaged her. She was engaged by him. They are engaged.

Ummm ….

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‘Wilt thou leave me so dissatisfied?’

This week’s chapter of the textbook contained a lot about changing nouns into adjectives and vice versa using suffixes, and modifying adjectives using prefixes, including making negative adjectives. English has rather too many ways of making negative adjectives, including a-, dis-, il-, im-, in-, ir-, –less, non– and un-. Of these, a– is the most restricted and the textbook didn’t even mention it. il-, im-, in– and ir– are fairly restricted (compare illegal and unlawful), and –less can only be added to a noun. The three most general are dis-, non– and un-, probably in that order of restriction: we can say ‘uncool’ and ‘non-cool’, but we can’t say ‘discool’. (There are restrictions on the root adjective as well: we can say ‘unhappy’, but probably not ‘unsad’ and certainly not ‘unmiserable’.)

We have sets of words like comfort (verb), comfort (noun) and comfortable, but discomfort and uncomfortable. uncomfort and discomfortable exist, but are vanishing rare. Sometimes two adjectives sit side by side. Some combination of dissatisfying, unsatisfying, dissatisfied, unsatisfied, dissatisfactory and unsatisfactory cropped up in one lesson. dissatisfying and unsatisfying seem to be more subjective and dissatisfactory and unsatisfactory seem to be more objective: a movie might be unsatisfactory because of the picture or sound quality, but unsatisfying because of the story or acting.

Dictionary.com lists unsatisfactory, dissatisfactory, unsatisfying and dissatisfied, but dissatisfying redirects to dissatisfy, and unsatisfied to satisfied. On the other hand, unsatisfy and unsatisfaction don’t exist; the verb and noun are dissatisfy and dissatisfaction. Google Ngrams shows unsatisfactory and dissatisfied considerably ahead of unsatisfied and unsatisfying, slightly ahead of dissatisfying and dissatisfactory. So unsatisfactory and unsatisfying are clear choices, while dissatisfied is the better choice, but unsatisfied is not ‘wrong’. But there are two differences. The first is grammatical: Google Ngrams shows that dissatisfied is standardly followed by a function word (dissatisfied with, and, that, in, as, at, because, than, by and to) (and is therefore standardly used predicatively), while unsatisfied is followed by a noun more often than not (unsatisfied with, and, demand, desire, in, by, desires, longing, longings and curiosity) (and is therefore used attributively and predicatively). The second is semantic: people and demands, desires, longings, and curiosity can be unsatisfied, but only people (and maybe larger animals) can be dissatisfied.

Shakespeare has Romeo ask ‘Wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?’, but we can hardly draw any conclusions from on random example from more than 400 years ago.

Call me maybe

Kim Jeong-Eun calls Donald Trump ‘mentally deranged’
Kim Jeong-Eun calls Donald Trump a ‘dotard’
Bill Shorten calls Tony Abbott

The first two (slightly adapted) headlines probably need no explanation, but to those of you from places other than Australia, the third (also slightly adapted) probably does. Australia is currently suffering from an unnecessary, expensive and divisive public debate and official survey on the question ‘Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?’. The current (centre-right) prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull is personally in favour, but is being held hostage by a further-right group within his party, which is opposed. A former prime minister, Tony Abbott, is one of this group. The (centre-left) opposition party, led by Bill Shorten, is either officially in favour or willing to allow its members a conscience vote. Yesterday, Tony Abbott was headbutted on a public street by a man wearing a ‘yes’ badge, and suffered ‘slight swelling’ of his upper lip.

(asterisked strong language follows)

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Grammar in pop songs – Lucy Lucy Lucy

Picture yourself
Somebody calls you
You answer
A girl

Flowers
Look
She’s gone

Lucy
Lucy
Lucy

Follow her
Everyone smiles

Taxis appear
Climb in
You’re gone

Lucy
Lucy
Lucy

Picture yourself
Someone is there
The girl

Lucy
Lucy
Lucy

Lucy
Lucy
Lucy

Lucy
Lucy
Lucy

In the loved-by-some, loathed-by-others Elements of Style, William Strunk Jr and EB White say ‘Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs’ and ‘Omit needless words’. Very well then …

I have taken that advice to its logical extreme and wielded the delate button on Lucy (in the sky) (with diamonds) by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The result is possibly comprehensible if you already know the song and possibly not if you don’t. To be fair, Strunkandwhite don’t mention the other word classes, especially prepositions, but I’ve erred on the side of comprehensiveness.

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have

My house (1) has a bath and shower and I (2) have a bath or shower every day. I (3) have to have a bath or shower every day. My previous apartment also (4) had a bath and shower and I (5) had a bath or shower every day. I (6) had to have a bath or shower every day. This was a good thing because my first apartment (7) had had only a shower and I (8) had had a shower every day. I (9) had had to have a shower every day.

Most of that is made up to illustrate a grammar point, namely the various uses of the verb have as an auxiliary verb, a main verb, a catenative verb and an ‘extra verb’.

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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.