Category: Syntax

Command and Conquer

19 Jun 2010 In: Semantics, Syntax

“Obama Trusts Himself When All Men Doubt Him.”

Or so a news headline runs.

There may be doubts about Obama’s ability, but there is absolutely no doubt that both himself and him here refer to the same person, namely Obama. It is therefore bizarrely remarkable that we have to use two different words to denote the same concept. But on second thought, maybe they are not quite the same.

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God Save the Queen

2 Mar 2010 In: Syntax

A student of mine told me that he had found a mistake in the lyrics of the national anthem of the United Kingdom. He said the name of this anthem, God Save the Queen, had a missing -s after the verb save. The subject, God, is singular in the third person, therefore the verb should be conjugated to agree with the subject accordingly.

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Don’t misunderstand, this article has nothing against the church. Instead, it is about a line which I stumbled upon on a web site today, which read:

1. Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our church and community.

churchThe line was claimed to be taken from a Church Bulletin, although my Christian friend found it questionable. But let’s say, if it was really from the Church Bulletin, why would it talk about those “who are sick of our church” anyway?  In fact, the funny thing about this sentence is that upon closer inspection, there can actually be two readings: one which is somewhat absurd (but perhaps more obvious at first glance), and, one which sounds more reasonable (and is thus probably the intended reading).

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I’m loving it!

12 May 2009 In: Semantics, Syntax

I'm lovin' it

When we learn English verbs, we usually spend a lot of time remembering when to use a certain tense A, and then when to use another tense B. However, few of us pay attention to when we should not use a tense A or a tense B. When we see “I’m loving you,” or “I have preferred this job” (note that it is different from “I would have preferred this job“), we say we should probably use the present simple in the first sentence, and the past simple in the second, instead of the present continuous and the past perfect respectively. But why not?

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What’s in a verb?

23 Dec 2008 In: Morphology, Syntax

In Tense and Tensibility, we discussed the need and implication of having tense. In essence, tense gives us information on when an event or action takes place. However, the meaning of what we commonly call ‘tense’ in English is actually quite fluid.  A ‘tense’, or a tense form, oftens gives much more information than merely the temporal location of an action. We are going to look into this matter, dissect the structure of the verbal phrase and discuss these other dimensions of verbal information.

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