Category: Syntax

Tense and Tensibility

5 Dec 2008 In: Contrastive Analysis, Morphology, Syntax

Anyone who has tried to learn a foreign language in school can tell that in a typical language course, much of the time is actually spent on learning how to use verbs. In the case of English, learning how to use the different tenses is a particularly important task, and a unique challenge to speakers of Chinese, which is a practically tenseless language.

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Babylon is fallen

15 Nov 2008 In: Morphology, Semantics, Syntax, Typology
Tower of Babel in Babylon

Tower of Babel

♪♩♫ Joy to the world 
The Lord is come… ♫♩♪

Wait, wait. The Lord is come? Isn’t there something wrong? First, we know that come cannot be in the passive voice here, as come is an intransitive verb, it does not have an object, which basically means it cannot have a passive form. On the other hand, if it was in the present perfect tense, then the auxiliary used should have been “have” (has) instead of “be” (is). What is happening?

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I very like it

11 Oct 2008 In: Contrastive Analysis, Syntax

I very like it.

It may sound somewhat weird to native ears, but a lot of my Chinese students produce sentences like this one. What is weird here is simple. First, the adverb “very” seems to be misplaced. It should either be moved to the end of the sentence, or be replaced with another adverb like “really”. Second, if it is moved to the end, it cannot simply stand there alone but requires another word “much” to follow, as in:

I like it very much.

As usual, this can easily be discarded as an error in grammar, but what is more interesting is the cause of this error.

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More on the centrifuge

29 Aug 2008 In: Syntax

The last few weeks I was totally absorbed by the Olympic Games, which accounted for the absence of new posts on this blog. Now I would like to go back to a topic we discussed earlier. In A natural centrifuge in English, we took a look at the general tendency in English to delay a heavy element until the end of the sentence. In the article, we looked at examples which apparently merely exchange the positions of two elements,

1. This house has a broken window.
2. This house has a window broken by a fallen tree nearby.

but the tendency is actually more profound than this.

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Even though vs even if

4 Aug 2008 In: Contrastive Analysis, Semantics, Syntax

Yesterday I had private lessons with two students who were in form 6 and 7 respectively, and were thus reasonably advanced learners. Nevertheless, both students failed to distinguish between the meanings of even though and even if when they encountered them in an article. Therefore, I think it is justified to create a new category under the title “Contrastive Analysis,” dedicated to comparing various aspects of the English and Chinese grammars which differ from each other, as it will be of practical uses to Chinese learners of English, and possibly to English learners of Chinese as well.

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