Where English meets Linguistics
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?
During the holiday I spent much of my time on a local discussion forum, reading and discussing topics regarding the English language. One question that was raised again and again by local students was this: Why does the ‘p’ in spy sound somewhat different from the ‘p’ in pie, and in fact, for Chinese speakers, the same as ‘b’ in buy?
It shouldn’t be any different in other metropolises, but in Hong Kong, one of the major activities people have during the Christmas holiday is shopping in big, grand and sometimes grandiose shopping malls. Certainly these malls have been getting more or more thoughtfully designed and decorated, but at the same time, another trend seems to have emerged in recent years.
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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.
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.