LINGUIST List 9.200

Tue Feb 10 1998

Qs: Past Tense, "photograph", "DO"

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  1. Vincent Jenkins, Past tense in English
  2. Graeme Forbes, Syntax and semantics of "photograph"
  3. natashag, DO in affirmative sentences

Message 1: Past tense in English

Date: Sun, 8 Feb 1998 16:25:28 -0500
From: Vincent Jenkins <>
Subject: Past tense in English

Dear Linguists

What _is_ the function of the English past tense? And is there not a better
name for it? 

Sentences such as the following (which refer to the present and/or future):

1. John said that he was busy. 
2. I wish I didn't smoke so much.
3. You could see the manager if you came back tomorrow.
4. It's time we went.
5. They had better hurry.

indicate that the so-called past tense in English marks something other
than, or in addition to, past time.

Indeed, the pair of sentences

6a. If I win the lottery I'll stop working
6b. If I won the lottery I'd stop working

suggests that the choice of tense depends on the speaker's assessment of
the future, not the past. "If I win..." sounds considerably more
optimistic than "If I won..." . The speaker of (6a) thinks he has a
chance, the speaker of (6b) doesn't. 

I wouldn't like to say what the semantic difference is in this next pair.
Syntactically does <PAST> move to or from the NP?

7a. She was my wife.
7b. She is my ex-wife.

I should like to hear of any other terms which have been suggested for
'present tense' and 'past tense' and arguments for or against them. But I
feel that I should say at the outset that I do not have an open mind on the
subject. I think that the current terms mislead foreign learners of
English into wrongly equating tense and time.

As far as I know the only other names with any currency are 'first form'
and 'second form' which are used in the former Soviet Union. 

Michael Lewis (1986), The English Verb, Language Teaching Publications
examined English tense and aspect in some detail and concluded that the
past tense denoted remoteness. He proposed the terms 'basic' and 'remote'
in place of 'present' and 'past', but has had few followers however. 
Charles Hockett (1958), A Course in Modern Linguistics, NY, discussed a
similar concept in passing. He said that one of the design features of
human language was 'displacement' - the ability talk about events remote in
space and time from the speaker. But if there were a one-to-one
correlation between past tense and displacement/remoteness it would have
been spotted long ago. Unfortunately the implication works in only one
direction. Although past tense signifies remoteness, remoteness does not
require past tense. E.g If I say to you, "My mother's house has stone
walls", the house is remote geographically from both of us, I'm using my
memory to visualise it, you're using your imagination, but the tense is

During a dialog the past tense signals to the listener that he/she must
look inwards not outwards to understand what is being said (Once upon a
time there were three bears...). But again this works only in one
direction: introspection does not require past tense. "I think therefore
I am," is well-formed.

One fundamental difference between 'past tense' and 'present tense' that I
see is in the realm of possible futures. The present tense is used in
reference to that which can be seen projecting into the future ("If I
win...", "The train leaves at 3.00"), while the past tense is used in
reference to that which is not a possible future ("If I won...", "The
train left at 12.00"). Naturally the whole of the past is

"Possible future" and impossible future" would be dreadful names for the
English tenses, but I find "present" and "past" increasingly inadequate. 
Are there any other contenders? What do Arabs, Bantus, Cambodians ...
Zulus call the English tenses? I'll post a summary of responses.

Vincent Jenkins
Computational Linguist and
Teacher of English as a Foreign Language 
Salisbury, UK
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Message 2: Syntax and semantics of "photograph"

Date: Mon, 9 Feb 1998 15:45:25 -0600
From: Graeme Forbes <>
Subject: Syntax and semantics of "photograph"

Graeme Forbes
Celia Scott Weatherhead Distinguished Professor
Department of Philosophy
Tulane University
New Orleans, LA 70118-5698
Voice: 504-862 3385 (direct); 865-5305 (dept)
Fax: 504-862-8714

Syntax and semantics of "photograph"

Can anyone explain why (1) below is acceptable, but (2) is not?

(1) I saw John leave.
(2) I photographed John leave.

According to Higginbotham, the "unsupported clause" in (1) is an event
nominal. At LF (1) is something like "for some event e of John's leaving, I
saw e". So why can't we say (2), since the same style of LF makes good

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Message 3: DO in affirmative sentences

Date: Tue, 10 Feb 1998 12:14:08 +0300
From: natashag <>
Subject: DO in affirmative sentences

Hello, everybody!

I'd like to share with you the problem that is of special interest for me
now. It's the use of the auxiliary verb DO in affirmative sentences, things
like "Money DOES make the man" or "He owns - or DID own - a Rolls Royce". I
know that it is always stressed and emphasizes the meaning of the main
verb, but still it seems to me that it also gives the main verb some
additional meaning and therefore can be called a modal verb. What do you
think of it?

I have collected a great number of examples, but the meaning implied is not
always clear to me. I've already asked the experts at Dave's ESL Cafe to
help me and received a few answers. Their interpretations were different
and I'd like to invite all of you to join the discussion, of course if you
are interested in the problem.
Here are a few sentences or short extracts form different texts and I'd
like you to interprete the meaning of DO(you might have to reformulate
them). It would be nice if I got answers from native-speakers of English,
both linguists and non-linguists (because linguists are often influenced by
different linguistic theories).

1. DO use some of the techniques of fiction writing discussed in this
2. "Don't cry any more. DO stop crying. It's so exhausting. Please!"
 The other DID stop just in time for Rosemary to get up before the tea
3. "Did you drive past this number on Endicott on an average of once an
 "Now as to that it's difficult to say. Sometimes we'd come down
 Endicott Way, sometimes one of the the other streets. We were patrolling
 the district."
 "But you DID drive along Endicott way several times between 5 and 9
4. It was an overnight success, and within two years a stage musical of the
 book had been produced, with Baum himself writing the lyrycs, so fulfilling
 an earlier ambition to be a playwright. However, he was forever identified
 with Oz with the public an as result he wrote a further 13 volumes about
 this mystical land. He DID write other children's stories under the
 pseudonym Edith Van Dyne, eventually he WROTE about 60 books in all. (I've
 got 3 questions about #4: Is DID really stressed in this sentence? Is there
 any opposition between DID WRITE and WROTE? Can DID WRITE mean a repeted
 action in the past?)
5. She really DOES love him. (What is this DOES for if there is REALLY?)
6. The marital life cycle is booby-trapped with a whole series of similar
 events: a promotion for a demanding job , a serious illness, etc. Each of
 these events is loaded with the potential for change. They can and DO
 trigger clashes but a couple may recognize the cause.
7. He owns - or DID own - a Rolls Royce.
 And one more question: Is it possible in modern English to use DO without
 any stress in sentences of this kind?

It would be nice if you you could send me you own examples to illustrate
the meanings of DO that cannot be found in my sentences.
I am looking forward to reading your answers.

Thank you
 Natalia G. Gavrilenko
 Tver, Russia
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