Saturday, 15 March 2008

Present 'Simple' Can't Be Difficult...?

Languages are made of words and words are made of letters but the basic building block of a language is the sentence.

In English the shortest possible sentence is a subject and a verb:

I (subject - first person singular nominative personal pronoun, remember?) exist (verb).

(subject) bark (verb).

They are not fantastically informative sentences, but they are sentences and they are very short!

You have the subject which is what the sentence is about and the verb which tells you what the subject does.

Verbs come in different tenses (a kind of 'time form') so that they can tell you what the subject does in the present or in the future or the past.

The verbs in our mini sentences above are about the present, so they are in the present simple tense. The present simple tells us about things which kind of always happen or never happen...etc.

People always exist, dogs always bark (especially the neighbour's dog).

So for things which happen always, usually, often, sometimes, rarely or never we can use this tense.

In some languages there is a different form of the present for each person too. Greek for example has a different form of the verb for I, you, we, they, he/she/it
(first, second and third person singular and plural):

iparcho - I exist
iparcheis - you exist
- he/she/it exists...

In English the verb only changes for the third person singular, he/she/it. We put an "s" on the verb:

I exist - he exists
Dogs bark - A dog barks

In other words it works like this:

I, you, we, they


he, she, it

VERB + s

Easy enough? Well, there is a catch.

Those sentences up there are all positive. If you want to say what is not always true then you have to use a negative form...and if you want to ask a question about what always happens, you need a question form.

Now, don't panic! Remember
auxiliary verbs? Well we use 'do' to make the present simple negative and question forms.

Negative: Cats do (auxiliary verb) not bark (main verb)
Question: Do (auxiliary verb) you exist (main verb)?

In those sentences the 'do' has no meaning, only a function.

[Tip!! The auxiliary verb tells you the tense, the main verb tells you the sense]

So, it looks like this:

Negative Form

I, you, we, they


he, she, it




Question Form


I, you, we, they


he,she, it


...and what about that 's' on the third person form? Well, you can see it goes on the auxiliary verb 'does' and NOT the main verb!

Now if that does not make you agree that English is Easy, then I give up!

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

First Person Singular Blah Blah...etc etc..(Personal Pronouns)

It is time to have a first look at these personal pronouns. They are very important in English and we use them all the time (there are 3 in this sentence).

Here is a story full of third person personal pronouns:

John went to Susan's last night. He had flowers for her because it was her birthday. At her house he gave them to her and then he gave her a kiss. He took her to her favourite restaurant. They enjoyed it very much.

If you don't use personal pronouns it looks like this:

John went to Susan's last night. John had flowers for Susan because that day was Susan's birthday. At Susan's house John gave the flowers to Susan and then John gave Susan a kiss. John took Susan to Susan's favourite restaurant. John and Susan enjoyed the evening very much.

I think you can see that the first version is better...but imagine the conversation between John and Susan using no personal pronouns:

John: Hi Susan, how are...erm...oh, how is Susan?
Susan: Hi John, I...oh erm, sorry...Susan is fine...
John: I...oh, John got these flowers are for...Susan...
Susan: Oh, the flowers are lovely! Thank...John..

It is impossible...if you don't want to sound like a caveman!

We have personal pronouns for the first person - if I want to talk about myself; for the second person - if I want to talk to you and the third person if we want to talk about someone or something else.

There is also a singular form for one person or thing and a plural form for more people or things.

And they come in nominative, accusative and genitive forms!

(English is Easy! Remember?)

So the nominative (i.e. for the subject of the sentence) personal pronouns look like this:











he, she, it


It's not that bad is it?

You can find the full set

In the dialogue above, between John and Susan, I think you can also see the evolution of the language. You can imagine primitive humans thumping their chests and saying, "Caveboy John like cavegirl Susan!".

The first and second personal pronouns were invented later perhaps.

Little babies also use the third person when they are just starting to speak.

When my younger daughter Biddy (her nickname) was very little she used to say:

"Biddy hungy."
(I am feeling a little hungry)

"Biddy DON'T shoesson!"
(I would prefer not to put on my shoes just now thanks)

"Biddy poodink!"
(Erm, I have just done a poo and it is rather stinky!)

Not perfect English but we knew what she wanted!

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