Wednesday, June 22, 2011

1 Sentence 8 Different Meanings

READER Tam Yong Yuee of Mind Our English - The Star, sent in this snippet about Professor Ernest Brennecke of Columbia who is credited with inventing a sentence that can be made to have eight different meanings by placing one word in all possible positions in the sentence, “I hit him in the eye yesterday.” The word is “only”.

1. ONLY I hit him in the eye yesterday. (No one else did.)

2. I ONLY hit him in the eye yesterday. (Did not slap him.)

3. I hit ONLY him in the eye yesterday. (I did not hit others.)

4. I hit him ONLY in the eye yesterday. (I did not hit outside the eye.)

5. I hit him in ONLY the eye yesterday. (Not other organs.)

6. I hit him in the ONLY eye yesterday. (He doesn’t have another eye.)

7. I hit him in the eye ONLY yesterday. (Not today.)

8. I hit him in the eye yesterday ONLY. (Did not wait for today.)


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Has or Had?

Has or had

THIS was a question in my child’s school test paper:

I saw a proboscis monkey which ______ a huge nose in the zoo last week.

A. has B. had C. have D. having

The answer given was A. Has

Please tell me why the answer is not B. Had to synchronise with the past tense of the sentence viz “saw” and “last week”. – A mother

The answer can be either B or A. The sentence uses a past reporting verb “saw”. A verb of perception can be used to report what you or other people see, hear, etc. (See Collins Cobuild English Grammar 2nd edition, 2005, p.316, 7.10 “verbs of learning and perceiving” and p.321, 7.27 “verbs used with ‘that’-clauses”). When a past reporting verb is used in a sentence, the relative clause that follows it also uses a past tense (tense consistency). Hence “had” is used:

“I saw a proboscis monkey which had a huge nose in the zoo last week.”

However, when reporting something that is permanent, a present tense verb can be used. Since proboscis monkeys always have huge noses, we can also use “has” in the sentence:

“I saw a proboscis monkey which has a huge nose in the zoo last week.”

Below are some examples of the use of the present tense and the past tense in similar sentences on the Internet:

“Back into the main area, we saw a Gymnocereus [a type of cactus] which has an odd habit, growing as a sprawling, spreading plant.”

(from British Cactus & Succulent Society, Southampton & District Branch Newsletter, December 2009)

The odd habit described is a permanent feature of the plant: so the present tense verb “has” is used.

“We saw a puffin which had about eight sand eels in its mouth to feed its young.” (from a report on a school trip to Skomer Island, off the coast of south-west Wales, UK)

Puffins don’t always have “eight sand eels in its mouth to feed its young”: so the past tense verb “had” is used in the relative clause.


Monday, June 20, 2011

Madam, Teacher or Cikgu?


IT is acceptable to call a doctor whose name is Siti, Dr Siti and a police inspector whose surname is Lee, Inspector Lee? Is it all right to call a teacher whose name is Siti, Teacher Siti? Do we call a married teacher whose name is Lucy Lau Madam Lau? Is it correct to call this teacher Madam Lucy? Or is it more accurate to call her Madam Lucy Lau? – Bryan Yap Jet Rong

It is acceptable, in fact usual, to call (or more formally “address”) a police inspector whose surname is Lee, “Inspector Lee”. But a lady whose first name is “Siti” usually has another name after that, like “Siti Fatimah”. So, you should address her as “Dr Siti Fatimah” unless she has told you to address her as “Dr Siti” only.

You don’t address a teacher as “Teacher + her/his name”, but you may say “Cikgu + her/his name”. When addressing a Malaysian teacher, you may also use one of the following words before her or his name, whichever is appropriate: Puan, Encik, Cik, Mrs, Mr, Miss or Ms (pronounced Miz). When you have a new teacher, it is a good idea to ask the teacher what she or he would like to be called. (Ms, by the way, is a fairly new term that doesn’t indicate a lady’s marital status.)

As for the term “Madam” for married Chinese women teachers, a Chinese friend of mine (who was a teacher) explained the following to me. You use “Madam” with the lady’s father’s surname, but “Mrs” with the lady’s husband’s surname. Thus if Lucy Lau is married to Mr Lau, you call her “Mrs Lau”. If her original surname is Lau and she is married to a Mr Lim, for example, you can call her either “Madam Lau” or “Mrs Lim”. But as I said before, ask her what she would like to be called.

I don’t think you should call her “Madam Lucy” or “Madam Lucy Lau” unless she tells you to.
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