The English progressive is difficult

Steve K   Saturday, September 11, 2004, 18:28 GMT

I presume you are being sarcastic when you so categorically reject what is the normal usage of family, as a noun taking the third person singular.
We, in our family, are keen skiiers. On the other hand, our family is large. Our family is loving, is friendly, and is argumentative. However, if some people like to say "our family are going to Hawaii over the holidays", it would not really bother me.

The rules come from usage, usage does not come from rules. Usage changes and therefore so do the rules. The more often a term is used, the more likely that usage will change over time. That is why rarely used verbs are usually regular, whereas freqeuently used verbs, like to go, to say, to have, to be etc. are often irregular in many languages. Even in very closely related languages you get diversion as new dialects develop. In Portuguese you ask "what the hours are" and in Spanish you ask "what the hour is". Both work. Both have their "logic"

You can choose the form of the language you want to imitate. But then you probably should try to stay consistent with that usage. If you want to learn to speak like a cockney, then that is what you imitate. Learning to speak like a cockney is not advisable in most situations since cockney English is less useful for internatinal communication and less prestigious than General American or what I would call BBC English.

One has to learn the language by imitating native speakers who speak or write the way one wants to speak or write. That is the principle of natural language learning. Natural learning, which avoids the discussion of rules of grammar, is the fastest way to learn if done in an efficient way that takes advantage of modern technology.
Tom   Sunday, September 12, 2004, 01:33 GMT
"Will you go to the party?" -- asking someone to go to the party.
"Will you be going to the party?" -- asking someone about their plans.

The difference seems to have little to do with processes and points in time. Which would prove that you cannot describe the usage of progressive tenses with a single rule.

"Do you think it will rain?" vs. "It's raining." -- I think it's more a matter of convention than of perception. I don't really think native speakers think of rain as more of a process when saying the second sentence.

As a learner, you have to just memorize these examples and imitate them. Asking "why?" and, even worse, trying to make up rules that explain the difference in tenses is a waste of time.
Mi5 Mick   Sunday, September 12, 2004, 01:39 GMT
Yeah probably and I'd have to agree. (with the last paragraph that is)
Steve K   Sunday, September 12, 2004, 02:57 GMT

I agree with so much of what you say. Yes, we should not ask why. Yes we need a lot of input in order to get used to correct usage, rather than trying to learn rules. Right on. I would join your school.

We disagree on the demand for perfection at too early a stage but we'll let that go for now. We also disagree on the need for memorization.

To learn to speak naturally we need to do natural things. Memorization is a different skills than observing the language and imitating it. The Chinese do a lot of memorizaton and are not very successful language learners. Similarly the conventional comprehension tests where the learner is asked questions on what he/she has heard or read demands memory rather than language skills, so I avoid these tests.

There are ways to assist the learner to identify and learn words and phrases in context in a systematic way, without the conscious effort of memorization. I believe that is the language breakthrough digital technology makes possible. Your Memory program is but one example.
Ant_222   Sunday, September 12, 2004, 10:23 GMT
On Saturday, September 11, 2004, 17:37 GMT I wrote:
>«I would always say "The family IS happy", not "The family ARE happy".»
>Nope, you are wrong.

The first what I did after I had read it was a google search for the two uses of the word "family". And I advise you to do this too. I understood that using this noun as single or multiple is based on how the family is considered in every given case. If we think of it as of a set of people rather than of a single object we should say "the family are". Otherwise -- "the famili is".

"The family are happy" seems to me more like the first variant, "All the members of the family are happy", not the object family is happy.

But: "This family has roots in the medieval France" Here it may be considered as a single object.

By the words that Sanja is wrong I mean that the use of "family" as of a single object is incorrect in_the_given_example and it can also be used as a multiple noun. But in his (or her -- I can not got the gender to know judging on the name) example it seems to me that "family are" is much better.

Ant_222   Sunday, September 12, 2004, 11:20 GMT
Correction: "... can not gEt to know".
Steve K   Sunday, September 12, 2004, 14:43 GMT
Headline from BBC website

"Family escapes after house fire "

Anton, since you are a non-native speaker (to judge from your prose) I think you should accept the "feel" of native speakers (BBC, me) with regard to usage. "Are" does not bother me, and the headline could read "family escape after house fire" but you are in no position to forbid the usage in the headline above. All of your theory is meaningless when compared to the force of common usage.
Tom   Monday, September 13, 2004, 01:36 GMT

Memorization is one of those things people tell you to shun, but in reality all learning is memorization. When you read a book in a foreign language phrases get stored in your brain.

For useful and unintuitive sentences like "Did you see it?", I recommend that learners repeat and rehearse them a number of times, to ensure that they really get stored in their brains.

I recommend the same procedure for phrases in which the learner has previously made mistakes.
Franco   Monday, September 13, 2004, 01:46 GMT
Habéis perdido la equibrilidad?
Ant_222   Monday, September 13, 2004, 18:48 GMT

I did't refuse the using "family" as a single noun. I just fund that sometimes it is used as multiple one and that doesn't mean that in theese cases that is the only correct way.

Furthermore, now it seems that I have to agree with you because what I found may have been written by people like me, not master native englishspeakers.

Type in Google: "family are happy" (in quotes) and see yourself. But anyway, not having other good information, I agree with you.

Ant_222   Monday, September 13, 2004, 19:00 GMT
Oh, no! I have found something!

Just look at

That is just what what I had told you before!!!

Steve K   Monday, September 13, 2004, 19:32 GMT
I do not object to " the family are" as I said in a previous post. I objected to your categorical "nope" to someone who always said "the family is". Nothing wrong with always saying "the family is."

I went to the link you mentioned. Much rule writing is an attempt to codify something that in real life often defies definition. The examples at that link were not convincing.

1) The family are happy to announce Mom and Dad's fiftieth wedding anniversary
2) The family is living in Lockport, New York.

I could just as easily accept "is" in the fist sentence. It is usage, not rules, that is the true guide of what to say. Back to the BBC headline, "the family, all of them as individuals, escapes from the building".

The full text at that site went as follows.

Collective subjects can be used with either singular verbs or plural verbs depending on the meaning.
Subjects that describe collections of people or things are called collective subjects.
Examples: committee class team
jury group staff
family crowd audience

Such collective subjects can be used with either singular verbs or plural verbs depending on whether we want to tell the receiver that only one thing (a single "unit") is involved in the action or that at least two persons or things (individuals) are involved in the action. For example, if we wish to make an announcement on behalf of all our family members and want to show our readers or listeners that our announcement is really being made by all family members, we would say:

• The family are happy to announce Mom and Dad's fiftieth wedding anniversary.

But if the family is being talked about as a single unit instead of as individual family members, we write:

• The family is living in Lockport, New York.

Some verbs name actions that require only one performer; other verbs name actions that must be performed by more than one.


The action named by the verb argue requires more than one performer because it takes two to argue. Thus, we write or say:

• The team are arguing about who will be chosen for the award. (Although this is correct, most people would probably say, "the team members. . ." because it sounds more natural.)

If the team members are united in arguing with the coach, we can talk about the team as a single unit:

• The team is arguing with the coach about who will be chosen for the award.
Ant_222   Tuesday, September 14, 2004, 18:38 GMT
Now I fully agree with you, Steve, but my "categorical nope" was to Sanja's "categorical nope" to saying "the family are". I wanted to show that it is also possible to say "the family are". And I did it.

Sanja, you should take into consideration that both the uses are possible, depending on your perception of the given collective subject. And, as Steve said, using always "the family is" is not a mistake.

Steve K   Tuesday, September 14, 2004, 19:14 GMT

One day I hope we wil have a chance to raise a glass and say salud or kanpai or whatever works best wherever we are.
Sanja   Wednesday, September 15, 2004, 14:57 GMT
Ant_222, I didn't say "categorical nope" to anything; I just said how I would use that sentence. It just sounds right to me. By the way, I'm female.