Why is English syntax so easy compared to th Romance tongues

Moloco   Mon Dec 15, 2008 12:13 am GMT
Present and past subjunctive

The terms present subjunctive and past subjunctive can be misunderstood, as they describe forms rather than meanings: the past and present subjunctives are so called because they resemble the past and present indicatives, respectively, but the difference between them is a difference in modality, not a temporal one.

For example, in "I asked that it be done yesterday," be done (a present subjunctive) has no present-tense sense; and likewise, in "If that were true, I would know it," were (a past subjunctive) has no past-tense sense.

[edit] The pluperfect subjunctive

Since the "past subjunctive" is not a true past tense, it uses as its past tense what is structurally its perfect aspect form. This past tense is known as the past perfect subjunctive or pluperfect subjunctive; it is formed using had (the past subjunctive of to have) plus the verb's past participle.

The pluperfect subjunctive is used like the past subjunctive, except that it expresses a past-tense sense. So, for example:

* If I had known (yesterday), I would have done something about it.
* If I had seen you, I definitely would have said hello.
* I would not be here if he had not helped me.

When used in the construction of a counterfactual statement as in the examples above, it is paired with the conditional perfect viz. "If I had [not] X, then I would [not] have Y". The (arguably) canonical example of the counterfactual actually eschews the pluperfect subjunctive: If I Knew You Were Comin' I'd've Baked a Cake.

If a clause is in a past tense, then a clause subordinate to it cannot be in the past subjunctive, though it might be in the pluperfect subjunctive; however, if it is in a present tense, then a clause subordinate to it might be in either of the two, depending on meaning.

The pluperfect subjunctive is often replaced with the past subjunctive in colloquial speech, a substitution that is commonly considered incorrect. (See prescription and description.)

(Note that by contrast, the present perfect subjunctive — that he have done — while logically and theoretically possible, is not much used in modern English.)

[edit] Future subjunctive

A future subjunctive can be constructed using the conjugated form of the verb "to be" plus the infinitive or with the usage of the modal auxiliary verb "should". Note that the "were" clauses result in the present conditional, while the "should" clauses result in the future indicative. For example:

* If I were to die tomorrow, then you would inherit everything.
* If you were to give the money to me, then I would say no more about it.
* If I should go, then will you feed the hens?
* If he should fall, who will carry the flag in his place?

Invité d'honneur   Mon Dec 15, 2008 12:13 am GMT
«<<I part, I am going to part, I will part, I will be parting, I will have parted
I parted, I have parted, I used to part, I was parting, I had parted, I have been parting
if I parted, If I had parted, we advise he part immediately
I would part, I would have parted, I would be parting, I would have been parting >>

You can say those in other languages too... In Spanish for example...»

You didn't translate it properly. To part = separar/separarse. Your point about English tenses being easily transposable is still true though.

You can say all that in French too, but sometimes you have to ressort to nominal forms instead of pure conjugation: there is no direct equivalent for progressive tenses.

Je me sépare, Je vais me séparer, Je me séparerai, Je serai en pleine séparation, je me serai séparé, je me séparai, si je m'étais séparé, nous recommandons qu'il se sépare immédiatement, je me séparerais, je me serais séparé, je serais en pleine séparation, j'aurais été en pleine séparation.
Focker   Mon Dec 15, 2008 3:04 am GMT
Basically, I think the guy's point was that anyone who claims English has a complex verbal system because of these auxiliary verb stacking tenses is deluded, becase the same exists in other languages but on steroids.
Diego   Mon Dec 15, 2008 6:11 am GMT
I just spent this afternoon explaining to my 5 year old grandson that while deer are bucks, does and fawns; goats are bucks, does and kids; rabbits are bucks, does and kits; foxes are dogs, vixens and kits; cattle are bulls, cows and calves; ducks are drakes, hens and ducklings; etc. How about conjugating a simple English verb “to be”? I am, you are, he/she/it is, we are, you are. What is easy about this? Then as someone else mentioned the orthography is horrible. While I find German and Czech more difficult, I find Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Turkish easier.
12345   Mon Dec 15, 2008 10:29 pm GMT
To my opinion English isn't easy. When I started to learn English I had a lot of trouble with the syntax. That was and is my main problem if it comes to English.

Because I'm Dutch myself I'm used to the Dutch syntax. You'd say that shouldn't be a problem, but I had and have troubles with it.

In Dutch I'd say:
Ik ging gisteren naar de tandarts.
Litt: I went yesterday to the dentist.
Should be: Yesterday I went to the dentist, or I went to the dentist yesterday.
We could say this as well in Dutch:
Gisteren ging ik naar de tandarts
Yesterday went I to the dentist.

Because I'm having trouble to identify such small differences between English and Dutch I think English is difficult.

Back in the day I learned German and French as well. French was very easy, it shared almost nothing with Dutch so I had to learn new things. German was about the same as English, but the main difficulties were the cases.

Der des dem den
die der der die
das des dem das
die der den die
Ich mir mich
du dir dich

Those weren't a big problem at all, but when it came to complete sentences it became difficult to me. In the end I think my German and French have been better than my English has even been. Nowadays I rarely use German and never use French anymore. My German is in a big decline, but I can still manage. French isn't good at all anymore except some basic sentences. I can still read French, but writing and speaking is a big problem.

I didn't have a problem with the genders in German as they were mostly the same as in Dutch. I know from foreign people near me the genders are the most difficult thing to learn if you're not used to it.
Leasnam   Mon Dec 15, 2008 10:52 pm GMT
<<In Dutch I'd say:
Ik ging gisteren naar de tandarts.
Litt: I went yesterday to the dentist.
Should be: Yesterday I went to the dentist, or I went to the dentist yesterday.
We could say this as well in Dutch:
Gisteren ging ik naar de tandarts
Yesterday went I to the dentist. >>

Fortunately for English speakers it's not so hard the other way around. For us, learning Dutch and German syntax (like the examples above) is extremely easy, because we are already exposed to it in older forms of English like the King James Bible, or Shakespeare--we've heard it all our lives, even if we never actually talk like that in normal speech.
Therefore, it's intuitive for us to easily master a Dutch sentence like "Gisteren ging ik naar het bank" of "Ik ging vandaag naar de tandarts"
12345   Mon Dec 15, 2008 11:07 pm GMT
««"Gisteren ging ik naar het bank"»»

The last sentence I wrote seems to be true. :P

Bank is both masculine and feminine. (Which is kinda weird, originally the words in Dutch which are both masculine and feminine are feminine. But during the years these words have become masculine.)

Gisteren ging ik naar de bank.

About the feminine/masculine/neuter changes..
Some words which belong to internet and computer have changed as well. Even tho' these haven't changed in the dictionaries yet.
One of them is 'modem'.
Modem - officially it was masculine, but it has become neuter. Het modem
Leasnam   Mon Dec 15, 2008 11:12 pm GMT
<<Gisteren ging ik naar de bank. >>

ahhh dank u wel
???   Mon Dec 15, 2008 11:17 pm GMT
I'm not sure it's true that English speakers automatically find it very easy to get German and Dutch word order, at least where placing the finite verb second at all times is concerned. Is it like that in Shakespeare? 'Yesterday went I to town'? Hmmm sounds weird,and even if it is like that, it's not enough to lodge it in English speakers' heads and when they learn German (and Dutch I guess) they will quite often say things like 'Gestern ich ging in die Stadt'.

HOWEVER once we get it in our heads that the finite verb ALWAYS comes second, then yes, it is easy, and it is easier than English That's because, while English follows a mainly SVO word order, there are actually plenty of instances where English inverts word order and the finite verb comes before the subject. But unlike German (and Dutch from what I understand) there's no definite rule for this.
???   Mon Dec 15, 2008 11:32 pm GMT
I suppose some one so convinced of the simplicity of English word order and its supposed rigid rules, with the subject always coming first, might be surprised to see a sentence such as this in an English newspaper:

'Among those involved in the incident, which is one of the worst in history, were two young women'. This is totally normal English, but somehow the subject comes right at the end of the sentence with the finite verb obviously preceding it, not right at the front with the verb after it as the SVO 'rule' dictates. Are there any such surprises in German? I don't think so, because even if you get a hugely complex sentence, with a finite verb right at the end of some long paragraph, it still follows the basic rules you have learnt!
BlancBlancBlanc   Tue Dec 16, 2008 12:00 am GMT
Every language that is not your own native one is difficult to learn fully, and every one will have it's idiosynchrasies. I bet even Esperanto has them or would develop them if it became more widely used.
SVO fan   Tue Dec 16, 2008 1:59 am GMT
One of the most interesting SVO/OVS? contrasts in English is:

"Here comes the train."

"The train comes here."

(Which usually don't mean the same thing at all.)
Leasnam   Tue Dec 16, 2008 2:44 am GMT
<<"Here comes the train."

"The train comes here."

The seeming disparity between these two sentences is the result of Late Modern English's loss of adverbial forms like 'hither', 'hence'; 'thither', 'thence', etc.

In Earlier Modern English, this ambiguity would not have been abated, because 'hither' maintained its separate meaning from 'here'. confer:

Here comes the train
Hither comes the train


The train comes hither
The train comes here

In LME 'here' and hither' have fallen together (i.e. created a "togetherfalling" :)

So this is not really a true case of word order, but of convergence ("togetherfalling")
Leasnam   Tue Dec 16, 2008 2:46 am GMT
<<this ambiguity would not have been abated,>>

This should read: would have been abated
Guest   Tue Dec 16, 2008 10:39 am GMT
I guess they togetherfell for a reason.