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助动词 Helping verbs and auxiliary verbs

(2009-06-01 19:07:27)
标签:

英语教育

参考

教育

分类: 英语学习方法参考

 助动词

简介

关于助动词的使用,以及作者对于影响其使用因素的思考和假设。比起国内的语法教材来说,本文还是比较有趣的。

很久很久以前,当我还是个初中生的时候,有一位老师不知道什么是助动词,但他却得教我们这个知识。所以,他并没有解释什么是助动词和怎么用助动词,只是给我们指出教科书上的单词表,并告诉我们他要考我们这些助动词。我们得记住书上的这个助动词表,然后要在没有任何帮助的情况下,连续三天对这个助动词表进行再现。如果我们忘掉了助动词表中的任何一个单词,就得从头开始。如果班里面有一个人没有通过测试,我们就得一直学习那个单元。我们全班人在那个单元上花了很长时间。直到今天,我还能记得那个助动词表,这些记忆在我拥挤的大脑中占据了一席之地,但我直到今天也没用过这些记忆。之所以到今天我仍然记得这些单词是因为它伴随着那些痛苦的回忆。这就是那个助动词表,你们可以看看:

is were has does should must

am be have did would can

are being had shall may could

was been do will might

现在你看到这个助动词表了,你知道什么是助动词了么?大概没有。我们也不知道。所以整个这个练习就是没意义的。直到我本科念语言学的时候,我才恍然大悟,这根本不是一个多好的单词表。其中有一些项目只是时间助动词,他们在一些情况下可以作为主要动词使用。be的多种形式(is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been)同have的形式(has, have, had)被划分到助动词中了。此外,如果这本教科书的作者想完全包含be的现在分词(being),为什么不将have的现在分词(having)也放入其中呢?另外,还有do的各种形式(does, do, did, doing,单词表中还缺少doing的形式)。

依我拙见,并不是所有有用的单词都包含在这个助动词表中。在英语中我们经常用go to这种形式。 “I'm going to eat supper later”(过会儿我去吃晚饭)。在这里go并没有变化形式,只是一个纯粹的助动词。

这同得克萨斯州(Texas)人喜欢用fix是一个道理。如果有人跟你说“I'm fixing to blow your head off”(我想把你的头吹下来),那你最好赶快离开那!虽然fix有其他的意义,可这个说话者并没有打算“修理”,也没有想“吹牛”。事实是,他有一把枪而且正准备瞄准你的脑袋。撒丫子跑吧!

那么究竟什么是助动词呢?借用韦氏词典(Webster's)对助动词的定义,我们可以将其简单的理解为,一种同其他动词一起使用的动词,帮助构成一种时态,动词体,情绪或语气。很显然这很简单。时态意味着时间,并不是让人感觉到的压力。所以,使用go或着fix就是助动词帮助构成未来时态的例子。我们也用will表示未来时态:“I will eat supper later” 。过去,人们更倾向于说 “I shall eat supper later”。但我怀疑,如果有人使用那么久远的表达方式,他就极有可能用另外一个主要动词,可能都不会谈及饭 "I shall dine later." 我不知道是不是有人这样表达,但我在书中读到过,而且有一些年长的英文教师说,这是同I和We一起使用的唯一正确的形式。 我不知道"Y'all"或"fixin"是不是违背了这个古老的规定。

当语言或者英文教师谈到情绪的时候,他们并不去探讨情感。这就是陈述的情绪(一个表达事实的普通句子)对虚拟的情绪(同事实相反)。我在之前谈到“如果一个人很老土……”就用到了虚拟语气。我认为现在没有人是那么过时的,所以这就和事实相反了。这个看上去是一个过去时态,是某些发生在过去的事儿。(就好像是“我们昨天吃饭的时候电话铃响了”)但是不是。这句话讨论的是一个并不存在的时间。我知道许多人并不去这样使用虚拟语气,因为他们认为这种说法是不正确的。就我个人而言,我并不关心大家是不是使用它,但一些英文教师却搅乱了这种情况。我也是。如果你改用were的时候用了was,他们会罚你留堂。

但是偶尔出现的虚拟语气在英文中却是很有用的。即使你自己不用他们,他们在其他语言中的出现频率也是很高的,尤其是一些欧洲语言。如果你学习法语或者西班牙语,如果你想象一个母语使用者一样,就一定要理解虚拟语气。在那些语言中经常使用虚拟语气,而且也容易分辨出哪些是虚拟语气来。通过学习其他语言,我第一次真正理解了英语的结构。这是学习第二门语言最大的价值。

最后我会提到的助动词是would。同我祖母不同,我将would用在许多不同的情景中,而且我发现了一些很有趣的事儿。比如,解释Paul Simon的流行歌曲,我说"I would rather be a hammer than a nail" (我更想做一个锤子而不是钉子)。很多情况下,我们使是用缩写(I'd)。多年前我就发现我们使用不同的方言。我对于当地有多少人使用had,有多少人使用would,以及他们的年龄很好奇。我祖母100多岁的时候,我50岁。是不是她那一代人很多都喜欢用had呢?或者这是不是一个地域特征?是不是比我年轻的人都用would呢?或者我是个特例?那这两个年龄段之间的人都用什么呢?

如果你知道我的问题的答案,请在下面评论或者发e-mail给我。

Helping verbs and auxiliary verbs

Long, long ago, when I was in junior high (and you can tell it was a long time ago because we actually called it junior high back then), I had a teacher who did not know what a helping verb was. He was supposed to teach us about them, though. So, instead of explaining what they were or what they did, he pointed out a list of some of them in our textbook and told us that he was going to test us on them. We had to memorize this list, exactly as printed in the textbook, and reproduce it without any aids, on three successive days. If we missed so much as a single item on the list on any day, we’d have to start the three days over. We couldn’t leave that unit and stop taking that test until everyone in the class had passed that test. Needless to say, it took the class a long time to get done with that unit. To this day, I remember that list, a memory which is taking up valuable real estate in my crowded brain and which I have never had any use for since then, but which I am powerless to erase from my memory because of the trauma associated with its initial memorization. Here it is, for your perusal:

is             were     has         does      should                  must

am          be           have      did         would                   can

are         being    had        shall      may                       could

was        been     do           will        might

 

Now that you’ve seen this list, do you understand what a helping verb is? Probably not. None of us did, either. So the whole exercise was rather pointless. Since I went on to major in linguistics as an undergraduate, I also happen to know that it isn’t even a very good list. Some of the items on that list are only part-time auxiliaries. They act as main verbs on other occasions. The various forms of be (is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been) as well as the forms of have (has, have, had) fall into this category. In addition, if the author of that text wanted to be so thorough as to include the present participle of be (being), why not put in the present participle of have (having)? Both objections also apply to the verb do, with its variations (does, do, did, doing, the last missing from the list).

Even worse in my not-so-humble opinion is the fact that not all the helping verbs even appeared on the list. We use go to form the future quite often in English: "I’m going to eat supper later." That use of go doesn’t involve any travel. It’s purely an auxiliary. 

In Texas, folks like to use fix for the same purpose. If somebody says to you, “I’m fixing to blow your head off,” you’d better get out of there and quick! Despite other meanings of fix, this speaker is not planning any repairs and he is not intent on any huffing and puffing, either. No, chances are, he has a shotgun and will soon take aim at your noggin. So shake a leg!

What is a helping verb, then? Borrowing from Webster’s definition of the fancier term, auxiliary verb, we can say that it’s simply a verb used along with another one to help form a tense, aspect, mood, or voice. That’s pretty simple, if obscure. Tense refers to time, not somebody feeling stressed. So using go or fix is an example of a helping verb that creates a future tense. We also use will for the future tense: "I will eat supper later." In more old-fashioned parlance, one might prefer to say, “I shall eat supper later.” But I doubt it. If one were that old-fashioned, one would probably use a different main verb, too, and not even talk about that meal: “I shall dine later.” I don’t know anyone who talks this way, but I’ve seen it in books, and a few of my older English teachers claimed this was the only correct form to be used with I and weI don’t know about y’all but I’m fixin’ to violate that old rule. 

When linguists or English teachers talk about mood, they aren’t discussing emotions. They mean indicative mood (an ordinary sentence that states a fact) versus subjunctive mood (contrary to fact). I used the subjunctive in the previous paragraph when I said, “If one were that old-fashioned....” I’m assuming that nobody out there is actually that old-fashioned, so that makes it contrary to fact. It looks like a past tense, something that happened in the past (as in "we were eating supper yesterday when the phone rang") but it isn’t. It’s talking about a non-existent time. Most folks I know don’t use the subjunctive this way because they think it sounds wrong. Personally, I don’t care one way or the other whether someone uses it or not, but some English teachers get very perturbed about things like that.  Mine did.  They might even make you stay after school if you used was when you should have said were.

But it’s handy to recognize the occasional subjunctive in English, even if you don’t use it yourself, because it shows up quite a lot in other languages, especially European ones. If you study French or Spanish, say, you really need to understand what the subjunctive is if you want to sound like a native speaker. The subjunctive is used much more often in those languages than it is in English and it’s much more distinctive. It was through the study of these other languages that I first really understood the structure of English. That is one of the great values of studying a second language, any second language.

The last helping verb I’ll mention is wouldI use this in a variety of ways that differ from the way that my grandmother speaks, something I find rather interesting. For example, I say, “I would rather be a hammer than a nail,” to paraphrase a popular song by Paul Simon. My grandmother would phrase this with a different auxiliary: “I had rather be a hammer than a nail.” Most of the time, we both use a contraction (I’d) so it was many years before I realized we were speaking different dialects. I’d be interested to know how many people out there use would and how many use had, and what their ages are. I’m in my fifties while my grandma is over 100 years old. Do all people of her generation prefer hadOr was that a regional characteristic? Do all people younger than me use wouldOr am I the oddball? And how about all those folks in between?

 If you know any of the answers, feel free to comment below or send me an e-mail.

 

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