Tenses – don’t get tense about them

This is a grammar text like no other.

It looks at  7 problematic areas of Tense in English

And it does so in an original – maybe even unique – way

For one thing it’s a story, and for another, it’s all written in dialogue.

[Or ‘trialogue’ perhaps, as there are three main characters.]

If you like reading stories more than  studying gramar,

then this is the place for you.

An Alternative Approach To Grammar

   

1        Verb One: [Sure]

2        Verb Two: [Simple?]

3        Verb Two again: [The Once and Future Verb]

4        The ‘Paster’ Past

5        The Future: Subjective

6        The Present Past: [Not perfect]

7        Being polite/tentative,

 8       Appendix: Keys to cloze tests

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1        Verb One: [Sure]

“English is a crazy language,” said Seif.

“Yes it is. It’s completely crazy,” replied Xiao Ling.

“Arabic is hard of course. But it isn’t crazy.”

“Nor is Chinese. Our grammar is easier than English.”

“Really?”

“Yes. It’s learning how to write in Chinese that is difficult.”

“Umm,  Arabic  too. We write from right to left, which people find difficult for some reason.”

“Yes, but at least you have an alphabet, Chinese doesn’t; each word is a different character.”

“Wow!  How do you learn to rea­d?”

Xiao Ling laughed “With difficulty,” she said.

Seif was from Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, and Xiao Ling was from Nanjing in China. They were both studying at Nottingham University in England, and they were finding it hard work. They were home-sick and lonely.

Seif was missing the sea; Nottingham was miles from the coast, and even if it had been nearer, the North Sea couldn’t compare with the Red Sea with its clear waters and its coral reefs. Xiao Ling, for her part, was wishing she could be back on the banks of the Chang Jiang, watching the mighty river surge past as she stood staring down from the Nanjing Revolutionary Bridge. The great river made the Trent look silly, she told Seif. “You probably know it by its English name,” she said, “The Yangtze River. But we call it the Chang Jiang – the long river. It’s awesome.”

“I’m sure it is,” said Seif. “But even the Trent is longer than any rivers in my country. We don’t have any at all.”

They sat in silence for a while. Then Xiao Ling said “Come on then. Let’s get on with our homework.”

“Oh dear,” said Seif, and groaned. “I don’t feel like doing it. It’s all about Tenses, and it’s full of words like Simple – which doesn’t mean the same as ‘easy’ – and Continuous, which is sometimes called Progressive, whatever that means. Using a different term for it doesn’t make it any clearer to me.”

“And some tenses are said to be ‘Perfect’, though why they’re called that I do not know at all,” sighed Xiao Ling. “And I get so mixed up.” She sighed again. “And the grammar books don’t help either; sometimes I think they try to confuse us, instead of making things clearer.”

Suddenly, there was a noise like a door opening and a strange little man appeared beside them. He was dressed in a dark suit, and a bowler hat and he carried an umbrella; in fact he looked like a really old-fashioned English gentleman, except that he was no taller than a nine-year old child; Xiao Ling and Seif both towered over him.

Xiao Ling looked everywhere for the door she had heard, but there wasn’t one anywhere near; they were sitting on the grass next to the lake. ‘In fact,’ wondered Xiao Ling, ‘How did he get so close without us seeing him coming?’

“Excuse me,” the little man said, “I heard what you were saying. Perhaps I can help.”

“Well, we do need help,” said Seif. “But we shouldn’t bother you.”

“No,” said Xiao Ling. “Homework is our problem after all. It’s good of you to offer to help, but I’m sure we will manage.”

“Forgive me,” said the little man “But I don’t think you will. I can tell when people are confused, and you look confused to me.”

“Even so,” said Xiao Ling, “Why should a stranger like you go to any trouble for us?”

“Because it’s my pleasure to help people, and you need help.”

“Well that’s certainly true,” said Seif, “We’re having problems with Tenses.”

“Seif!” exclaimed Xiao Ling, “we can’t ask a complete stranger for help; it’s not his responsibility to explain things to us.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, young lady,” said the little man. “Explaining things is what I do. I like doing it. And I’m good at it. And it’s my language you’re struggling with, so I feel a bit responsible. And anyway, you never asked me to help. I offered.”

“Well, said Xiao Ling, weakening. “We do have lots of homework, and it’s all so complicated. I don’t think we’ll ever get it done, even if you do help.”

“Of course you will,” said the stranger, “You’ll get it done all right, or my name isn’t Amnot Rong.”

Seif looked at him. “Sorry, what did you say? Your name isn’t, er, is…what?”

“Amnot Rong,” said the little man, “at your service.”

“Amnot Rong?” said Xiao Ling.” That’s an unusual name.”

“Yes,” said Amnot. “My father wanted to call me Noam, you know, but my mother said ‘no am’ wasn’t good grammar. So they called me Amnot, instead.”

“I like it,” said Seif. “Pleased to meet you, Amnot. My name’s Seif.”

“And I’m Xiao Ling. I’m pleased to meet you too.”

“How do you do?” said Amnot, and they all shook hands.

“How do you spell your name?” Amnot asked the Chinese girl.

“X-I-A-O. It sounds a bit like Show. It means little.”

“Really? And is that your family name? O$r is Ling your family name?”

“Neither. My family name is Huang. My full name is Huang Xiao ling. We put the surname first in China.”

“OK,” said Amnot. “Now that we have got that straight, I feel that we are no longer strangers. So perhaps we can talk about English. There are lots of problems for learners, aren’t there? I think you said that you were having problems with Tenses?”

“Yes,” said Xiao Ling, “why are they so complicated?”

“What I always say is – don’t get tense about Tenses,” said Amnot. “Relax. I’ll try to explain. The problem really is that Tenses get mixed up with Time.”

“But they’re the same thing, aren’t they?  We use the Present Tense for talking about the Present, the Past tense to talk about the Past, and the Future Tense to talk about the Future. Isn’t that how it works?”

“No, I’m afraid it isn’t. It would all be a lot easier if English was as simple as that, but it isn’t. The truth is that Tense and Time aren’t always the same.”

With a sort of little flourish he waved his umbrella; immediately an old-fashioned blackboard appeared hovering in the air behind him.

“The thing is,” Amnot said, “what makes it complicated is that in English, Tense and Time are often quite different. Though you’d never guess, judging by the language we use to talk about them.”

He moved the blackboard so that they could see it. It said:

            ≠ Time

Xiao Ling read it out. “’Tense is not the same as Time’. Oh dear. Now I really am confused.”

“Not the same?” Seif asked. “What do you mean?”

“I’ll explain.” said Amnot. “Let’s begin with the Present. Teachers usually begin with the Present. I don’t know why.”

“Does that mean you’re not a teacher?” Xiao Ling examined the little man. He looked familiar somehow. “You don’t look like a teacher, I must say.” She said “You look like an English gentleman from about fifty years ago. You know, I’m sure I’ve seen you somewhere before. I wonder….”

“Well, I hope I am a gentleman,” replied Amnot, interrupting Xiao Ling’s train of thought, “and I am a sort of teacher; in a small way. I’m an elf, or rather an ELF. It stands for English Learner’s Friend. I help people when they’re puzzled.”

“And you’re going to help us?”

“I’m going to try. Yes.”

“Thank you,” said Xiao Ling. “I don’t understand English grammar at all. There are always exceptions to every rule we learn.”

“Yes,” said Seif. “We both need help with the rules for Tenses.”

“All right then, let’s begin with the Present, Okay?”

“Yes,” said Xiao Ling, “Let’s try the Present Simple to start with.”

“Well,” said Amnot, nodding, “The way we form the so-called Present Simple is, in fact, pretty simple. We just use Verb One.”

“Don’t you mean ‘the infinitive’?” said Seif.

“No,” said Amnot rather irritably. “I don’t like words like ‘infinitive’. What does it mean? How does it help students like you to understand the language? It’s just another thing you have to learn. So from now on we’ll call it Verb One, OK?”

“OK,” agreed Seif. “You want us to say ‘we’re using Verb One’ in sentences like ‘I speak Arabic’, ‘I like coffee.’ ‘I play football.’”

“Yes,” said Xiao Ling.  “Or ‘I eat eggs for breakfast’, ‘I go to bed at 11 o’clock’. Things like that.”

“Yes,” agreed Amnot. “ ’speak’, ‘like’, ‘play, ‘eat’, ‘go’ are all Verb Ones.

“So,” said Xiao Ling, “To say something in the Present Simple, we just use Verb One. Is that right?”

“Yes, but please don’t say Present Simple. As you will see, it’s not simple at all.”

“We know that already,” muttered Seif.

“But forming the verb is simple,” said Xiao Ling. “We just use the Infin… I mean ‘Verb One.”

“Quite true, Xiao Ling,” said Amnot. “Or at least it’s true when we’re talking about ourselves. Don’t forget that when we’re talking about someone else we add an S to the Verb One. So, Seif, if you’re talking about your brother Abdullah, for example, you say ‘he speaks Arabic’, ’he goes to bed at midnight’, ‘he eats toast for breakfast.’

“No he doesn’t,” said Seif. “He doesn’t eat toast. He hates toast. And how do you know about my brother Abdullah anyway?”

“I know lots of things,” said Amnot, with a smile.

“What do you know? And how do you know it?”

“It’s a kind of secret. It goes with being an ELF. I just know things. It’s not important.”

Seif shrugged. He looked a bit angry. It seemed important to him. “There seems to be at least one thing you don’t know,” he said.

Amnot and Xiao Ling looked at him expectantly.

“You don’t know what my brother eats for breakfast,” said Seif.

Amnot smiled. “What does he eat, then?”

“I don’t know, either,” said Seif, and they all burst out laughing. “But he doesn’t eat toast, that’s for sure. I think he eats fruit.”

“Fruit for breakfast!” said Xiao Ling. “How healthy! Do you eat fruit for breakfast, Seif?”

“No, said Seif. “I don’t. I don’t eat fruit much at all really. I don’t like it.”

“What do you like?”

“Cornflakes. I usually eat cornflakes.”

“OK,” said Amnot, with a smile, and turned away, as if he was about to leave. “That’s that done. You seem to be pretty good at making sentences using the so-called Present Simple.”

“What do you mean?” said Xiao Ling.

  I speak Arabic.

I play football

I like cornflakes

I go to bed at 11

 

“Don’t go. We haven’t really started yet,” protested Seif.

“Yes, you have. You’ve been making lots of correct sentences. Look.”

He waved his umbrella and his blackboard appeared again, with the following sentence written on it:

I speak Arabic   I speak Arabic. 

He waved his brolly again.  More sentences scrolled across the board.

 

I like coffee

I go to bed at 11 o’clock

I play football

I eat cornflakes for breakfast

Then a sort of formula appeared.

 

Present Simple = Verb One

All three of them looked at it and nodded. “No problem there, said Seif.

Amnot waved again. The formula disappeared, and a new sentence appeared:

He speaks Arabic

This was followed by a new formula:

              Present Simple [he, she, it] = Verb One +s

 

“All right,” said Xiao Ling thoughtfully, “But what about a helping verb? We haven’t used any helping verbs at all. Even I know that you can’t make English Tenses without using helping verbs”

“You did use one though” said Amnot. “Look at what you said earlier.”

He waved again. Some sentences appeared.

I don’t know                    I don’t eat fruit

              What do you like?          Do you eat fruit?

He waved again, and Xiao Ling and Seif saw a new formula:

Questions [I, you, they] = do + Verb One

              Negatives [I, you, they] = don’t + Verb One

“Okay,” said Seif, “You’re right. We did use a helping verb. But you can’t use ‘do’ and ‘don’t ‘  all the time can you? What happens if I want to talk about my horrible brother, the infamous fruit-eating Abdulllah?”

“Then,” said Xiao Ling, smiling, “You need the famous S. I know that.”

“Yes, said Amnot, “You need the famous S. Like this:”

              What does he eat?        He doesn’t eat toast.   He eats fruit.

“When we’re talking about someone else we need to add the famous S. Everybody knows that.”

“Here it’s not just an S though, is it? It’s an ES.”

“Yes, you’re right Seif,” said Amnot, waving his hand. The blackboard vanished.

“With the Verb One it’s just an S -’eats’, ‘drinks’, ‘likes’, and so on. But to make the verb does we add two letters, E and S after the helping verb do.  With most verbs though, it’s just S. And of course, if you put an S on the helping verb you don’t put one on the main verb.” He paused. Then he made his blackboard reappear. “It looks like this,” he said.

 

Positive Statements [he, she, it] = Verb One + S

Questions [he, she, it] = does + Verb One

              Negatives [he, she, it] = doesn’t  + Verb One

“That all seems easy enough,” said Xiao Ling. “I know all that.”

“Me too,” said Seif. “So why do the words ‘Present Simple’ still make me nervous?”

“And why do I always make mistakes?”

Amnot smiled. “Because it’s not the way we form the Tense that’s the problem. The Present Simple, (which is a name I hate, by the way, as I have said), is easy enough to put together. So long as you remember the famous S of course, which students often forget.”

“So what is the problem?”

“The name.”

“What name?”

“The name ‘Present Simple’. As I said, I hate it, because it isn’t simple, and it doesn’t tell you much about the Present.”

“What do you mean, ‘It doesn’t tell us much about the Present’. How can that be?”

“Well, I told you before; In English, Tense and Time are not the same thing. Do you remember the equation?” He waved his brolly and his blackboard appeared: Xiao Ling read the equation.

“Tense ≠ Time”

 

“Tense is not the same as time.”

Amnot went on. “The so-called Present Simple is less to do with Present time and more to do with how certain you are about something.”

“How do you mean? Certain?”

“Well, for example, let’s talk about Seif’s breakfast.”

“Cornflakes. I had cornflakes. I always have cornflakes.”

“So, did you have cornflakes this morning, Seif?”

“Yes, of course. They were lovely; sweet and crunchy.”

And yesterday?”

“Yes.”

“Last week?”

“Yes.”

“Last year?”

“Yes, I always have cornflakes. I told you.”

“Tomorrow?”

“I guess so.”

“Next week? Next year? “

“Yes, probably. God willing,”

“So you see, it’s not really about the Present at all. It’s about something that was true in the past, is still true now, and will probably be true in the future.”

“Hmm. I see. Like daily routines. Things that don’t change much,” said Seif. “Stuff like that.”

“Yes, exactly. And what about sentences like ‘the sun rises in the east’, ‘water boils at 100 degrees’, ‘planes go faster than trains’? They all tell us something that was true; is true, and will be true in the future.”

“Unless someone builds a very fast train, I guess.”

“Talking of trains, I understand that you’re going to London tomorrow, Seif. Is that right?”

“Yes. How did you know that?”

“Never mind that, Seif. Concentrate on what really matters, please. We’re talking about Verb One, not about how I know that you’re going to London.”

Seif shook his head. “How much do you know about us?” he asked. But Amnot just continued.

“Come on now, Seif. This is important. What time does your train leave?”

“10 o’clock,” muttered Seif. “How come you don’t know that already? You seem to know everything else.”

Amnot ignored the question.

“10 o’clock?” he said. “You’re sure?”

“Yes. Of course I’m sure. It’s written on the ticket. Look. 10 o’clock. The train leaves at 10 o’clock tomorrow, and arrives in London at 10 past twelve. Oh…”Seif stopped. Then he said. “I get it. That’s what you meant when you said it isn’t about the Present; it’s about being certain, about being sure. Here we are, talking about tomorrow, about the Future, but using what the grammar books call the Present   Simple. But it doesn’t mean Present, does it? It means Certain, Sure.”

“Yes, exactly,” said Amnot.

Seif smiled, and went on. It all seemed much clearer all of a sudden. “The verb is usually called the Present Simple, but you think that’s a silly name for it because it doesn’t tell us anything about how this Tense is used. It’s just a label, and as labels go it’s a pretty stupid one. Verb One: ‘Sure’, as you call it, is used to talk about things that are very likely to happen. For example, I can confidently say that the train leaves at 10 o’clock tomorrow because it always leaves at 10 o’clock; Abdullah almost always has fruit for breakfast; I always have cornflakes. The sun always rises in the East. Trains go faster than planes….”

“No, Seif,” said Xiao Ling. “Don’t be silly. Trains don’t go faster than planes. It’s the other way round. Planes go much faster than trains.”

“Right,” said Amnot. “And that’s the secret of the so-called Present Simple. It isn’t about the Present, any more than it’s about the Past and the Future. It’s about how certain you are that something is true. For example, look at me. I’m an ELF. What do I do? I help people. I did it last week. I did it last year. I am doing it now. And I’ll do it next week, next month, next year, with other students who don’t understand how English works.  I explain things; that’s my job. It was, is and will be my job into the future, as far as I know. I’m an explainer. I explain.”

“OK, good,” said Seif, “In that case can you explain how you know about my brother, and about what I am doing tomorrow, and anything else you know.”

“I just know,” said Amnot. “When I meet people I seem to know about them already. It’s very useful. It saves time.”

“It may save you time,” said Seif. “But it worries me.”

“Talking of Time,” said Xiao Ling, trying to change the subject, “Next time we meet”– she paused, “There will be a next time, won’t there?” she asked. Amnot nodded. “Well, then, next time, can you explain how we talk about things in the Past. I mean, can we look at the Past Simple Tense? It’s just as difficult as the Present Simple, if not worse.”

Amnot looked at her.”Please don’t say ‘Simple’, Past or Present,” he said.

“Sorry.”

“And,” he added, “I told you that Time doesn’t mean the same thing as Tense. So, Past Time isn’t the same as Past Tense, as we will see.”

“You mean,” said Xiao Ling, “that you will look at the Past Simple…”

“Verb Two I call it,” said Amnot.

“Oh, right, sorry” said Xiao Ling in a puzzled sort of way. “Anyway, whatever you call it, it’s hard to understand.”

“OK,” said Amnot distractedly, looking at a large watch that he had taken out of his waistcoat pocket. He pressed a button on its edge and it chimed like Big Ben. “What? That time already,” said Amnot to himself. Then he turned back to the two friends “All right. We can look at the so-called Past next time. Right now I’ve got to go.”

“When will we see you again? And where?” asked Xiao Ling. But she didn’t get an answer. Instead, they heard a noise like a lift door closing, and Amnot Rong was nowhere to be seen.

“How did he do that?” asked Xiao Ling. But she didn’t get an answer.

 

 

 

 

Amnot Rong’s first

rule of thumb

 

 

 

“The more confident you are about

 something happening, the more

likely you are to use Verb One.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check this out:

Verb One: Sure. Practice

 

Look at the following dialogue, and write an appropriate word in each space.

 

“What did you learn from Amnot, Seif?”

“Well, all kinds of stuff.” He smiled. “For one thing, I learned that Chinese people put their family names first. We do the same as the English; we put our family names last.”

“Yeah,” said Xiao Ling, “though when we’re in Europe lots of Chinese turn their names round. So I would be Xiao Ling Huang. I stopped doing that, though. It was too confusing.”

“Yes, I can see that it would be. Unless you all did the same.”

Xiao Ling shook her head. “Names are confusing. But that’s not what I meant, Seif. I meant what did you learn from Amnot about English?”

“I don’t know. I learned that my head hurts. What do you remember about what Amnot told us? Your memory’s better than mine.”

“Well, Iet’s see. It all made sense when he explained it.

I (1)……………………he told us about the Present SImple. For one thing, he said that it (2)………………. be called ‘Verb One: Sure’, even though most (3)…………………….. around the world still call it the Present (4)………………….”

“That’s right. When I studied it at school, (5)…………………….. always referred to it as the Present Simple. (6)……………….. thing is though, I never really understood what ‘(7)……………….. Present Simple’ meant, and in fact I still (8)……………………”

“No. Amnot was right when he said, ‘It (9)…………………….. simple at all.’”

“What gets me is that English (10)……………………. use this Tense to talk about things that extend across (11)………………. Past and the Future as well as the (12)………………………..”

“The Moon goes round the Earth. That’s an (13)…………………… of the Verb One Sure.”

“Yes. That’s a (14)…………………… at any time. We know that’s always true.”

“Mm, (15)……………….. Mind you it’s not very long ago that (16)………………… believed that the Sun went round the Earth.”

“ Yes (17)……………………. when we state a scientific fact, something that was (18)………………… in the past, is true now, and will (19)………………….. true in the future, then it’s Verb One (20)……………… use every time.”

“And, Seif, when we talk about (21)………………………. or routines, we usually use the Verb One (22)………………… as well.”

“Just like we did just now, (23)………………….. fact, when we said that most teachers use

(24)……………..term Present Simple.”

“But the most surprising thing (25)……………… that Verb One can be used to talk (26)………………. the Future, as long as you feel confident  (27)…………………… something is going to happen.”

“So, if you (28)………………… that something always happens at a certain time (29)………………. can talk about it using what Amnot calls ‘(30)……………………. One: Sure’. In fact, I read a story (31)……………. the paper just the other day, about the (32)………………… time an eclipse of the sun will be (33)……………….. from Britain. The article said that ‘the moon next (34)…………………… in front of the sun on July 23rd, 2093’.”

“Wow! (35)………………. a long time.”

“Yes, but the astronomers are (36)…………………. that a partial eclipse of the sun next takes (37)………………. on that date. So sure, in fact, that they use (38)………………… Verb One Sure to talk about it.”

“But, Xiao Ling, (39)…………………can ever be completely sure about the (40)………………., can they?”

“No, you’re right. You never (41)…………………….. know what’s going to happen next. Maybe we (42)…………… suggest to Amnot that he should rename this Tense ‘The Verb One Nearly Sure.”

“You could suggest it,” laughed Xiao Ling. “But it doesn’t sound like something Amnot would say.”

“No, I guess you’re right. It’s not snappy enough,” said Seif. Then he started wondering about the little ELF again. “How did he know about my brother?” he asked. “I wish I knew. It’s really bugging me.”

 

 

2        Verb Two: [Simple ?]

Xiao Ling and Seif met on a bench outside the Learning Resource Centre, an odd, upside-down sort of building surrounded by water. Xiao Ling liked the way it got bigger the higher up you went; and the fact that there were no stairs was fun too. You went up from floor to floor by following a spiral ramp that unwound all the way to the top.

“It’s a lovely day, but I can’t enjoy it,” said Seif. “I wish Amnot Rong was here. It’s been ages since we met him. I’ve got lots questions for him about the Past Simple Tense.”

“Don’t let him hear you using that name. He didn’t seem to like it, did he?”

“No, but I don’t have another one yet. Except Verb One, which I don’t really understand either. I wish he would show up. I’d like to know what’s wrong with saying ‘Past Simple’.”

“Me too,” said Xiao Ling. “I need some help. I’ve got extra grammar homework for tomorrow.”

Amnot Rong was the unlikely name of an odd little man with a pin-stripe suit, a bowler hat, a blackboard which seemed to hover in the air, and a furled umbrella. He knew things about them without being told, and he was particularly good at explaining grammar. Xiao Ling was sure that she had seen him somewhere before, a long time ago, when she was learning English for the first time. But she couldn’t remember exactly when or where.

“Where is he? Where does he live?” she wondered. “And when will he come back again?”

There was a sound like a train door opening, and suddenly there the ELF was.

“How did you do that?” asked Xiao Ling. “I heard a door opening, but I can’t see one anywhere near.”

“My secret,” said Amnot, smiling and waving his umbrella.

“Another one,” muttered Seif. Amnot ignored him.

“So, where were we? The Past wasn’t it?

“Yes,” said Seif. “I need to work on the Past.”

“Right,” said Amnot. “The Past, after all, is when – some of the time at least – Time and Tense are sort of similar.”

“I thought you said that Tense is not the same as Time,” said Seif.

“I know; and it isn’t,” said Amnot, a little sharply. “I’m just trying to keep things as simple as possible for you. All teachers do it; they start with the easier bits. Is that all right?”

“Yes, of course,” mumbled Seif. “I just thought….”

He stopped, embarrassed, and Amnot continued.

“Okay,” he said. “Let’s begin with yesterday. That’s in the past.”

The two students nodded their agreement and Amnot continued.

“What did you do yesterday, Xiao Ling?”

“Me? Well let’s see. Nothing much.”

“Excuse me, Xiao Ling,” Amnot protested, “but that’s not very helpful.”

“Sorry. Let’s see. What can I say? I worked all day.  And I watched television in the evening. How’s that?”

“Okay. You worked. And you watched TV.”

“Yes.”

“And then you went to bed?”

“Yes. As I said, I didn’t do anything much. I worked all day. Then I watched TV, and then I went to bed. I didn’t do anything interesting at all.”

“So there you are.”

“Where is she?”asked Seif.

“Where she wanted to be, Seif, talking about the past. It’s simple.”

“So that’s the Tense to use when you’re talking about something that happened in the Past.”

“Yes,” said Amnot, “So long as you know, and are interested in, when it happened. For example ‘Xiao Ling watched television yesterday’.”

“And I went to a football match last Saturday.”

“And I flew here from China in September last summer.”

“Right. You’ve got it. To talk about something that happened in the past, at a time or a day or a date you know about, use Verb Two”

“Verb Two?”

“Yes, you know.” He waved his umbrella in the air again, and his little blackboard appeared with some words on it   –

Work /worked/ worked,

Go /went/ gone,

Fly / flew/ flown.

Seif and Xiao Ling looked at the board.

“Work, go and fly are all Verb Ones,” said Amnot. “worked, went and flew are all Verb Twos.”

“And,” interrupted Seif eagerly, “worked, gone, and flown are all Verb Threes, right?”

“That’s right. Very clever. But let’s leave Verb Three on one side for now. We’ve got enough problems already.”

“But why do you call them Verb One, Verb Two and Verb Three?”

“Because their other names, the ones you probably know, are confusing.” Amnot smiled. “It’s better just to call them Verbs One, Two and Three.”

Xiao Ling looked at Seif.

“I told you so,” she whispered. “The grammar books are trying to confuse us.  Amnot says so.”

She turned to the little ELF. “Wait a minute though, Amnot. It’s more complicated than that. You haven’t said anything about helping verbs again. We haven’t used any at all.”

“No, we haven’t. You’re right. But it isn’t difficult: helping verbs tell us that we’re asking questions, or being negative.”

“But which one should we use if we’re making a Verb Two type sentence?”

“You should use ‘did’.”

“’Did’? What, just ‘did’?

“Yes. If you’re talking about the Past, like yesterday, or last week, the helping verb is always ‘did’. What’s more – and this is important, so listen carefully – what ‘did’ helps is always a Verb One.”

“Verb One? I thought we were talking about Verb Two,” exclaimed Xiao Ling.

“Well we are. But we’re also looking at Verb One. They’re connected. Look,” said Amnot, and he turned and touched the blackboard with his umbrella tip. A kind of formula appeared.  It said:

                             Verb Two = Did + Verb One

“Verb Two equals ’Did’ plus Verb One,” said Xiao Ling, reading the formula. “What does that mean?”

“It means that words like worked can be replaced by two other words – did + work.

“Why would I want to do that?” asked Seif.

“Give us an example.” asked Xiao Ling.

Amnot thought for a moment and then said. “OK. What about this one?” He touched the blackboard again, and the following sentence appeared.

                             It rained all day yesterday.

“That’s true, anyway,” said Seif. “But where’s the ‘did’?”

Amnot touched the board again. A new sentence appeared:

 

                             Did it rain all day yesterday?

Xiao Ling glanced at it and said, “Oh, I know that.  We use ‘did’ because we’re asking a question. Maybe it rained, and maybe it didn’t, but we want to know, so we ask a question. We use ‘did’ to ask about the rain.”

“Yes,” said Amnot.”’Did’ helps in another way too. It tells us that we’re talking about the Past. The Verb – a Verb One, remember – can’t do that on its own. All the Verb One can do is say ‘rain’. It needs the helping verb to tell us when it rained, or whether it rained.” He turned around and touched the board again. A new sentence appeared.

 

                             It didn’t rain yesterday.

“Okay, I see,” said Seif. “This is what you meant when you said we could use ‘did’ when we were being negative.” He sat back, looking pleased with himself.

“That’s exactly right,” said Amnot. “’Didn’t’ tells us that we’re being negative, and – in this case – that we’re talking about something in the Past. That’s why we call ‘did’ a helping verb; because it helps Verb Ones to be negative or to ask questions.”

“I see,” said Xiao Ling.”But don’t all the helping verbs do that?”

“Yes, they all help. Of course they do. But ‘did’ is the only one that helps Verb Ones.”

“The only one?” asked Seif.

“Yes. Have helps Verb Threes, and Be goes with the ‘–ing’ form of the verb, which some people call Verb Four.”

Seif looked doubtful.

“This isn’t getting any easier. And anyway, what about ‘do’

Amnot smiled. “Well, we saw that last time, of course. ‘Do’ goes with Verb One to make what we decided to call Verb One: Sure. ‘Do’ is a helping verb that helps Verb Ones, just like ‘did’. Do you want to talk about ‘do’ again? We haven’t nearly finished with ‘did’. You probably still think it always means something in the Past. ”

They nodded. “That’s why it’s called the Past, isn’t it?” said Xiao Ling.

Amnot looked at them and smiled.

“I already mentioned, I think, that I don’t call Verb Two ‘the Past’. Not all the time anyway.”

Seif and Xiao Ling said nothing. They were too busy thinking.

“Okay then,” Amnot went on. “I’ll tell you what. Next time we’ll talk about what I call the ‘Once and Future’ verb. You’ll enjoy that.”

He pulled his watch out of his pocket. It ticked loudly, like a bomb.

“Oh,” he said. “It’s getting late. It’s time I went.” And with that he disappeared, leaving behind the sound of a horse galloping fast. But it wasn’t that that surprised Seif and Xiao Ling; they were beginning to get used to Amnot’s noisy arrivals and departures. No, what surprised them was what he had just said.

“What did he say?” asked Seif. “Did he say ‘It’s time I went’?”

“Yes he did,” said Xiao Ling. They looked at each other. Then, in unison they both said “English is a crazy language. I told you so.”

 

 

 

 

 

Amnot Rong’s second rule of thumb

“If you want to make a statement about the past,

use Verb Two. If you want to ask

a question or say something

negative use ‘did’ plus Verb One.”

 

‘Did’ [and its other form – ‘do’] is

the only helping verb that

combines with Verb One.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check this out:

Verb Two: Simple?      Practice

 

Look at the following dialogue, and write an appropriate word in each space.

Seif and Huang Xiao ling were sitting having lunch together. As was often the case lately they were talking about Amnot Rong. They wondered where he came from, and where he went, and how old he was. They were puzzled by him in so many ways. Why did he always make a noise like a car or a train or something when he arrived and left? What were his outsize watches all about? Why did he carry an umbrella, when he never unfurled it? Didn’t he know that nobody wore a bowler hat these days? How did he know that Seif had a brother? Why did he help students with problems learning English? Did he have a family? Where did they live? And so on. They had hundreds of questions. The problem was they didn’t have any answers, so in the end all they could really talk about was what he had taught them about that crazy language – English.

“So, what did you learn from Amnot this (1)………………, Xiao Ling?” asked Seif. “I think I remember most of what he said, for once.”

“Well, let’s see, shall we? Hmm, I learned (2)…………………… there are three main forms of the verb (3)…………… English.”

“Yes, Verb One, which is often described (4)…………………. the basic form of the verb.”

“Yes, and (5)………………. sometimes called ‘the infinitive’, whatever that means. Anyway, (6)…………… One means words like ‘study’, ‘work’, ‘drive’, ‘eat’, ‘(7)…………………., and so on,” agreed  Seif.

“And I remember Amnot (8)………………..,” continued Xiao Ling, “ that the only helping verb that (9)………………. with Verb Two is Did.”

“Don’t forget ‘do’.”

“(10)……………..not forgetting ‘do’; it’s just part of the (11)……………….. verb. ‘Do’, ‘did’, ‘done’. You see?”

“Oh, right. (12)………………… ‘did’ goes with Verb Two if you want (13)………………………  ask a question or deny something.”

“Well no. (14)………………a matter of fact, it doesn’t go with Verb (15)…………………. at all.”

“It doesn’t? But I thought…”

“You (16)………………… listening carefully enough, Seif. ‘Did’ doesn’t go (17)………………. Verb Two; it goes with Verb One.”

“But (18)………….don’t understand. I thought we were talking about (19)………………….. Two.”

“We were. We are. ‘Did’ with Verb One (20)……………….. equal to Verb Two.”

Seif shook his head. “(21)……………….., sorry,” he said. “I don’t get it.”

“It’s (22)…………………. really,” said Xiao Ling. “’Amnot explained it very well’.”

“(23)…………………..? Are you saying I’m stupid?” said Seif. He (24)………………quite angry.

“No, of course not, Seif,” said the Chinese (25)………………  hurriedly. “That’s an example – ‘Amnot explained it very (26)…………………..’. The verb is a Verb Two.  But if we (27)…………………..to ask a question we need to say ‘(28)…………………. Amnot explain it very well?’  Verb One, see?”

Seif (29)…………….. “Now I get it,” he said. “You know, Amnot (30)………………… explain it very well at all.  But you (31)…………….. Thanks.”

And together they set off towards the {32}……………………. It was time for their next lesson. As (33)…………….. walked along next to the lake, Xiao Ling (34)…………………..help wondering what Amnot had meant when he (35)…………………. about ‘the once and future verb’.

“Seif,” she (36)……………….. “Does ’once’ have another meaning? Apart from ‘(37)………………., twice, and so on.”

“Mm. Yes. I think (37)…………………… It means ‘in the past’. You know, stories (38)……………….. begin ‘Once upon a time’. It means ‘a (39)…………………time ago’.”

“I wonder what Amnot meant, (40)………………………,” said Xiao Ling. “How can a verb mean something (41)…………………..the past as well as something in the (42)…………………  It just sounds crazy to me.”

“What do you expect?” answered Seif. “English is crazy after all.”

 

3        Verb Two again: [The Once and Future Verb]

Seif and Xiao Ling were having coffee in the Aspire cafe when they heard a noise like a car door slamming, and Amnot Rong appeared, swinging his umbrella. There wasn’t a car in sight.

“Hello Amnot,” said Xiao Ling. “I was hoping to see you today. I can’t wait to find out what you meant when you said we would be looking at the ‘Once and Future Verb’. I can’t imagine what it is.”

Seif chipped in too. “Yes, it’s good to see you again. I could do with some help, too; as always, really. Though I did get an A for my homework. So thank you for that.”

“Well, I’m glad you did OK,” said Amnot. “What’s your problem today?”

“Well, I have all kinds of problems with English grammar, as you know. For instance, we just had a lesson about ‘if clauses’, and I felt more confused at the end than I did at the beginning. What sense does it make to use the Past Tense to talk about the Future? It seems crazy to me.”

“Right,” said Amnot, pulling up a chair. “As it happens, that’s exactly what I said we should talk about.”

“The Once and Future Verb?” asked Xiao Ling. “Is that what you meant?”

“Yes, it’s exactly what I was talking about; and it’s all to do with that nasty little word ‘if’.”

He looked at the two students. “The problem with ‘if’” he said, “is the language we use to describe it.”

“Again!” exclaimed Xiao Ling. “It’s those grammar books making life difficult. I knew it!”

“Yes. In my opinion, words like ‘if clause’, ‘Present Simple’, ‘Past Tense’, and ‘first, second and third conditional’, not to mention ‘zero conditional’, don’t explain how the grammar works. In fact for many students they make things worse.”

“Yes,” said Seif, “Exactly.”

“So, how can we make things less confusing?” asked Xiao Ling.

Amnot sat for a while wondering where to begin.

“All right,” he said in the end, “It’s all about confidence – about being more or less sure.”

“I thought you said that Verb One was all about confidence,” said Seif. “Is this the same?”

“Yes, it is, in a way,” said Amnot. “ ’if‘ is all about what is likely or unlikely.”

He looked round at the two friends.

“What did I tell you, Xiao Ling, about the so-called Present Simple?”

“Well, you said that it should be called Sure not Simple, and you said that it is really used to talk about things that happen all the time, in the Past and the Future as well as the Present.”

“Like ‘water boils at 100 C’,” put in Seif. “Or ‘Abdullah eats fruit for breakfast’, or even ‘the bus goes at 9:30 tomorrow, It’s all to do with confidence. The more confident you are that something is true, the more likely you are to use what grammar books call the ‘Present Simple’ – what you prefer to call Verb One.”

“OK,” said Xiao Ling, “So how does this confidence thing work? With ‘if’ I mean?”

“Well ‘if clauses’ are all to do with thinking about possibilities; which means that they are all to do with degrees of certainty or uncertainty.”

“Hmm,” said Seif in a puzzled kind of way. “I’m not sure I follow you.”

“OK,” said Amnot, “Let’s take a simple example. You play football, right?”

“Yes. How did you know?”

“Never mind that,” said Amnot. “You’ve got a big match on Saturday, right?”

“Yes.” Seif looked confused again, and, for a second time, more than a little concerned.

“Do you expect to win? “ Amnot went on.

“Yes. I think so. I hope so, anyway.”

“How will you feel if you win?”

“Happy. I’ll feel happy if we win.” And he added, under his breath ‘Which is more that I am feeling just now, I must say.”

Amnot pretended not to hear. “I think I’m right in saying that this is a knockout match on Saturday?”

“Yes.”

“So, if you lose, you’re out; and if you win, you play another game in the same competition.”

“Yes. It’s the second round on Saturday. We won the first round a couple of weeks ago.” Seif was beginning to look angry. “How do you know about….”

Amnot just carried on. “How many rounds are there altogether?” he asked.

“Six altogether, including the final.”

“Do you expect to reach the final?”

“Not really, no. Look, how do you know all this about me?”

Amnot shook his head. “The truth is. Seif, that I just know things. I don’t know why I know; I just do. It goes with being an ELF.”

Seif looked doubtful.

“Can we get on?” asked Amnot. “I don’t actually know anything important.”

Seif nodded, and Amnot continued his questions.

“How would you feel if you won the competition?”

“How would we feel? Well, we’d feel fantastic. We’d be happy. Yes, if we won we’d be delighted; we’d be over the moon, as proper footballers always say.”

“So you’re pretty confident of winning on Saturday, but not at all confident of winning the whole competition. How does that affect the language you use?”

“How do you mean?”

“What did you just say, actually, about your chances of winning?”

Seif thought for a minute, and then said, “I think the first time I said, ‘I’ll be happy if we win.’ And the second time, I said “I’d be happy if we won.”

“Oh right, I see,” said Xiao Ling. “The more certain you are that something is going to happen, the more likely you are to use Verb One.”

“Right!” said Seif. “I think I get it. I said ‘if we win’ the first time, because I’m pretty confident that we will win on Saturday, or at least I think we have a chance. And I said ‘if we won’ the second time, because I don’t think it’s very likely.”

“Right,” said Amnot. “Verb One is the structure we use when we think something is likely to happen. Which is what we said about the so-called Present Simple. And Verb Two is the pattern we use when we think something is less likely to happen. It’s not to do with Present and Past at all. It’s to do with how likely you think something is.”

“So we can use a word like went, or worked, or boiled – any Past Sim… I mean  Verb Two in fact – to talk about the future?”

“Yes. That’s what I meant when I said that the language we use to describe ‘if clauses’ doesn’t really help. A sentence like ‘We’d be over the moon if we won the cup,’ has no connection with the Past. It’s all about the Future, and talking about using the ‘Past Simple’ is just confusing.”

“What about the third conditional?” asked Seif.

“What about it?” said Amnot.

“Is that to do with likelihood as well?”

“No. Because by the time you use the third conditional you already know what happened.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, let’s take your football competition as an example.”

“OK.” Seif shrugged.

“Let’s see,” said Amnot. “What happened in the first round?”

“We won, easily.”

“And how would you have felt if you had lost?”

“But we didn’t lose.”

“Seif, I know you didn’t lose. That’s why I can ask you this question: ‘If you had lost, how would you have felt?”

“Well, if we had lost, I would’ve felt terrible.”

“So there it is,” said Amnot. “We use what grammar books call ‘type three if clauses’ when we already know what happened, but we want to think about what could have happened, what might have happened,  what would have happened, what should have happened,  if things had been different.”

“Right.  So we say ‘if we win’ when we think we have a good chance of winning. And ‘if we won’ when we don’t think we have much chance of winning. And we use ‘if we had won’ when the game is over and we lost.”

“That’s it.”

“Wait a minute,” said Xiao Ling. “There are four kinds of ‘if clause;. What about sentences like ‘if you heat water to 100 degrees it boils’?”

“Well, sentences like that just prove my point. Water boiling at a hundred degrees is a scientific fact, and we can be completely confident about it; so confident in fact that both verbs in the sentence are Verb Ones. In fact we can be so certain of the fact, that we often say ‘when’ instead of ‘if’.’ When you heat water it boils’. That’s the so-called ‘zero conditional’, which is a bit of jargon that you ought to forget immediately. All it does is add to what you have to learn without helping you understand anything.

“Is it just scientific facts that work like this?”

“No, Seif. In fact, I used a so-called ‘zero conditional’ just now, though I’ll bet you didn’t notice.”

“No. I didn’t.  When did you use one?”
“When I said ‘if you lose, you’re out; and if you win, you play another game.’”

“Oh, I see,” said Xiao Ling. “You used two Verb Ones because you were talking about the rules of the competition; things that are always true.”

“Exactly!” said Amnot.

“I still don’t get it,” said Seif.

Amnot looked at him. “OK.” He said. “Let me see if I can give you a better example.”

He thought for a minute . Then he said. “I know. Let’s take your brother and you as an example.”

Seif frowned. He wasn’t sure he liked the idea, but there didn’t seem to be much he could do about it.

“I know,” Amnot said, “that you and your brother, Abdullah, always argue when you meet.”

Seif looked surprised and annoyed. He knew this was a bad idea, and wondered again just how much Amnot knew about him.

“There you go again! How did you…” he started to ask. Then he stopped, and shrugged. “What’s the use, you won’t tell me. You just know. It’s your secret.”

Amnot smiled. “It’s true though isn’t it?

“Yes,” Seif sighed. “When Abdullah and I meet, we fight. If we get together, we argue. We always have, ever since we were children. I don’t know why.”

“What if you meet him today?  He’s a student here isn’t he, just like you?”

“Yes, he is. And if we meet today we’ll argue. Come to think of it, though, it isn’t very likely. He’s in Liverpool for the day.’

“But, say he came back early?”

“Well, if he came back early, and if I bumped into him, then we would probably argue.”

“You didn’t see him before he went to Liverpool?”

“No,” Seif laughed. “But I can see what you’re getting at.”

“You can?”

“Yes. If we had met before he went to Liverpool, we would probably have argued.  But we didn’t. We haven’t argued all day, In fact. It’s been quite peaceful.”

“Can we just stop a minute and list what Seif said?” asked Xiao Ling.

Amnot twirled his umbrella and his blackboard appeared. He tapped it, and words started scrolling across the screen.

When we meet we fight. If we get together we argue. [Verb One & Verb One}

If we meet today we’ll argue. [Verb One &  will + Verb One]

If we met this evening we would argue.” [Verb Two & Would  +  Verb One]

If we had met, we would have argued. [Had + Verb Three & would + have + Verb Three]

“You have to stop arguing with your brother, Seif,” said Amnot. “It’s not good.”

“You’re right. But at least our arguments have given us all some good examples. And I can see what you mean, Amnot; the more probable something is, the more likely we are to use Verb One.”

“You know what I find most interesting though?”said Xiao Ling.

“No, what?”

“That we can use the so called ‘Past Simple’ to talk about the future. I can’t believe it’s correct to say ‘if we met this evening.’”

“It is though. And that’s why I like to talk about Verb Two. In fact, as I said, I think of it as the Once and Future verb, because it can be used to talk about the Past and the Future.”

“What about the Present? Can we use Verb Two for the Present too?”

“Well,” said Amnot “There are some occasions, but I’m afraid I don’t have time just now.” He pulled a large watch – a completely different one from last time – out of his pocket and stared at it. It clicked and whirred.”

“Oh, Amnot,” continued Xiao Ling. “Please stay a few more minutes. Explain it to us now. If you stayed and explained it to us now, I am sure I would understand,”

“No, I can’t stay I’m afraid. But I’ll see you again soon. In the meantime, Xiao Ling, have a think about what you just said.” His watch rang like a fire bell and Amnot smiled. “See you next time,” he said. There was a noise like a tube train leaving a station, and the little ELF had gone.

Xiao Ling looked around at Seif. “’The last thing I said’, she muttered, “What did I say in fact? I don’t remember. Seif, what did I just say? Do you remember, Seif?  I wish I had a better memory. If I just remembered I’d know what Amnot meant.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amnot Rong’s third rule of thumb.        

You can use Verb

Two to talk about a Past event,

or a Future possibility,

[and the Present as well].”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check this out:

The Once and Future Verb.            Practice

Look at the following dialogue, and write an appropriate word in each space.

 

“So, what did you learn from Amnot yesterday, Xiao Ling?”  It was the next day, and the two friends were on their way to class.

“Well, let’s see,” said Xiao Ling, with a smile. “I (1)………………….. that you and your brother argue  too much, and (2)…………………. you play football. And that you were over the (3)…………………….after the match, whatever that means.”

“It means really (4)………………….. But I didn’t mean what did you learn about me? What I meant was, what do you remember (5)…………………what Amnot said about Tenses?”

“Well, let’s see. (6)………………… learned that what Amnot calls Verb Two can (7)…………………… used to talk about the Future and the (7)……………………..”

“Yes, it seems ridiculous, but it’s true.”

“It’s (8)……………..to do with what he called that ‘nasty (9)………………….. word’,’If’”

“If I understood ‘if’, I’d be so (10)……………………”

The two friends sat in silence for a (11)………………….. Then Xiao Ling said, “By the way, I (12) ……………….  your brother Abdullah earlier on. Did you know (13)……………….. he went to Manchester yesterday, as well as (14)…………….. Liverpool.”

“What? If he planned to go to Manchester, (15)……………………… never told me.”

“Something else for you to (16) …………….. about,” said Xiao Ling.

“I’ll make him take (17)………………….. to Manchester next week. He promised that we (18)…………………. go to Old Trafford together.”

“I see,” said Xiao Ling. “(19)……………………. he went to Manchester next week you could (20)………………… with him.”

“Yes, you’re right. If he visited Manchester (21)………………….. week he could take me with him. But I (22)…………………think it’s very likely.”

“Why?”

“Because he’s been (23)………………….. already. He’s unlikely to want to go again next (24)…………….. Really, he makes me very angry. He just (25)…………………. think about me at all. He went off (26)…………………… his new friends, and didn’t think about what (27) …………………….. had promised me.”

“What had he promised (28)……………..?”

“He had promised me that he would take (29)…………………to Old Trafford, to watch United play. I (30)…………….. looking forward to going.”

“Never mind. You can always (31) …………………. on your own,”

Seif looked doubtful. Then he (32)………………… “You know, Xiao Ling, you’re right. If I (33)…………….. on my own, it’ll be an adventure, and it (34). …………………….be more peaceful. If I had gone with (35)……………. he would’ve argued with me all the way (36)……………………., and all the way back again.”

“What do (37)……………… two of you argue about, anyway?”

“Everything. Anything. (38)…………………. can start an argument about anything at (39)………………….

“It’s a pity, Seif. Brothers should be friends.”

“Oh, (40) …………………. friends alright. We’re the best of friends. We just argue a lot.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. The ‘Paster’ Past

Seif was sitting in the Exchange Atrium, drinking a cup of tea and wishing he was at home in Jeddah. At this time of day he’d be down on the beach with his friends, making a big pot of kabisa, a favourite dish among the lads, who regularly cooked it down on the shore. He loved just hanging out, or going diving and playing in the clear, cool water of the Red Sea. It was an amazing place, with enormous shoals of fish, and vast flocks of sea birds. There were some giant fish there too, rays and  sharks amongst others; he remembered once standing waist deep on the reef looking down into a deep green trench, and watching a huge whale shark sliding past like a submarine. It had almost felt as though he could lean over and touch it.

Suddenly something did touch him, and he jumped. Amnot Rong was standing beside him,

“Sweet dreams, Seif?” he asked. “Where have you been?”

“Hello Amnot. I was back in Jeddah, swimming in the Red Sea. It was wonderful. How did you manage to creep up on me? Usually we hear you coming.”

“I don’t know. I suppose you were too busy thinking about home. You must miss it.”

“You’re right. I do.” Seif paused. “Anyway, Amnot, what are we talking about today?”

“Well, I don’t know, Seif. It’s up to you. You and Xiao Ling always decide what to talk about. Where is she, by the way?”

“She’s in class. She’ll be here in a while.”

“Shouldn’t you be in class as well?”

“As a matter of fact I should be, but I was too late. The class had started before I got there. So I decided to hang out here instead, and day-dream about being at home.”

“Well, now that I’ve interrupted your daydream shall we talk about another Tense?”

“Well, actually I’d rather ask you about something else. I mean, I know it’s not the kind of question you’re expecting, but I was wondering where you lived. I mean you keep appearing and vanishing. Where do you go when you’re not here?”

Amnot was silent.

“I see,” said Seif, “you won’t say. It’s another of your secrets, is that it?”

“No, it’s not that,” said Amnot at last. “It’s just that when I’m not with you, I’m helping puzzled learners in other places.”

“What sort of places?”

“All kinds of places; colleges, schools, academies, wherever learning English is made more difficult than it should be,”

“But where do you go when you aren’t being an ELF?”

Amnot looked worried for a moment.

”Do you know, I never think about that. I’m so busy with people like you that I don’t have time for anything else.”

­­­­“But you must take time off sometimes. What about your parents? Where are they? You talked about them when we first met. You told us they argued about your name. Do you see them sometimes?”

Amnot looked sad. “My parents have passed their final test. They have progressed to the next level. They are post-graduates now,” he said. Then he sat down next to Seif, hooked his umbrella over his chair, took off his bowler hat, and shook his head. “Now let’s get on,” he said. “We’re not here to chat.”

“Chat!?” said Seif. “I wasn’t chatting. I was – I am – interested. You’re a mystery, and I want to know more about you.”

But Amnot didn’t respond.  Instead he changed the subject.

“Come on now. Let me help you with some grammar,” he said. “Now’s your chance while Xiao Ling is busy.”

“Well, all right,” said Seif, reluctantly. “There was something we looked at last time that has always puzzled me.”

“What?”

“Well, when we were talking about football, I said ‘If we had lost I would have been surprised’. I mean, I got it right; but I still don’t understand when I should use the – what should I call it – the Past Perfect?”

“Well,” said Amnot. “It’s quite complicated.”

“Do you mean that it isn’t anything to do with confidence, or likelihood?

“No, it isn’t anything to do with confidence or likelihood, because there is no doubt about the event. But it is to do with certainty, as we saw in your example.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, you were talking about the first round football match that you won a fortnight or so ago, right?”

“Yes, you kept going on about us losing, but I didn’t want to talk about that because I knew that we had already won. “

“So, the win was a fact, and you already knew that you had won when I asked you about the match last time we met.”

“Yes. I told you. We won easily.”

“OK, Good. That’s the reason I call this the Paster Past.”

“Sorry. You’ve lost me.”

“When did we talk about your match, do you remember?”

“It was the last time we met – nearly a week ago.”

“So, in the past, right?”

“Yes.”

“And the match took place when?”

“Saturday afternoon, two weekends before.”

“So it happened even more in the past than our conversation?”

“Yes of course. By the time we talked about it, the match had already been played, and we had won, and I had scored a goal…”

“You scored a goal, well done! You didn’t mention that!”

“Well, I did, it was a header into the top corner. I was over the moon.”

Amnot Rong unhooked his umbrella from the back of his chair and waved it. Immediately, his blackboard appeared.

“What are you going to write on that?” Seif asked.

“Something you just said,” replied Amnot.

“Me?” said Seif. “I didn’t say anything much, did I?”

“Well, you said this,” said Amnot, putting his hat back on and peering at his blackboard. The following sentence faded into existence.

              By the time we talked about it, the match had already been played, and we had won.

“And I had scored a goal, don’t forget that,” protested Seif.

“Sorry,”

“So,” continued Seif, “Our conversation was in the Past, and the game was even more in the past. You could say that the game was ‘Paster’ than our conversation, though you won’t find that word in the dictionary.”

“Yes, I see,” said Seif hesitantly, “The match was ‘paster’ than our conversation. Hmm. So, is that all there is to it? One verb is in the Past Tense, and the other is in the ‘Paster’ Tense?”

“Well, no. I’m afraid not. It’s more complicated than that. Most of the time when we talk about the Past we use Verb Two [or ‘did’ with Verb One of course].”

“But if one action is ‘paster’ than another…?”

“…we would still be more likely to use Verb Two. It isn’t really anything to do with how long ago it happened.  If something happened in the past we tend to use Verb Two whenever it happened. So, for example, we can say “I saw Xiao Ling a week ago.’  Or ‘I saw her a minute ago’; or ‘I saw her a couple of hours ago’.  Or we can use the same Tense to talk about things that happened ages ago. To use a historical example, we say ‘the Romans invaded Britain 2000 years ago’, and ‘the Normans invaded Britain 1000 years ago’. The Roman invasion happened before the Norman invasion, but we use the same Tense in both cases. We don’t use the ‘Paster’ Past just because one thing happened before the other.”

“So when should I use the Paster Past? I don’t get it.”

“We use it when there is some significance in the sequence.”

Seif looked blank. Amnot had another go at explaining what he meant.

“We use it when the fact that one event happened before the other is important in some way.”

Seif still looked blank. Amnot tried again.

“If I tell you about what I did, or rather what I didn’t do yesterday. Maybe that will make things clearer.”

“OK. It’s worth a try, because I am struggling. What happened yesterday?”

“Well, as a matter of fact I tried to meet up with you yesterday,”

“Really, I didn’t know. When?”

“About ten o’clock. I had told Xiao Ling that I was coming.”

“You had told her? She didn’t mention it to me.”

“Didn’t she? I definitely told her. I saw her the day before yesterday, but I was in a hurry and I couldn’t stop. So I arranged a meeting for yesterday. ‘See you at 10’, I said.”

“But we had a class at ten. “

“I know. It had just started when I arrived. When I got there the class had begun,”

“What did you do?”

“Do? Nothing. I went away and here I am back again today.”

“Why were you late? It’s not like you. You’re always so careful about Time.”

“I overslept. I had forgotten to set my alarm clock.”

Amnot waved his umbrella. “All right. Let’s stop there. That’s probably enough examples,” he said. “Let’s look at them again.” They both watched while words scrolled across the screen,

              The class had started when I arrived

              I overslept. I had forgotten to set my alarm clock.

              I had told Xiao Ling that I was coming.

              You had told her? She didn’t mention it to me.

Seif stared at these examples for a minute or two. Then he said, very tentatively. “Oh, I see. I think. We use the ‘Paster’ Past if it matters which event came first.”

“Yes,” said Amnot, adding under his breath, “By George he’s got it.”

“The funny thing is that the same thing happened to me today,” said Seif. “I told you; I was late for class this morning.”

“So we met here this morning because you were late for class.”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“So, if I left now, and Xiao Ling arrived, you would tell her she had missed me. You could say that you had talked to me for ages.”

“Well, yes, I could. If she was here and you had gone,” said Seif, looking around. “Ah right there she is.”

He stood up and waved. Xiao Ling was just coming into the building. He turned to speak to Amnot, but he was nowhere to be seen. He had disappeared again. The noise of a bell ringing was still echoing in Seif’s ears.

“Hello, Seif,” said Xiao Ling, when she reached his table. “You missed the class. What happened?”

“I overslept.”

“Don’t tell me; you had forgotten to set your alarm.”

Seif looked sheepish.

“Yes, well, I’m not the only one. Amnot Rong did the same thing yesterday.”

“Amnot? When did you see Amnot?”

“Just now. He was right here.  He said you were coming, and I stood up to look for you. By the time I sat down again he had vanished.”

“Did you have a chat with him?”

“Yes, I did, and it was very interesting.”

Xiao Ling sat down next to Seif. “Tell me all about it “she said. She wasn’t pleased that she had missed a chance to talk to Amnot, and she wanted to hear everything he had said.

“I bumped into him the other day,” she said. “But he was in a hurry and couldn’t stop to chat.”

“Yes,” said Seif, “he said he had seen you.”

“Well, it wasn’t much of a meeting. I only saw him for a minute. Anyway, tell me, what did I miss? What did you talk about?”

“Well,” said Seif. “As far as Tenses are concerned, we took another look at something we had already discussed. Something I hadn’t really understood.  Amnot called it the Paster Past.”

“The Paster Past? What does that mean?”

“I’ll tell you all about it in a minute,” replied Seif. “But first I must tell you what else we talked about . I tried to get him to talk about his family, but he wouldn’t.”

“He wouldn’t”

“No. He just said that we weren’t here to chat, and changed the subject.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amnot Rong’s fourth

rule of thumb

“We use the ‘Paster Past [had +

Verb Three] when it is important

to show that one event in the

past took place before

another.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check this out:

The Paster Past                       Practice

Look at the following dialogue, and write an appropriate word in each space.

“So you’ve been sitting here for half an hour, talking to Amnot.  What did you learn?”

“Well, I learned that he never seems to stop working. If he’s not with us, he’s with some other students.”

“Really? That’s amazing! You mean, he never takes time off? He’s always teaching somebody somewhere?”

“Yes. At least, that’s what I understood. Astonishing,(1)…………………… it? Oh, and I asked him about his (2)………………………”

“Really? What  did he say?”

“ Well, it was (3)……………….. bit odd really. He said that ‘they had (4) ……………… their final examination. They had gone on to (5) …………………. next level’ It was kind of spooky.”

“Wow. I (6)………………… I had been here.”

“ Yes, you really missed (7)…………………..”

“There’s no need to rub it in. What (8) ………………. you talk about anyway? Tell me all about (9)…………………”

“Well we spent most of the time talking (10)…………………… the ‘Paster’ Past.”

“The pasta what?”

“Well, (11) …………………. what we usually call the Past Perfect.”

“But Amnot (12) …………………….. like that name for it, right?”

“How did (13) ………………… guess? He didn’t like it at all. He (14) ……………… it didn’t help people like me and (15)……………………….”

“He’s right there. I’ve always found the Past (16) …………………… a difficult tense to use.”

“Me too. Because (17) …………………… doesn’t just depend on something being more in (18)……………… past than something else.”

“So what does it (19) …………………. on, then?”

“Well, I think we use the (20) ………………………… Past when it matters that one action in the (21)……………….happened before another.”

“Did he give you any (22) ……………………., Seif?”

“Yes, he told me about what he (23) …………………… yesterday; or rather, what he failed to do.”

“(24) ……………….. do you mean?”

“Well, he said he tried (25) ………………………. meet us yesterday. In fact he said he (26) ………………..arranged it  with you . (27) ………………told him you hadn’t mentioned it to me.”

“(28) …………………. did bump into each other, but he was in a (29) …………………, and I didn’t really catch what he said. I was (30) …………………to ask him to repeat, but he vanished (31) ……………….. I had a chance. You know how quickly he (32) ………………. He makes a noise like a train or a car, or something, (33) ……………… he’s gone. That’s what happened the other day. I opened  (34) ……………… mouth to ask him what he had said, but he had gone.”

“He also said he went to our (35) ………………….. but he was too late to see us. The (36) ………………….had already started.”

“Okay, I get it. The class (37) …………………. started before he arrived. That’s two actions (38) ……………..  the Past, one before the other. First (39) ……………………. class started, and then Amnot arrived.” Xiao Ling hesitated. “(40) …………………… we can talk about them using Verb Two.”

“Yes, but (41) ………………. the sequence of events really matters, we can (42) ………………… the Paster Past to make this clear.”

“So we can say ‘Amnot (43) ……………………… to see us – which is in the Past – but we (44) …………….. already gone into the classroom’- which is in the Paster Past.”

“Right, Xiao Ling. He also said that when you arrived after the class today, I could say that I had spent ages talking to him, all on my own.”

“Is that what he said, really? How unfair! Just because I got to class on time, you spent time with Amnot. If I had been late for class like you, I would’ve seen him too.”

“You’re right. It isn’t fair. Just think. If my alarm had gone off at the right time, Amnot and I wouldn’t have met this morning.”

Xiao Ling didn’t answer, but the expression on her face said it all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5.        The Future: Subjective

 

The trouble with the “Future,” said Amnot, “Is that it hasn’t happened yet.”

“Well, obviously,” said Xiao Ling. “But that doesn’t explain why you don’t have a proper Future Tense.”

They were sitting near the lake. Seif and Xiao Ling had been there for a while when they heard a noise like a stone falling in the water, and they turned round to see what had happened. When they turned back, Amnot was sitting on the end of their bench. Neither of them had seen him arrive.

They sat for a while enjoying the cool breeze, and chatting about this and that. Eventually, Xiao Ling asked Amnot if he felt like helping them with their English today.

“Well,” he replied. “It depends a bit what you want to know about. I’m not in the mood for anything very complicated.”

Xiao Ling looked disappointed.

“It’s all very complicated,” she said. “Your whole language is a huge, crazy puzzle.”

Amnot looked at Seif, who nodded his agreement, vigorously.

“She’s right, Amnot,” he said. “English is crazy and always will be,”

“That’s it,” said Xiao Ling, jumping up off the bench. “That’s what I wanted to ask you about.”

“What?” asked Amnot.

“What Seif said. ‘English will always be crazy’. The Future,” said Xiao Ling. “Why do you have so many ways of talking about the Future?”

As we already know, Amnot’s reply to this question was as follows:

“The trouble with the Future is that it hasn’t happened yet.”

“Well, obviously,” said Xiao Ling, (as we also already know) “But that doesn’t explain why you don’t have a proper Future Tense.”

“It does, actually, in a way.”

“How?”

“Well, as the Future hasn’t happened yet, we can think about it from all kinds of different angles. And some of them mean choosing different verb forms.”

“We’re going to need some examples, I think,” said Seif.

“Lots of them,” said Xiao Ling.”What did you mean when you said that we can think about the Future from different angles?”

“Well,” said Amnot, “For example, we can predict the future.” He waved his umbrella and his blackboard appeared. The words

We can predict the future’

scrolled across it in a rounded chalky script.“We can predict it,” he said. Then he added. “That doesn’t mean, by the way, that we know what the winning lottery numbers will be. Those kinds of predictions don’t work out, sad to say. But that doesn’t stop us predicting things all the time. For example, I predict that you’ll be here again tomorrow for another chat about English grammar, won’t you?”

“Yes, I’m going to be here, Amnot,” said Xiao Ling. “What about you, Seif?”

“Yes, me too. I’ll be here, insha’allah.”

As Seif spoke he watched words, lots of words, scrolling across the blackboard. It was recording what the little ELF was saying.

“We can plan for the future,” said Amnot Rong. “We can make arrangements. We can volunteer to do something in the future. We can hope for something to happen. We can expect the future to follow a certain course. We can dream about the future, speculate about it, dread it, fear it, laugh in its face.”

“Oh dear,” said Seif, weakly.“Now I’m beginning to wish we hadn’t asked about the Future at all. I thought we were going to hear some more about the difference between Tense and Time, not all this stuff about fearing the Future and laughing in its face.”

“And we are,” said Amnot. “All I was trying to say is that because the Future hasn’t happened, therefore we can think about it in lots of different ways. The Future is subjective; so having one ‘Future Tense’ might make it more difficult for us to express our ideas properly, not easier.”

“It would make English easier to learn, though,” said Xiao Ling.

“What about ‘will’? asked Seif. “Isn’t that the Future Tense?”

“No I’m afraid not, Seif, although it is one of the ways in which we talk about the Future. But it’s actually a modal verb [like ‘may’ and ‘can’ and ‘would’ and ‘should’ etc], and it isn’t always connected to the Future.”

“I can’t think of any examples of ‘will’ that don’t refer to the future,” said Seif.

“There aren’t many, I have to say. But if I complain, for example, that ‘It’s cold in here, and will you close the window please?’ I expect the window to be closed straight away, not sometime in the future. ‘Will’ is being used to make a request not a prediction.”

“And I’ve thought of another one,” said Xiao Ling. “If I say ‘that suitcase looks really heavy, I’ll help you with it,’ you would be surprised if I didn’t help you straight away, wouldn’t you? That’s ‘will’ being used to make an offer.”

“And another one came to me just now,” said Seif.” I was thinking of ringing my stroppy brother Abdullah, but decided not to, because he’ll be in class now. His phone will be turned off at the moment.”

They all sat for a while in silence, thinking about the last example, in which ‘will’ was being used to speculate about the Present.  It seemed to prove Amnot’s point; ‘will’ is a modal verb, and only one of its functions is to talk about the future.

In the end, Xiao Ling turned to Amnot again.

“So what you’re saying is that there are lots of different ways of talking about the Future. If that’s the case, how do you know which one to choose?”

Amnot smiled. “You won’t be surprised,” he said, “to hear that it’s all to do with how confident you feel about the future event or action.”

“What? Confident? Again!? That’s what you said about Verb One, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, it was. And it affects how tentative we are too. We should talk about that sometime too. Now you come to mention it, English seems to be all about speakers being more or less confident, and events being more or less likely.”

Amnot waved his umbrella, and the following words appeared on his board.

Will      

Be +…….ing       

Going to + Verb One

              Will      

Verb One

 

“You’ve got ‘Will’ twice,” said Seif.

“I know,” replied Amnot. “That’s because ‘will’ is used in two different ways when we’re talking about the Future. Firstly it’s used to offer to do something on the spur of the moment.”

“Sorry? On the what of the what?”

“On the spur of the moment. Somebody asks for help next week, for example, and you say “I’ll do that. You’ve volunteered to help before you’d even thought about it.”

“What about the other ‘will’?”

“That’s more straightforward. It’s the kind of ‘will’ most people tend to think of as the Future Tense.  For example, are either of you going on holiday any time soon?”

“I’m going to Paris next month,” said Seif.

“Ooh lucky you, It’s a beautiful city,” said Xiao Ling. “Who are you going with? Have you decided what you want to do when you get there? If not, I’ll help you make a list.”

“Thanks for the offer, Xiao Ling, but we’ve already got a list. I’m going with Abdullah of course. First, we’ll go and see the Eiffel tower. Then we’ll take a boat down the Seine, and we’ll walk up to Montmartre and see all the artists. Maybe I’ll buy a painting.”

“Sounds fun. I’m sure you’ll have a great time,” said Amnot. “And did you notice all the uses of ‘will’, Xiao Ling? Seif has obviously been thinking about his visit to Paris for a long time; there’s nothing spur of the moment about this trip. Right, Seif?”

Seif nodded. “Mm,” he said, “The Eiffel Tower, the boat trip down the Seine, and the visit to Montmartre have been on our list of things to do for ages. You can be sure that we will go there. Though I may not buy a painting – someone told me that they are very expensive.”

“So, ‘will’ can be used to ask someone to do something, and to offer to do something either straight away or in the future, as well as to talk about long-held plans. Crazy,” said Seif.

“What about the other verbs on your board?” asked Xiao Ling. “Where it says ‘Be +….ing’, isn’t that the Present Continuous? How can that be used for the future – it’s how we talk about things that are happening now, isn’t it.”

“Well, yes, it is. But that’s not the only way we use it. And, by the way, please don’t call it the Present Continuous, that’s another stupid name. You know by now that I would rather talk about ‘Be +…..ing’. Especially when we’re using the pattern to refer to the Future.”

“But is it true?” asked Seif, “that we use the Pres… I mean ‘Be +…ing’ to talk about the Future.”

“Yes, it is. You almost can’t help it. For instance, what are you doing at the weekend?”

“Me? I’m taking the train to Manchester. I’m going to Old Trafford to watch Man U. I’ve been looking forward to going for ages.”

“Wow,” said Xiao Ling. “How exciting! So you decided to go on your own in the end. Well done!”

“Indeed,” said Amnot, though he didn’t look very excited himself, perhaps he was a Forest fan,

“What about you, Xiao Ling?” he asked.

“Oh, I’m not doing very much at all. I’m staying here. I’m having a lie-in, and – sad to say – I’m working on my project.”

“So there you are. Lots of examples. In fact the so-called Present Continuous is used to talk about the Future more often than it’s used to talk about the Present.”

“That can’t be right, surely?”

“It is right. I’m sure it is. After all, why talk about what you’re doing? Whoever you’re talking to can probably see you.”

“There might be some cases where it would be right,” said Xiao Ling. “An expert discussing something with a student, for instance; or a person explaining what he’s doing to someone who can’t see for some reason.”

“And there are occasions when you might say ‘What are you doing?’ when you already know the answer. My mother used to say ‘What are you doing? – in Arabic of course [“ماذا تفعلين؟” she used to shout]– whenever she found me doing something naughty,” said Seif. “Even though she knew exactly what I was doing. It wasn’t actually a question.”

“No, it was an instruction to stop doing whatever you were doing,” said Amnot. “My point though is that we don’t use the ‘be +….ing’ form for things that are happening now as often as people think.”

“So why do we learn that ‘be + …..ing’ is used to describe things happening now?”

“I don’t know,” said Amnot. “My guess is that it’s because it’s easy to teach. Teachers can demonstrate the meaning very easily. ‘I am opening the door’ they can say, or ‘I am standing near the window’, or, (though this is rather unlikely), ‘I am doing something rather silly’. In real life we don’t go around telling each other what we are doing, do we?”

“Well, we do if we’re on our mobiles of course,” said Seif. “Then we say things like ‘I’m on the bus. We’re going down Mansfield Road.  We’re just passing that new shop. I’ll be home in ten minutes’.”

“All right, so it’s used both ways, to talk about the Present and to talk about the Future. And did you notice that use of ‘will’ to make a prediction? ‘I’ll be home in ten minutes’.”

“What about the other things on your list?”

“Well, there are only two left. ‘Going to’, which is a bit like ‘Be +….ing’, but more determined or sure. It’s more than just an expression of intent, like ‘I’m driving to Old Trafford on Saturday, which tells us what you intend to do, but lets you change your mind quite easily. However, if you say ‘I’m going to drive to Old Trafford on Saturday’, it probably means that you have made some enquiries about how to get there, where to hire a car, how long the journey will take, things like that. You have started making arrangements. You’re going to do it.”

“So, it’s all more certain, more likely to happen, is that right?”

“Exactly. Or else, if you say that you are going to do something, it may mean that you are determined to do it. You’ve made a decision to do it. Both ‘going to’ and ‘will’ can be used in this way.”

“Both of them? What’s the difference?”

“Actually, there’s very little difference. You can choose whichever seems to fit the context better.”

“So – what? – it’s a question of style?”

“Yes. And the same is true when you’re making predictions. When someone makes a prediction about the Future, they’re likely to say ‘You are going to meet a tall, dark stranger’. ‘You’ll have three lovely kids’, ‘you’ll live to a ripe old age’. You’re going to come into some money’. That sort of thing.”

“What about the last thing on your list,” asked Xiao Ling. “’Verb One’. Isn’t that for habits and things like that? Routines, scientific facts. How can it be a way of talking about the Future?”

“What? Have you forgotten already? We talked about this in our first ever meeting.” Amnot looked a bit weary. “We use it to talk about the Future when we’re confident that something is going to happen.”

“Sorry, Amnot,” said Seif. “We do remember. You said that if we use the Present Simple to talk about the Future…”

“Seif! You know I don’t like using that term.”

“Whoops. Sorry,” said Seif. “I mean Verb One of course. If we use Verb One to talk about the Future it means we think that it will happen.”

Amnot looked a bit happier.

“More than that,” he said, “What I’m trying to say is that the Verb One pattern is the most definite of the lot,”

“Yes,” said Xiao Ling. “I remember; you called it ‘Verb One: Sure’.”

“It’s used for things like this,” said Seif with a smile, taking out a large envelope. He opened it and pulled out a ticket for Old Trafford and a return train ticket to Manchester. He smiled at Xiao Ling. “You’re right. I decided to go on my own. It’ll be an adventure.” He waved the tickets excitedly. “I’m not driving, though,” he said, “I’m going to take the train; it’s much more convenient. Look, it arrives in Manchester at 1 o’clock. The match starts at 3 and finishes just before 5. The train back to Nottingham leaves at 7, and I get back here by just before 10 o’clock. It’s going to be wonderful.”

“I’m sure you’re right,” said Amnot Rong, and more abruptly than usual, with a noise like a bus reversing, he disappeared.

“How does he do that?” said Xiao Ling. “I never see him go.”

“I don’t know. Anyway,” said Seif, “We’d just about finished hadn’t we?”

“I guess so. Why don’t you text Abdullah now. He’ll be out of class. You can invite him to meet us at the canteen. And we can show off how much we know about the Future. And you can wave your tickets In his face. He’ll be jealous.”

“I don’t think I want to see Abdullah,” said Seif. “He’ll just start an argument about me going to Old Trafford, and we’ll end up fighting, as usual.”

“Well, now you’re proving Amnot right. You’re doing a good job of predicting the future.”

“And my predictions come true too, when I’m talking about Abdullah and me. Let’s not text him,” said Seif.

So they didn’t. Instead, they headed over to Aspire for a late lunch – all on their own.

 

 

 

 

Amnot Rong’s pertinent

prediction

 

“The more confident you

feel that a proposed future

event is actually going to

take place, the more you will

tend to talk about it using

Verb One or ‘be’ + –ing.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check this out:

The Future Subjective                               Practice

 

Look at the following dialogue, and write an appropriate word in each space.

 

So, did Amnot explain the Future well, or not, Xiao Ling?”

“He explained the Future Tense, which was what I wanted.”

The two friends were sitting in a small walled garden not far from the Trent building. It was a beautiful place that most people didn’t know existed. Seif and Xiao Ling often went there to relax and chat.

“I must say I was surprised (1)……………….. he said that there was no Future Tense.”

“(2)………………, Seif, it took me by surprise too. But (3)………………. made sense. After all, as he said, the (4)………………..with the Future is that it hasn’t happened (5)………………..”

“So, how we think about it changes according (6)…………………. the situation. What was it he said? We (7)………………predict the Future, we can hope for something (8)…………………. happen in the Future, we can worry about (9)……………….. Future. Something like that anyway, and it means (10)………………. can use different Tenses in different situations.”

“Yes, (11)…………… we use ‘Will’ to volunteer to do something (12)……………… the spur of the moment.”

“And we use (13) ‘…………………. to’, if we’re really making plans for something.”

“(14)…………….. the most common way of talking about the (15)…………………is to say ‘What are you doing tomorrow?’ ‘(15)…………….. working, then I’m going to the cinema.”

“Yes, (16)……………… came as a bit of a shock. I (17)……………….. , I’ve always thought that teachers knew what they (18)……………… doing. But in this case it seems that (19)…………….. didn’t.”

“I think you’re being a bit too (20)………………., Seif. Not to mention unfair. The Present Continuous…”. (21)………………Xiao Ling looked around nervously, wondering if Amnot Rong (22)………………. going to appear suddenly from behind a bush, (23)……………….. tell her off for using words he hated. (24)……………… hesitated, and then went on, confident that he (25) …………….. not listening “…Present Continuous is used quite correctly (26)……………….  talk about things that are happening at this (27)……………….. moment. The teachers didn’t have it wrong. And (28)…………………. something because it’s easy to teach isn’t a (29)…………………. idea either.”

“No,” sais Seif, “but it was a mistake (30)………………… to teach us that the main function of (31)………………  Present Continuous (it was his turn to (31)…………………..  around nervously) is to talk about the Future.”

Xiao Ling (32)……………….it was time to change the subject.

“I liked what he said (33)………………… certainty,” she said. “It’s interesting isn’t it, (34)……………… this idea seems to be so important in (35)……………………? It seems to be the case that (36)…………….. more certain you are about something, whether you’re (37)……………………. about the Future or the Present, the more (38)…………………. you are to use Verb One.”

“Yes, and the (39) ……………..uncertain you are, the more likely you are to (40)…………. Verb Two.”

“Is that true? I don’t remember Amnot (41)…………………that.”

“He didn’t. It’s just something I’ve noticed. (42)………………. people want to express doubt or uncertainty, they kind of step back, metaphorically, into what we used to call the Past. I mean, I could offer you a drink, and say “Do you want to drink?” But if I’m feeling a bit nervous or uncertain I’d be likely to say “Did you want to drink?” it’s got nothing to do with the past; both questions are offering the drink now. It’s all to do with being uncertain.”

“That’s very clever, Seif. And I see what you’re getting at; after all, what could be more uncertain than the Future.”

“Well yes and no. We all know that the future is uncertain, but we behave as if it wasn’t. that’s why I can talk about my trip to Manchester at the weekend, as if it was an absolute certainty.”

“Yes tell me about your trip. When do you leave?”

“See? You’re doing it now.”

“Doing what?”

“Talking about the future as if it was fixed.”

“Well, I know it’s not fixed really. But anyway, I’ll make a prediction. You’re going to go to Manchester. You’ll have a great time at the match. Your train will be on time. Manchester United will win. And your brother is going to be so jealous.”

They looked at each other. Talking about the future was fun, even if it hadn’t happened yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6        The Present Past: [not perfect]

Xiao Ling was texting Seif when she heard a noise like a steam train coming out of a tunnel, and Amnot Rong walked up to her. She looked around. Not surprisingly there was no sign of a steam train or a tunnel.

‘He’s here now, Seif,’ she texted. ‘Outside the Exchange Building. He came in an invisible train this time. Come over quick.’

She turned to the little ELF. He was dressed as usual in his pinstriped suit and bowler hat, and was carrying his furled, black umbrella, even though there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

“Amnot,” said Xiao Ling. “Hi!”

“Hello, Xiao Ling.” The little man tipped his hat in greeting.

“Listen,” said Xiao Ling. “I’ve been meaning to ask you, how come your arrival always sounds like you’re in a car or a train or a plane or something?”

“Does it?” asked Amnot. “I never noticed that.”

“What? Don’t you hear the noise you make?”

“No, I have never heard it. Some of my students have mentioned it to me, but I’ve never heard it myself.”

“Well, how strange.”

“The thing is, the noise happens before I get here. By the time I arrive it’s gone. You hear it, but I don’t. It’s just something to do with being an ELF, I guess. I can’t control it. It’s the same when I leave – I’ve gone before you hear the noise. Pity really. I love the sound of steam-trains. I remember …”

“I was going to ask you about that,” interrupted Xiao Ling, “Have you ever been to China?  I was wondering. We used to have wonderful steam trains. Still do have a few, I think, on the branch lines.”

“Well, yes, Xiao Ling, actually, in a manner of speaking, I have been to China. And lots of other places as well. It’s one of the good things about being an English language professional – you get to visit lots of countries.”

“I see. How lucky for you. But what did you mean by ‘in a manner of speaking’?”

“Well, I went there as part of a language teaching programme called ‘Follow me’. Did you ever see it?”

“I’m not sure. When were you there?”

“Oh ages ago. In the eighties. Before you were born. The main presenter was a girl called Kate Flower. She was famous. Millions of people saw her on television every night.”

“I think I did see it,” said Xiao Ling. “When I was little. Maybe it was a rerun. So you had a part in the TV programme?”

“No, not exactly. I was involved with the workbook.”

Xiao Ling looked puzzled.

“But, how did…” she started. “How old….? I don’t understand….” She faltered.

“Neither do I,” said a voice behind her. It was Seif, who was just arriving. “You’re talking about the Present Perfect, right?” he asked. “That’s what we said we’d ask Amnot about this time.”

Xiao Ling shrugged. She had got a bit closer to finding out why Amnot seemed so familiar, and she was sorry that Seif had interrupted their conversation. It was tantalizing, not knowing why he looked like someone she had met before. She shook her head. ‘Never mind’, she thought. ‘I’ll find out in the end. For now I’ll just carry on studying English with my own little ELF.

“What we need help with today, Amnot,” she said, “is what Seif said – the Perfect Present, or the Present Perfect, or whatever it’s called.”

“We don’t understand when to use it. Why is it called Perfect?” asked Seif. “It’s not perfect at all. And I hope no-one ever gives me another present like it.”

Xiao Ling and Amnot laughed. “It’s not that kind of present, Seif. It’s not a gift, it’s a Tense; the Present Perfect.”

“I know, but it seems like a daft name to me. It’s used to talk about things that happened in the past, just like the Past Simple. So why is it called ‘Present’ anything?”

Amnot shook his head. “Well, Seif, I couldn’t agree more; it is a daft name. And we do use it to talk about things that happened in the past.”

“Like I said,” said Seif.

“Yes, like you said,”

“What’s the trick, then?” asked Xiao Ling.

“The trick?”

“Yes. What is different about it? What does it do that the Past Simple – I mean Verb Two – doesn’t do?”

“Right,” said Amnot, “Let’s see. Do you remember the example we used when we talked about the so-called Past Simple?”

“Yes, I think so. We said ‘it rained all day yesterday’.”

“So that’s something that happened in the past. Yesterday’s gone. It’s finished, right?”

“Yes,” agreed Xiao Ling and Seif.

“But what if the rain – the same rain I mean – wasn’t in the past?”

“What do you mean? You just said it yourself; yesterday’s gone. Of course it’s in the past.”

“Well, not necessarily. What if I change the time window and say that ‘it has rained hard this week.’?

“It has rained..….”Xiao Ling repeated, thoughtfully, what Amnot had said. “I see, I think. You’re saying that we should use the Present Perfect when the time we’re talking about isn’t finished, and this week is still going on.”

“Right.”

“It’s like me saying I’ve worked hard this month. This month isn’t finished, so – strictly speaking – the time isn’t over. It’s still the present.”

“It’s often used with the words ‘ever’ and ‘never’, said Amnot. “’Have you ever been to China?’ [You asked me that question just now, by the way.] ‘Has your brother ever driven a car?’ Has he ever had a crash?’‘My cousins have never eaten meat.’ Sentences like that.”

“Why?” asked Seif.

“Well, ‘ever’ means ‘in your life’, and that’s a time window that hasn’t finished yet; judging by the look of you. So that’s the right tense to use. The action you’re talking about may be in the past, but the time window is still open. So in the case of the rain, for example, ‘it fell yesterday’, but ’it has fallen this week.’ ”

“So it doesn’t matter so much when my brother drove a car. The important thing is that he has never crashed.”

“Yes, and let’s hope he never does. That’s the thing about this Tense though – it tells us that there is some kind of connection between the Past and the Present.  In fact, because of that, I prefer to call it the Present/Past.”

“Good,” said Xiao Ling, “I never understood why it was perfect anyway.”

“It’s just another of those meaningless words you have to learn,” said Amnot. “Waste of time.”

”Going back to your example of my brother not crashing his car,” said Seif. “The connection between Past and Present is that what you call the ‘time window’ is still open, right?”

“Exactly,” said Amnot, and he waved his umbrella. The little blackboard appeared and Seif and Xiao Ling read the following words:

Use the Present/Past when the time window is still open

“There are other ways to use the Present/Past, of course,” said Amnot.”Sometimes, whatever the event was, it happened quite recently, and the effects of the action can still be seen. The action is in the past, but the effects of the action are there in front of you.”

“Let’s see. What’s a good example of that?”mused Xiao Ling.

“How’s about ‘Autumn has arrived’,” suggested Seif. “You only have to look at the trees to know that. Their leaves have all gone brown, and they’ve fallen on the ground.”

“And it’s got colder too. I’ve started wearing a scarf. Here it is, look.”

“Okay,” said Amnot, “I think you’ve got the hang of that. Mind you, as an example it is a bit limited, don’t you think? It’ll only really make sense in the autumn.”

“Look. I’ve just written the rule down,” said Xiao Ling, and she showed Amnot her notebook.

The effects of the action can still be seen.

                             Eg. I’ve broken my glasses. Look, I’ve cracked the lens.

“Good example,” said Amnot. “I’ll store that on my blackboard, if that’s all right with you.”

“Of course,” said Xiao Ling. “But are there any other uses we should know about?”

“Well yes. In fact there is another use. It’s a bit different, but it still connects the past and the present.”

Seif and Xiao Ling looked at the ELF expectantly.

“I’ll start by asking you a question,” he said. “When did you come to England, Seif?”

“Last month.”

“And you, Xiao Ling?”

“Three months ago.”

“And you’re still here, I can see that. So we’ve got an action in the past – your arrival in UK. Three months ago in your case Xiao Ling, and it’s just a month or so since you arrived here, Seif. And you’re still here now.”

“So, there we are, “said Xiao Ling. “The Past and the Present together again. Bingo!”

Amnot nodded. “So what do we say?” he asked. “Apart from – erm – ‘bingo!’”

Seif and Xiao Ling hesitated for a moment. Then Seif said. “I came here a month ago, so I’ve been here for a month.”

“And I’ve been here for three months; since the summer, in fact.”

“That’s it. But notice; in this case we’re not talking about a finished action, like crashing a car. Instead it’s something that started in the past and is still going on in the present.”

“Like ‘I’ve studied English for years and years’, said Xiao Ling.

“Or,” suggested Seif, “Amnot has helped lots of students over the years.”

“And ‘people in this university have done a lot of research’.”

“And ‘cars have become greener,’ said Seif, with a grin.

“OK,” said Xiao Ling, “I think I get the idea. We use the Present Perfect when something which started in the past is still going on.”

“Is that it then?” asked Seif. “I make that three uses. There aren’t any more, surely? Please say no. I’m getting dizzy.”

“Sorry, Seif,” said Amnot. “There is one other use that we really can’t leave out.”

Seif let out a long sigh, “Come on then,” he said. “What is it?”

“It’s when you’re talking about something in the past, but without saying when it happened. We do this when it’s not important to say when we did something. We might have a list of things to do, for example, and we’re telling someone which things on the list we have done.”

“Like my sister when she got married,” said Xiao Ling. “She had a really long list of things to do. She kept saying things like ‘I’ve booked the registry office. Lin (he’s her husband now of course) has arranged the photographer’, ‘His mother has arranged the flowers’, ‘Dad hasn’t written his speech’, ‘I’ve chosen the dress’. She went on and on. The list was endless. Mind you, everything went extremely smoothly on the day. It was a lovely wedding.”

Amnot smiled.  “It sounds like your sister knew what she was doing. Just like you two do, now,” he added. “You’re both using the so-called Present Perfect perfectly at present.”

The two students laughed. Then Xiao Ling said.

“So, can we make a list of all the ways we can use the Present Perfect. I mean the Present/Past?

“OK, but remember the general rule – it joins together the Past and the Present in some way.”

“Right, we’ve got that. Let’s make our list.”

“Okay,” said Amnot. He waved his umbrella, and these words scrolled slowly onto his blackboard.

One:  We use the Present/Past when the time we’re talking about isn’t finished.”

 Two:  We use it when the effect of the action can still be seen.

Three:  We use the Present/Past when something which started in the past is still going on. 

Four:  We use it when we’re talking about something in the past, without saying when it happened.

“And that’s the last use I can think of at the moment,” said Amnot.

“Thank goodness for that,” said Seif, with a sigh. “Four is quite enough for me.”

There was a noise like a plane flying overhead. Seif and Xiao Ling looked up to see where it was. When they turned back, Amnot Rong had vanished

“Very mysterious,” said Xiao Ling. “And did he really go before we heard the noise?  Surely it was the sound of the plane that came first.” She shook her head. “How annoying he is sometimes. I still have all sorts of questions to ask him.”

“You’ve been asking him questions for an hour. Don’t you think he deserves a break.”

“No, I mean different questions; not about English, but about where he comes from, and his family and how old he is, and stuff like that. Listen, you’ll never guess what he told me. You simply won’t believe it”

And they went back to the red tiled Amenities building, the one that looked like an ocean liner parked as far from the sea as you can be in Britain. As they went Xiao Ling recounted what Amnot had said, and Seif found it impossible to believe, just as Xiao Ling had said he would.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amnot Rong’s ready reminder:

“I have just explained that the

Present/Past [not Perfect]

connects the Past and the

Present.”

Have you got the idea?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check this out:

The Present/Past [not perfect]               Practice

 

Look at the following dialogue, and write an appropriate word in each space.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7        Being Polite/Tentative

Xiao Ling was sitting on her own in the café, reading a text book and taking notes when she heard a noise like a glass breaking. She jumped up and looked round, but there was no sign of Amnot Rong. A group of Libyan students were trying to clear up a glass of juice that one of them had knocked over.

She sat down and started reading her book again. A few minutes later she was concentrating so hard on the book that she didn’t hear a noise like a tractor going past. A minute or two later, Amnot came over.

“I was wondering if I could join you,” he said.

Xiao Ling nodded. “Of course you can,” she said. She was glad to see Amnot. She wanted to ask him a whole list of questions. The problem was that she didn’t know where to start. She didn’t want to be rude.”

‘Have you had something to drink?” Amnot asked.

“No, not yet. I was waiting for Seif. We’re having lunch together.”

“I’m going to have a coffee,” said Amnot. “Can I get you one, too?”

“Yes, please; that would be lovely.”

Amnot went over to the counter and collected two coffees. While he was gone, Xiao Ling decided to wait before asking him about where he came from. Instead there was something she wanted to know about what he had just said to her.

“While you were getting the coffee, Amnot, I was thinking about what you just said, and there was something odd about it.”

“Odd?”

“Yes. You said ‘I was wondering if I could join you.’”

“Yes, I did. Is that odd? It sounds all right to me.”

“I’m not saying it’s wrong, Amnot. Of course I’m not. But why didn’t you just say ‘Can I join you?’?”

“Aha!  An interesting question. And one that is connected to what we have already said about Tense and Time.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, what you’re talking about is often explained as being ‘polite’ language, but that doesn’t explain why ‘I was wondering if I could join you’ is more polite that ‘can I join you? And in fact it’s often simply not true – both questions may be equally polite, depending on who you happen to be talking to.”

“So, if it’s not a question of politeness, what is the explanation?”

“Well. It’s all to do – again – with certainty. Or, more frequently, with lack of certainty.”

“Certainty again?”

“Yes, though a better word for it in this case is being ‘tentative’.

“Tentative? What does that mean?”

“It means being unsure about something.”

“Like what?”

“Well, like what our little conversation at the beginning. I could have said ‘Can I join you?’. That would have been a direct, confident way to speak. Or I could have said ‘I wonder if I could join you?’. That’s more tentative, both because it includes the word ‘wonder; which implies a degree of doubt, and because I have chosen to use the modal ‘could’ instead of ‘can’”

“’Could is the past of can,” said Xiao Ling and then stopped when she saw Amnot’s face. “What have I said wrong?”she asked.

“You know what I think about the words Present and Past,” said Amnot. “Tense just isn’t the same as Time. I prefer to think of these modals – can and could – as being more or less tentative. The more unsure you are about something, the more tentatively you speak.”

“And ‘could’ is more unsure than ‘can’?”

“Yes. Can is much more direct and confident. If you want to offer to do something, and if you want your offer to sound genuine, you’re much more likely to say ‘I can do that’ than ‘I could do that’.  And neither sentence has anything to do with the Past.”

“Yes, ‘I could do that’ just sounds as if you didn’t really want to do whatever it was.”

“I prefer to think of it as being tentative. Just like ‘could’ is in ‘I wonder if I could join you’. But there are other ways of making that sentence more tentative. For instance I could have said ‘I wondered if I could join you. This time we’ve made the query more tentative by changing from Verb One to Verb Two.”

“And Verb Two is somehow more – what’s the word you keep using – tentative?”

“Yes. It’s a sort of metaphorical step back – away from the directness of a Verb One. But it’s possible to be even more tentative than that. For instance, do you remember – exactly – what I said when I came over to your table.”

“Actually, I think I do, because as I said, it sounded odd. You said ‘I was wondering if I could join you.”

“Nothing odd about that, Xiao Ling. But it is more tentative. Can you see what makes it more tentative than before?”

“Well the only thing that has changed is that you said ‘I was wondering’ instead of ‘I wondered’, so I guess that using the ‘–ing’ form of the verb somehow increases the tenta..tivit….”

Tentativeness of the expression,” finished Amnot.”But notice that whether we use the so called Past Simple or the so called Past Continuous, we are not concerned with the Past at all. My query is in the present. And my use of a Verb Two or an ‘–ing’ form doesn’t imply that I have spent ten minutes wondering about joining you at your table. I was just worried that you wouldn’t want any company. So I used more tentative language to give you the chance to say no politely.”

“That’s very sweet, Amnot. “But you needn’t have bothered to be so indirect. I’d have been perfectly happy if you had joined me without saying anything at all.”

They sat for while in silence, sipping their coffee.  Xiao Ling decided that now was as good a time as ever to try to find out where he came from.

“Actually,” she said, “There was something I was wondering about.”

“Is that so? What was that then?”

“Well, it’s a difficult question to ask. Sort of personal.”

“Go on, ask away. I won’t be offended.”

“Well, I was thinking that I didn’t know your age. I mean, you look about thirty, though you dress like someone much older.”

Amnot looked surprised. “Don’t you like my suit and hat?” he asked. “I thought I looked pretty smart.”

“You do, Amnot. Just a bit old-fashioned maybe. But that’s not what I wanted to ask you about.”

Amnot turned and looked at Xiao Ling, who was trying to find the right words to say.

“The thing is, I was wondering how old you were, really. I mean that programme ‘Follow me’, that was ages ago. I wasn’t even born. You can’t be old enough to have had a part in the TV programme.”

“No, you’re right. I wasn’t in the TV programme. I was involved with the workbook. I told you.”

It was Xiao Ling’s turn to look surprised.

“You were ‘involved’ in the workbook. What does that mean?”

“Well, that I was in it. I appeared on a number of pages, twirling my umbrella, being very English, and explaining English grammar.”

“You were in the book!?” Xiao Ling was astonished.

“Yes, But I escaped.”

“Escaped?”

“Yes. I found I didn’t like the language the book made me use to explain the grammar. Words like ‘Perfect’ and ‘Simple’ and the rest; they just made me mad. So I ran away, and started teaching people in my own way. I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Xiao Ling was amazed. She couldn’t believe her ears.

“That’s fantastic,” she said. “Unbelievable.”

“Yes, you’re right. It is unbelievable. So let’s keep it secret, shall we? Just between the two of us.”

Xiao Ling nodded in a confused kind of way..

“Please don’t mention what I told you to your friends. In any case, if you do, they’ll only think that you’ve gone mad. They won’t believe you for a minute.”

“I must tell Seif though.”

“Yes, tell Seif, of course. I know you’ll tell Seif. Where is he anyway? You’re usually together.” said Amnot, looking around.

“I don’t know,” Xiao Ling managed to say. “I saw him earlier and he said he was coming at 12 o’clock. We’re having lunch together.”

“It’s twenty past. He’s late.”

“He often arrives late for things.”

“Send him a text,” suggested Amnot.

Xiao Ling texted Seif, and she and Amnot sat in silence waiting for Seif to reply. Xiao Ling was too amazed by what Amnot had told her to speak: she had found out Amnot’s secret, and it was stupendous.

Her phone rang. “Seif says he’s coming’,” she told Amnot.

“Are you sure?” asked Amnot.

Xiao Ling showed him the phone.

“He said ‘I am coming’ Look. You can read what he said.”

“Yes, said Amnot. “It looks like he’ll be here in a minute or two.”

“Yes.”

“By the way, Xiao Ling, did you notice that you told me he was coming in three different ways.”

“What? ”

“The last one was ‘He said ‘I am coming’.’’ You quote his exact words, but you said ‘he said’ not ‘he says’, maybe you felt a bit defensive because I was challenging you. The second way you reported what he said was the most direct. You said ‘He says he is coming.’ You were so confident that he wouldn’t be long that you used Verb One,”

“You’re right. I did.”

“Before you texted him though,” Amnot went on, “you were much less confident, and your language was more tentative. You were beginning to think that maybe he wasn’t going to come. ‘He said he was coming’ you told me, using Verb Two to indicate that you were having doubts.”

Amnot looked up.

“Not that you needed to have doubts of course. Here Seif comes – now.”

Xiao Ling craned her neck to see Seif. She realised straightaway what was going to happen. There was a noise like a chair scraping backwards, and when Xiao Ling turned back and looked, Amnot had gone. She still didn’t know whether he had vanished before she heard the noise or after.

She shrugged. “Hard luck, Seif,” she said. “Amnot’s gone. This time it was you who just missed him.

“What did he say?”

“Quite a lot, I’ll tell you all about it. It was quite amazing.”

“I’ve heard grammar being described in lots of ways,” said Seif. “But no-one has ever called it amazing before. Let’s go to lunch, and you can amaze me with the Past Imperfect Continuous Negative, or whatever it is that you have got so excited about.”

Xiao Ling started to reply, but Seif stopped her. “No, not now, really. Lunch first, then you can tell me all about it.”

Xiao Ling opened her mouth again. And then she shrugged.

“Seif,” she said as she picked up her bag, “About lunch. I was wondering….”

“Yes? What

“I was wondering if I could join you,” said Xiao Ling.

Seif looked at her strangely. “What an odd thing to ask”, he thought. But he didn’t say anything. It was probably something to do with Amnot Rong, he guessed.

They stood up. “Of course you can,” he said. And they set off for the cafe, hand in hand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amnot Rong’s quiet query.

“I was wondering if you

understood that the more

tentative you are about

saying something, the

more likely you are to

use either Verb Two or

 Was/were +–ing.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix.

Check this out:

Verb One: Sure. Practice [Original dialogue:Key]

 

“What did you learn from Amnot, Seif?”

“Well, all kinds of stuff.” He smiled. “For one thing, I learned that Chinese people put their family names first. We do the same as the English; we put our family names last.”

“Yeah,” said Xiao Ling. “Though when we’re in Europe lots of Chinese turn their names round. So I would be Xiao Ling Huang. I stopped doing that, though. It was too confusing.”

“Yes, I can see that it would be. Unless you all did the same.”

Xiao Ling shook her head. “Names are confusing. But that’s not what I meant, Seif. I meant what did you learn from Amnot about English?”

“I don’t know. I learned that my head hurts. What do you remember about what Amnot told us? Your memory’s better than mine.”

“Well, Iet’s see. It all made sense when he explained it. I remember he told us about the Present SImple. For one thing, he said that it should be called ‘Verb One: Sure’, even though most teachers around the world still call it the Present Simple.”

“That’s right. When I studied it at school, we always referred to it as the Present Simple. The thing is, though, I never really understood what ‘The Present Simple’ meant, and in fact I still don’t

“No. Amnot was right when he said, ‘It isn’t simple at all.’”

“What gets me is that English speakers use this Tense to talk about things that extend across the Past and the Future as well as the Present

“The Moon goes round the Earth. That’s an example of the Verb One Sure.”

“Yes. That’s a fact at any time. We know that’s always true.”

“Mm, yes. Mind you it’s not very long ago that people believed that the Sun went round the Earth..”

“Yes. But when we state a scientific fact, something that was true in the past, is true now, and will be true in the future, then it’s Verb One we use every time.”

“And, Seif, when we talk about habits or routines, we usually use the Verb One Sure as well.”

“Just like we did just now, in fact, when we said that most teachers use the term Present Simple.”

“But the most surprising thing is that Verb One can be used to talk about the Future, as long as you feel confident that something is going to happen.”

“So, if you know that something always happens at a certain time you can talk about it using what Amnot calls ‘Verb One: Sure’. In fact, I read a story in the paper just the other day, about the next time an eclipse of the sun will be visible from Britain. The article said that the moon next passes in front of the sun on July23rd, 2093.”

“Wow! That’s a long time.”

“Yes, but the astronomers are sure that a partial eclipse of the sun takes place on that date. So sure, in fact, that they use the Verb One Sure to talk about it.”

“But, Xiao Ling, noone can ever be completely sure about the future, can they?”

“No, you’re right. You never really know what’s going to happen next. Maybe we should suggest to Amnot that he should rename it ‘The Verb One Nearly Sure.”

“You could suggest it,” laughed Xiao Ling, “But it doesn’t sound like something Amnot would say.”

“No. I guess you’re right. It’s not snappy enough,” said Seif. Then he started wondering about the little ELF again. “How did he know about my brother?” he asked. “I wish I knew. It’s really bugging me.”

 

 

Verb Two: Simple?      Practice      Original dialogue: Key

Look at the following dialogue, and write an appropriate word in each space.

 

Seif and Huang Xiao ling were sitting having lunch together. As was often the case lately they were talking about Amnot Rong. They wondered where he came from, and where he went, and how old he was. They were puzzled by him in so many ways. Why did he always make a noise like a car or a train or something when he arrived and left? What were his outsize watches all about? Why did he carry an umbrella, when he never unfurled it? Didn’t he know that nobody wore a bowler hat these days? How did he know that Seif had a brother? Why did he help students with problems learning English? Did he have a family? Where did they live? And so on. They had hundreds of questions. The problem was they didn’t have any answers, so in the end all they could really talk about was what he had taught them about that crazy language – English.

“So, what did you learn from Amnot this time, Xiao Ling?” asked Seif.

“Well, let’s see. I learned that there are three main forms of the verb in English.”

“Yes, Verb One, which is often described as the basic form of the verb.”

“Yes, and it’s sometimes called ‘the infinitive’, whatever that means. Anyway, Verb One means words like ‘study’, ‘work’, ‘drive’, ‘eat’, ‘drink’ and so on,” agreed  Seif.

“And I know now, that the only helping verb that goes with Verb Two is Did.”

“Don’t forget ‘do’. Xiao Ling.”

I’m not forgetting ‘do’; it’s just part of the same verb. ‘Do’, ‘did’, ‘done’. You see?”

“Oh, right. And ‘did’ goes with Verb Two if you want to make a question or deny something.”

“Well no. As a matter of fact, it doesn’t go with Verb Two at all.”

“It doesn’t? But I thought…”

“You weren’t listening carefully enough, Seif. ‘Did’ doesn’t go with with Verb Two; it goes with Verb One.”

“But I don’t understand. I thought we were talking about Verb Two.”

“We were. We are. ‘Did’ with Verb One is equal to Verb Two.”

Seif shook his head. “No, sorry,” he said. “I don’t get it.”

“It’s easy really,” said Xiao Ling. “’Amnot explained it very well’.”

What? Are you saying I’m stupid?” said Seif. He sounded a little angry.

“No, of course not, Seif,” said the Chinese girl hurriedly.“That’s an example – ‘Amnot explained it very well’. The verb is a Verb Two.  But if we want to ask a question we need to say ‘Did Amnot explain it very well?’  Verb One, see?”

Seif smiled. “Now I get it,” he said. “You know, Amnot didn’t explain it very well at all.  But you did. Thanks.”

And together they set off towards the classroom. It was time for their next lesson. As they walked along next to the lake, Xiao Ling couldn’t help wondering what Amnot had meant when he talked about ‘the once and future verb’.

“Seif,” she said. “Does ’once’ have another meaning? Apart from ‘once, twice, and so on.”

“Mm. Yes. I think so. It means ‘in the past’. You know, stories often begin ‘Once upon a time’. It means ‘a long time ago’.”

“I wonder what Amnot meant, then,” said Xiao Ling. “How can a verb mean something in the past as well as something in the future.  It just sounds crazy to me.”

“What do you expect?” answered Seif. “English is crazy after all.”

The Once and Future Verb.            Practice      Original dialogue:  key

Look at the following dialogue, and write an appropriate word in each space.

 

“So, what did you learn from Amnot yesterday, Xiao Ling?  It was the next day, and the two friends were on their way to class.

“Well, let’s see,” said Xiao Ling, with a smile. “I learned that you and your brother argue too much, and that you play football. And that you were over the moon after the match, whatever that means.”

“It means really happy.  But, I didn’t mean what did you learn about me? What I meant was what do you remember about what Amnot said about Tenses?”

“Well, let’s see. I learned that what Amnot calls Verb Two can be used to talk about the Future and the Past

“Yes, it seems ridiculous, but it’s true.”

“It’s all to do with what he called that ‘nasty little word’,’If’”

“If I understood ‘if’, I’d be so happy.”

The two friends sat in silence for a while. Then Xiao Ling said, “By the way, I saw your brother Abdullah earlier on. Did you know that he went to Manchester yesterday, as well as to Liverpool.”

“What? If he planned to go to Manchester, he never told me.”

“Something else for you to argue about,” said Xiao Ling.

“I’ll make him take me to Manchester next week. He promised that we would go to Old Trafford together.”

“I see,” said Xiao Ling. “If he went to Manchester next week you could go with him.”

“Yes, you’re right. If he visited Manchester next week he could take me with him. But I don’t think it’s very likely.”

“Why?”

“Because he’s been there already. He’s unlikely to want to go again next week. Really, he makes me very angry. He just doesn’t think about me at all. He went off with his new friends, and didn’t think about what he had promised me.”

“What had he promised you?”

“He had promised me that he would take me to Old Trafford, to watch United play. I was looking forward to going.”

“Never mind, you can always go on your own,”

Seif looked doubtful. Then he smiled. “You know, Xiao Ling, you’re right. If I go on my own, it’ll be an adventure, and it will be more peaceful. If I had gone with Abdullah he would’ve argued with me all the way there, and all the way back again.”

“What do the two of you argue about, anyway?”

“Everything. Anything. We can start an argument about anything at all.”

It’s a pity, Seif. Brothers should be friends.”

“Oh, we’re friends alright. We’re the best of friends. We just argue a lot.”

The Paster Past                       Practice

Look at the following dialogue, and write an appropriate word in each space.

“So you’ve been sitting here for half an hour, talking to Amnot.  What did you learn?”

“Well, I learned that he never seems to stop working. If he’s not with us, he’s with some other students.”

“Really? That’s amazing! You mean, he never takes time off? He’s always teaching somebody somewhere?”

“Yes. At least, that’s what I understood. Astonishing, isn’t it? Oh, and I asked him about his parents

“Really? What  did he say?”

“ Well, it was a bit odd really. He said that ‘they had passed their final examination. They had gone on to the next level’ It was kind of spooky.”

“Wow. I wish I had been here.”

“ Yes, you really missed out.”

“There’s no need to rub it in. What did you talk about anyway? Tell me all about it.”

“Well we spent most of the time talking about the ‘Paster’ Past.”

“The pasta what?”

“Well, it’s what we usually call the Past Perfect.”

“But Amnot didn’t like that name for it, right?”

“How did you guess? He didn’t like it at all. He thought it didn’t help people like me and you.”

“He’s right there. I’ve always found the Past Perfect a difficult tense to use.”

“Me too. Because it doesn’t just depend on something being more in the past than something else.”

“So what does it depend on, then?”

“Well, I think we use the Paster Past when it matters that one action in the past happened before another.”

“Did he give you any examples, Seif?”

“Yes, he told me about what he did yesterday; or rather, what he failed to do.”

What do you mean?”

“Well, he said he tried to meet us yesterday. In fact he said he had arranged it with you. I told him you hadn’t mentioned it to me.”

We did bump into each other, but he was in a hurry, and I didn’t really catch what he said. I was going to ask him to repeat, but he vanished before I had a chance. You know how quickly he disappears. He makes a noise like a train or a car, or something, and he’s gone. That’s what happened the other day. I opened my mouth to ask him what he had said, but he had gone.”

“He also said he went to our classroom, but he was too late to see us. The lecture had already started.”

“Okay, I get it. The class had started before he arrived. That’s two actions, both in the Past, one before the other. First the class started, and then Amnot arrived.” Xiao Ling hesitated. “But we can talk about them using Verb Two.”

“Yes, but when the sequence of events really matters, we can use the Paster Past to make this clear.”

“So we can say ‘Amnot came to see us – which is in the Past – but we had already gone into the classroom’- which is in the Paster Past.”

“Right, Xiao Ling. He also said that when you arrived after the class today, I could say that I had spent ages talking to him, all on my own.”

“Is that what he said, really? How unfair! Just because I got to class on time, you spent time with Amnot. If I had been late for class like you, I would’ve seen him too.”

“You’re right. It isn’t fair. Just think. If my alarm had gone off at the right time, Amnot and I wouldn’t have met this morning.”

Xiao Ling didn’t answer, but the expression on her face said it all.

The Future: Subjective         Practice Key. Original text

Look at the following dialogue, and write an appropriate word in each space.

 

So, did Amnot explain the Future well, or not, Xiao Ling?”

“He explained the Future Tense, which was what I wanted.”

The two friends were sitting in a small walled garden not far from the Trent building. It was a beautiful place that most people didn’t know existed. Seif and Xiao Ling often went there to relax and chat.

“I must say I was surprised when he said that there was no Future Tense.”

Yes, Seif, it took me by surprise too. But it made sense. After all, as he said, the problem with the Future is that it hasn’t happened yet.”

“So, how we think about it changes according to the situation. What was it he said? We can predict the Future, we can hope for something to happen in the Future, we can worry about the Future. Something like that anyway, and it means we can use different tenses in different situations.”

“Yes, so we use ‘Will’ to volunteer to do something on the spur of the moment.”

“And we use ‘going to’, if we’re really making plans for something.”

But the most common way of talking about the future is to say ‘What are you doing tomorrow?’ ‘I’m working; then I’m going to the cinema’.”

“Yes, it came as a bit of a shock. I mean, I’ve always thought that teachers knew what they were doing. But in this case it seems that they didn’t.”

“I think you’re being a bit too critical, Seif. Not to mention unfair. The Present Continuous…”And Xiao Ling looked around nervously, wondering if Amnot Rong was going to appear suddenly from behind a bush, to tell her off for using words he hated. She hesitated, and then went on, confident that he wasn’t listening. “… Present Continuous is used quite correctly to talk about things that are happening at this very moment. The teachers didn’t have it wrong. And choosing something because it’s easy to teach isn’t a bad idea either.”

“No,” said Seif, “but it was a mistake not to teach us  that the main function of the Present Continuous (it was his turn to look around nervously) is to talk about the Future.”

Xiao Ling decided it is time to change the subject.

“I liked what he said about certainty,” she said. “It’s interesting isn’t it, that this idea seems to be so important in English? It seems to be the case that the more certain you are about something, whether you’re talking about the future or the present, the more likely you are to use Verb One.”

“Yes, and the more uncertain you are, the more likely you are to use Verb Two.”

“Is that true? I don’t remember Amnot saying that.”

“He didn’t. It’s just something I’ve noticed. If people want to express doubt or uncertainty, they kind of step back, metaphorically, it’s what we used to call the Past. I mean, I could offer you a drink, and say “Do you want to drink?” But if I’m feeling a bit nervous or uncertain I’d be likely to say “Did you want to drink?” it’s got nothing to do with the past; both questions our offering the drink now. It’s all to do with being uncertain.”

“That’s very clever, Seif. And I see what you’re getting at; after all, what could be more uncertain than the Future.”

“Well yes and no. We all know that the future is uncertain, but we behave as if it wasn’t. That’s why I can talk about my trip to Manchester at the weekend, as if it was an absolute certainty.”

“Yes tell me about your trip. When do you leave?”

“See? You’re doing it now.”

“Doing what?”

“Talking about the future as if it was fixed.”

“Well, I know it’s not fixed really. But anyway, I’ll make a prediction. You go to Manchester at the weekend. You have a great time at the match. Your train is on time. Manchester United win. And your brother is really jealous.”

They looked at each other and smiled. Talking about the future was fun, even if it hadn’t happened yet.”

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