3 Verbs in other languages
If you learned Spanish, German or French at school, you may remember toiling over complex verb forms that were very different from English. In fact, English verbs have a pretty limited number of forms compared to many other languages. Compare English with Spanish, for example.
In the present tense, most English verbs have only two forms:
|Second person||you (singular)||eat||you (plural)||eat|
The table above shows which forms of the verb eat are used with different pronouns (you’ll learn more about pronouns in Week 6). Eat stays the same when used with I, you, we, and they, and only changes when used with he, she, or it, where the morpheme -s is added. The more technical way of saying this is that most regular verbs use -s when they are used with the third person singular (he walks, she jogs, it sings, etc.). Despite all the terminology, the table above shows that things are pretty simple. In fact there are dialects of English where things are even simpler. For example, if you were in Cardiff, in Wales, you might hear -s added for all the different ‘persons’: I lives, we lives, etc. (Awbery, 2006, p. 333).
In Spanish, in contrast, there is a different form of the verb for each person:
|First person||(yo)||como||= I eat||(nosotros)||comemos||= we eat|
|Second person||(tu)||comes||= you* eat||(vosotros)||coméis||= you** eat|
|Third person||(él/ella)||come||= he/she eats||(ellos/ellas)||comen||= they eat|
Footnotes*this ‘you’ = one person; **this ‘you’ = several people (Spanish, like many other languages, has a different word for each case) Back to main text
One reason for this variety is that Spanish usually leaves out the personal pronoun (the equivalent of I, you etc), so the ending carries the information which in English is provided by I, you, we, they etc:
¿comes pescado? Do you eat fish?
¿comen pescado? Do they eat fish?
The contrast is even more marked in the past tense. English has one form for all persons, whether the verb is regular (I warned, you warned, he/she/it warned, we warned, they warned) or irregular (eat > ate, swim > swam, find > found). Spanish again has a different form for each person:
|First person||(yo)||comí||= I ate||(nosotros)||comimos||= we ate|
|Second person||(tu)||comiste||= you ate||(vosotros)||comisteis||= you ate|
|Third person||(él/ella)||comió||= he/she ate||(ellos/ellas)||comieron||= they ate|
If you think English looks simple compared to Spanish, some languages go even further. In Mandarin Chinese the equivalent of eat is a single unchanging form (chī, 吃). This goes with every person (I eat, you eat, he/she/it eats, we eat, they eat) but is also used for past, present and future. There are, of course, other parts of Mandarin grammar which make clear what time is being referred to.
Activity 7 Find the verb in other languages
The correct answer is c.
The correct answer is a.
The correct answer is c.
The correct answer is d.
If you have little or no familiarity with the language(s) in question, it’s a bit of a guessing game to try and choose the verb. But there are some clues. For example, you might guess that a short word like el in Spanish is unlikely to be a verb (in fact it’s the equivalent of ‘the’). In French, the words nous and vous look similar, so might not be the verb (they’re pronouns, equivalent to English ‘we’ and ‘you’). As for Mandarin, unless you know some of the language, this probably has to be a pure guess! This is because Mandarin is not related historically in any way to English, so there are no similarities (even distant ones) to act as clues, unlike voyage (= ‘trip’) in French, hat (= ‘has’) in German, or no (= ‘not’) in Spanish.
This activity was, as noted at the start, not a test. It was to help you think about how languages are similar and different to each other. If you are a speaker or learner of any of these languages, you can think about other aspects where the language you speak or study is closer to or further away from English. And remember, you are not expected to learn any different languages for this course – this activity is just for fun!