Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Helping verbs

Is, am, are,
Was, were,
Be, being, been,
Have, has, had,
May, might,
Can, could,
Will, would,
Shall, should.

I threaten from time to time to use my blog as a weapon in the war for the English language. (In case you are not aware, our language is under attack. I see and hear casualties daily, and my heart goes out to the poor language!) I'm not sure I'm ready to start that just yet, but since I do have an English degree, I think it's fair to talk about language every now and then.

Last night I was lying in bed, and somehow because of the conversation my husband and I had just had, I was thinking about the verb "should," and then this little list from seventh grade English class popped into my head.

The auxiliary verbs, or "helping verbs," as we called them, could be used to tie in with the volunteer concept from the last post (they don't call attention to themselves, but we couldn't get along without them...)

Or I could write about how we counselors work hard to get people to check their use of the word "should," which often isn't very helpful in the ways it gets used.

Or we could look at the etymology of these words, in which case I would have to do some research. But I do like the way they keep us connected to our Anglo-Saxon roots. (You know, "where hast thou been?" "Wherefore art thou?" and that sort of thing.)

And it would be fascinating to look at how auxiliary verbs in other languages are similar to and different from these we use in English.

But for now I'm not going to write about any of that. I'm just having fun saying "is am are was were be being been have has had may might can could will would shall should" whenever it comes to mind. It's kind of soothing, kind of reassuring, kind of empowering, somehow.

And I'd love comments on what lists you remember from earlier years that have stuck with you throughout time. Or poems, or formulas, or whatever. In English or other languages. Something you're not sure why you remember, but enjoy remembering. Like why did the first verse and chorus of "Guantanamera" stay with me from sixth grade? I have no idea, but I have fun singing it.

(And if you'd promise to start sharing my blog with all your friends and co-workers, I would consider arming people to fight back in the war for the language! In other words, I would explain the common mistakes I hear and how my dear readers can keep themselves from falling prey to these attacks. Maybe together we could make a difference!)


Lisa said...

Here are some possible sources in your search for the origins of our helping verbs:

1. The Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson

2. Word Origins: Etymology for Everyone by Anatoly Liberman

And to answer the question of what I remember from Elementary School, how 'bout this little ditty? Everyone should know the tune:

"We the people, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility (tranquility), provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare an-and procure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity do ordain and establish this constitution of the United States o-o-of America."

Or how about "Interjections! Show excitement! and emotion! hallelujah! hallelujah! Ha-lle-lu-jah!"

Or spelling the word "Habakkuk" like a cheerleader would:

"OH, an H and an A and a B and an A and a K and a K and a *U* and a K!"

Gotta love -- ahem!-- got to love good elementary school teachers. :-)

Sheila said...

Many thanks. And many memories! I wonder if anyone besides Mrs. Lawson taught that way to spell Habakkuk?? I've never found anyone not from Harding who did it.

Sheila said...
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Nat said...

Non so se e' qualcosa di enjoyable, ma appena hai chiesto le liste che ci ricordavamo, la mia e' stata: di a da in con su per tra fra. E' tutto quello che mi ricordo dalla scuola! A dire il vero mi ricordo anche che la somma degli angoli interni di un triangolo e' 180 gradi (ho impressionato una mamma homeschooler di un ragazzo di 14 anni con questa mia conoscenza geometrica!).. mah!
Voglio solo aggiungere che, sebbene non sia di madrelingua inglese, condivido la tua passione per la correttezza nel parlare. (peccato che ora che parlo piu' inglese non riesco piu' a parlare bene neanche l'italiano!!! Come e' strano il cervello.. specie il mio!) E' meglio che chiuda qui. Ci si.

Lawrence Underwood said...

Well, I guess we three offspring of an English professor are in agreement; and have several of the same memories.

Sheila, you have nailed one of my pet peeves: the devolution of our language. It drives me insane. I do not believe that it is linguistic drift. Rather, I believe that at the roots it is intentional.

My personal campaign at present is the improper use of reflexive pronouns. People like myself take that very seriously. (Anybody catch that?)

Let's launch a salvo amidst the battle for linguistic integrity.