Thursday, January 27, 2011

Are or do

Just heard a commercial that featured one of those odd uncoordinated coordinations that happens because English treats 'to be' as though it were an auxiliary verb:
Are you between 55 and 80 or know someone who is?
They're trying to coordinate two questions, and generally we omit the second auxiliary - but only when it's the same one as the first. But "know" takes "do" to make questions (and negatives) - as do all lexical verbs. "Be", however, doesn't* - in fact, "be" itself is its own auxiliary. "You know someone - do you know someone?" but "you are between 55 and 80 - are you between 55 and 80?"

So the perfectly coordinated construction - compare "do you watch television or know someone who does?" - falls apart.

* There are in fact plenty of Englishes that treat "be" as a lexical verb, with do-support constructions such as "Do you be between..." and "I do not be...", but Modern Standard English isn't one of them.

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At 10:30 AM, January 28, 2011 Blogger Barry Leiba had this to say...

Well, and it's interesting to observe that the auxiliary use of "do" is on the new side. As you say, we now say
You know Bill.
Do you know Bill?

But we used to say
You know Bill.
Know you Bill?

...which parallels the "you are / are you" usage.

And we can still hear that kind of talk among certain groups that retain archaic speech patterns and words (like "thee" and "thou").

At 10:46 AM, January 28, 2011 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

Indeed. And negatives didn't have "do" either - know you not? You know not.


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