"Tee-cha, can you explain?"
It's my break, but Alper is standing there, notebook in hand, looking troubled. Alper needs all the help he can get, but quite apart from that, Alper is one of the students I've identified as a trier. He may not be Einstein, but boy, does he do his best. He turns in his homework every time, faithfully writes in his journal, and frequently asks me reasonably pertinent questions. I will do just about anything for a student who tries -- they're thin on the ground around here. Giving up my break is the very least I can do.
"What do you want me to explain?"
"Why this did this one not?"
"I'm sorry, can you repeat that?"
"Why this did, this one not did?" He holds out the notebook. In it, he has written the following two sentences:
Who did Madonna marry? and Who married Madonna?
"Why this one did, this one not did?" he asks.
Okay, now I get it: he wants to know why you use the auxiliary verb 'did' in the first question, but not in the second question.
Fortunately, I'm right on top of this one: I asked a Turkish colleague about it just last month. This is one of those niggling idiosyncrasies that we native speakers of English manage to absorb with our graham crackers and milk, but non-native speakers have to learn explicitly. Fortunately for me, I teach with a lot of non-native speakers of English. I've never met a non-native speaker of English worth his or her salt who couldn't explain this better than I can.
"Okay," I say now, writing on the board Who did Madonna marry? " In this sentence, Madonna is the subject because she is the one who is marrying someone." I point out that the word who here should technically be whom because it is the object of the sentence, not the subject. And that when the answer is not the same as the subject, we have to use the auxiliary did. I then explain how the opposite is true in the sentence Who married Madonna? In this sentence, Who is the subject, and the answer will be the same as the subject, so we don't use the auxiliary.
We go through a few more examples of this until Alper obviously understands. He leaves the classroom with a satisfied look on his face and I feel like doing a little jig on my desk; it's not often that I get my point across. Now Alper knows the difference between the objective and the subjective and one little bit of chaos has been turned to order.
But I've missed my break and I'm more than ready for a trip to the ladies' room after the class. Unfortunately, when I get back to the teachers' lounge, I am irritated to see that the key is missing -- again. I scrawl the following sentence on the board: Will whoever took the ladies' room key please return it?
A few hours later, as I'm getting ready to leave for the day, I see that some idiot has changed my perfectly correct whoever to the incorrect whomever. Shocking but true: one of my colleagues does not know the difference between the objective and the subjective.
On the board, I circle the offending whomever and write the following: Will whoever made this correction please consider a review of the subjective and objective cases?
I know I could have just walked away from this, but I'm all about order over chaos.
Thursday, 9 April 2009
"Tee-cha, can you explain?"