Thursday, January 25, 2018

English Can Be Tricky

Very little about the English language is straightforward. Here is the sample question that appears on the front of the final exam for the class, English 2002:

It _________ very cold today.

1.   Was
2.   Has been
3.   Is
4.   Will be

The teacher who made up this test is Thai, and I’m sure that he thinks that it’s an easy question. For a native English speaker, however, the first thing that comes to mind is that any of these four answers makes a perfectly good sentence, depending on the circumstances.

1.   If it is nine p.m. and you have had dinner after skiing all day, and you are sitting in front of a nice fire drinking a brandy, “it was very cold today!”
2.   If you are out hunting ducks, and you have been in the blind for hours, planning to stay for another couple of hours, “it has been cold today.”
3.   If you are on the phone with your friend, who lives in another city, and she asks you how’s the weather there, “it is very cold today.”
4.   If you are having breakfast in your hotel, and planning a walking tour of the city today, “it will be very cold today.”

The preferred answer is number 3, “is.” That is the teacher’s guidance on the matter. This, no doubt, is because “is” is the present tense of the verb, and “today” is your time-reference.

If only life were that simple!

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