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Of past participles...
SAMPLE I: “He said the areas were (where) the law was consider absolute include the prescribe fine under the new law which was consider inadequate. She commended the commission for organising the forum which he said will give the presidents and members of the Customary Court a full grasp of the law and its applications... the CJ said such sentence can be apply if there is a provision from the law... she said for such sentences to be consider, the present law will have to be review. (Magistrate Urged to Apply Customary Court Law, The Nation, Tuesday, April 24, 2011).
There are embarrassing serial errors, consistently of the same type, exhibited by this except that leave no one in doubt as to the reporter’s degree of ignorance in the aspect of grammar concerned. The consistency of the errors makes an explanation in favour of carelessness or memory lapses an untenable one. These errors are a harvest of ignorance, total and pernicious. At any rate, whatever explanation may be offered by anyone, the errors are simply unflattering to the prestige and competence of the reporter.
Here are the errors: “was consider obsolete;” “the prescribe fined;” “was consider inadequate;” “can be apply;” “such sentences to be consider;” “have to be review”. As can be seen, there are six such blunders.
It is interesting that the correction is a very simple application: just attach –d or -ed to each of the defective words. However, the structural twists and bends may not be as simple, at least for a writer who has betrayed such a fundamental deficiency.
By suffixing each of the relevant words with –d or –ed, we are suggesting that the appropriate forms in these contexts are past participles. This raises the crucial questions: what are past participles? In what structural contexts do they occur?
There are two important contexts in which the past participle form occurs: the perfect tense and the passive structure.
The perfect tense is of the nature: have/has/had plus a past participle form: (1) Janet has broken her promise. (2) The aggrieved persons have written a petition. (3) The girls have bitten more they can chew. (4) The Director-General had spoken in our favour.
(5) We have risen above pettiness. (6) The principal has bought a new car. (7) The lawyer has raised an important question. (8) The journalist has offered a satisfactory explanation. (9) The ruling party has encouraged the use of violence. (10) The dogs have attacked their neighbours. (11) The chairman had cheated the whole community.
Each of the sentences has a have-form (has/had/have) and a past participle. Please note that each of the participles in sentences (1) - (5) ends in –en: broken, written, bitten, spoken, and risen. Understandably, many beginners have no problem recognising and using them as past participles. However in sentences (6) – (11), each of the past participles has an appearance of a past simple form: bought, raised, offered, encouraged, attacked, and cheated.
Beginners have a tendency to confuse these with past simple forms. They are not past simple forms but past participles in view of the fact that they occur in the context of the perfect tense. It is true that some past participles share forms with the past simple forms but the contexts should differentiate them. Once a form is preceded by have/has/had, it should be recognised as a past participle: had shared; has swept; had painted; have assured; have encouraged, etc.
Now, we come to the past participle forms in the context of passive structures. Read the following sentences: (1) Pidgin English was spoken during the interaction. (2) Petitions were written by disgruntled members. (3) The unfortunate girl was bitten by a snake. (4) The team was beaten mercilessly by the visiting team. (5) The promises have been broken by the treacherous partners.
(6) The results were withheld by the examination body. (7) The flight has been cancelled. (8) The offers have been accepted by us.
(9) The matter is being discussed by the UN Security Council. (10) The prices have been reduced. (11) Production is currently being expanded. (12) The children were encouraged to read.
Again sentences (1) – (5) contain the past participles that the beginners are generally familiar with, like those exemplified earlier: spoken, written, bitten, beaten, and broken. Others share forms with the past simple forms: withheld; cancelled; accepted; discussed; reduced; expanded; and encouraged.
That the latter do not end in –en like the former does not make them less of past participles than their counterparts. The relevant question should be: Do they occur in the structure of passive sentences? If the answer is yes, then the forms in question are past participles.
Let me draw your attention to something very crucial about the positioning of past participles in passive structures. The past participle occurs directly after a relevant form of be: are, were, is, was, am, been, being, be. Hence: was spoken (sentence 1); were written (sentence 2); was bitten (sentence 3); was beaten (sentence 4); been broken (sentence 5); were withheld (sentence 6); been cancelled (sentence 7); been accepted (sentence 8); being discussed (sentence 9); been reduced (sentence 10); being expanded (sentence 11); and were encouraged (sentence 12).
It is grammatically unthinkable to have any form other than participles in the slots immediately before the be – forms identified above. To provide forms other than past participles in those contexts is to produce outrageous grammatical blunders, the sort we are addressing in the excerpt under examination.
Imagine the following, perverted versions of the twelve sentences: *(1) Pidgin was *speak... *(2) Petitions were *write... *(3) The unfortunate girl was *bite... *(4) The team was *beat... *(5) The promises have been *break... *(6) The results were *withhold... (7) The flight has been *cancel... *(8) The offers have been *accept... *(9) The matter is being *discuss... *(10) The prices have been *reduce... *(11) Production is currently being *expand... *(12) The children were *encourage...
The errors we have deliberately created for the purpose of illustration are not different in kind from those ignorantly produced by the reporter. Here are the errors again: (1) The law was *consider... (2) The *prescribe fine... (3) The new law which was *consider... (4) Such sentence can be *apply... (5) Such sentences to be *consider... (6) The present law will have to be *review...
The errors are corrected by simply changing the relevant words to their past participle forms: (1) The law was considered... (2) The prescribed fine... (3) The new law which was considered... (4) Such sentence can be supplied... (5) Such sentences can be considered... (6) The present law will have to be reviewed...
Next I draw your attention to the modal will which occurs in the structure “which he said will give the presidents”. Let us note the word said which is obviously in its past form. The choice of the past form discloses the intention of the reporter to use the reported speech. One important principle of reported speech is sequence of tense. By sequence of tense is meant that the tense, present or past, should be maintained consistently throughout a sentence. Any inconsistency in the choice of tense forms breaches the principle of sequence of tense.
That is exactly the problem we have with the structure under examination. The tense of the verb said is past while that of will is present, a situation that violates the principle of sequence of tense. To restore the principle, we have to change the modal will to its past form – would. A different situation would obtain if the verb said were to be in its present form. In that case we will have to retain the present form of the modal will: “which he says will give...”
The point we have made about that structure is also applicable to the following: “She said for such sentences to be considered, the present law will have...”. It should read: “She said for such sentences to be considered, the present law would have...”Share