In my essay on the usage of the pronoun ‚Äúnone‚ÄĚ that I posted here last week, I explained that ‚Äúnone‚ÄĚ is treated as singular when it means ‚Äúnot one‚ÄĚ and as plural when it means ‚Äúnot any.‚ÄĚ But the senior PR executive who wondered about this particular usage had an interesting related question about the usage of the pronoun ‚Äúyou‚ÄĚ: If, in fact, ‚Äúyou‚ÄĚ is either singular or plural depending on the speaker‚Äôs or writer‚Äôs intention, why is it grammatically correct to say ‚ÄúDo you (still) have a problem with your grammar?‚ÄĚ but grammatically wrong to say ‚ÄúDo you (still) has a problem with your grammar?‚ÄĚ Indeed, from the looks of it, there seems to be a grammatical contradiction here.
This is why in a subsequent issue of The Manila Times, I wrote a follow-up essay, ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs the helping verb that takes the tense,‚ÄĚ to explain this rather curious state of affairs. In that essay, which I am now posting in this week‚Äôs edition of the Forum, I discussed the even more compelling grammatical reason for using ‚Äúhave‚ÄĚ instead of ‚Äúhas‚ÄĚ in ‚Äúdo‚ÄĚ-questions like the one that had puzzled the senior PR executive. (December 10, 2010)
It‚Äôs the helping verb that takes the tense
In my previous column (posted here in the Forum last week), I explained to a senior PR executive why I used the singular verb form ‚Äúhas‚ÄĚ for the subject ‚Äúnone‚ÄĚ in this sentence construction of mine: ‚ÄúI hope none of you still has a problem choosing between ‚Äėbring‚Äô and ‚Äėtake‚Äô...‚ÄĚ He had wondered if I should have used the plural verb form ‚Äúhave‚ÄĚ instead in the same way that it‚Äôs used in this example that he provided: ‚ÄúI don‚Äôt want to be caught saying ‚ÄėDo you (still) has?‚Äô We should all ask ‚ÄėDo you (still) have?‚Äô‚ÄĚ
I explained that he was correct in using the plural verb form ‚Äúhave‚ÄĚ in that sentence construction because in contrast to my sentence construction, the subject is clearly the pronoun ‚Äúyou.‚ÄĚ This, I pointed out, is because ‚Äúyou‚ÄĚ‚ÄĒby some quirk of English grammar‚ÄĒalways requires the plural form of the verb regardless of whether it‚Äôs meant to be singular or plural. But I added in closing that there‚Äôs an even more compelling reason for using ‚Äúhave‚ÄĚ in ‚Äúdo‚ÄĚ-questions like the one he had supplied.
That reason is the same I gave to a Hong Kong-based Filipina journalist-teacher who‚ÄĒalmost at the same time as the senior PR executive‚ÄĒwrote me seeking an answer to this question posed by an adult Chinese student of hers: ‚ÄúWhy do we combine the past and present tenses in sentences like ‚ÄėI did not go to school yesterday‚Äô? Why isn‚Äôt it ‚ÄėI did not went to school [instead]‚Äô? How do you define that sentence construction? Is there a special term for it, or do we just say ‚ÄėIt‚Äôs that way because that‚Äôs the rule‚Äô?‚ÄĚ
Here now is the common reason for that usage that baffled both the senior PR executive and the adult Chinese student of the Filipina journalist-teacher: English has three primary helping verbs‚ÄĒ‚Äúdo,‚ÄĚ ‚Äúbe,‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúhave.‚ÄĚ Also called auxiliary verbs, they help the main verb in a sentence form questions, negatives, and some verb tenses. The general rule is that when a helping verb is used in a sentence, it‚Äôs the helping verb that takes the tense, while the main verb takes its base form (the infinitive of the verb without the ‚Äúto,‚ÄĚ as in ‚Äúmake‚ÄĚ from the infinitive ‚Äúto make‚ÄĚ).
‚ÄúDo‚ÄĚ in particular is used to (a) indicate questions, (b) indicate the negative of a statement, and (c) emphasize a statement. Here are the particulars of its usage:
(a) ‚ÄúDo‚ÄĚ to indicate a question: ‚ÄúDid he take the bus?‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúDoes he take the bus?‚ÄĚ In both the past and present tense, it‚Äôs the helping verb ‚Äúdo‚ÄĚ that takes the tense. The main verb ‚Äútake‚ÄĚ doesn‚Äôt take the tense and remains in its base form.
Note that when ‚Äúdo‚ÄĚ is used as a helping verb to form a question, the main verb always takes its base form‚ÄĒwhich just happens to look like the plural form when, in fact, it‚Äôs really not‚ÄĒregardless of whether the subject (or doer of the action) is singular or plural. In all cases, it‚Äôs the helping verb ‚Äúdo‚ÄĚ that takes the tense, as in these questions that have plural subjects: ‚ÄúDid they take the bus?‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúDo they take the bus?‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúDid we take the bus?‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúDo we take the bus?‚ÄĚ
(b) ‚ÄúDo‚ÄĚ to indicate the negative of a statement: ‚ÄúI did not take the bus.‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúI don‚Äôt take the bus.‚ÄĚ In both these sentences, it‚Äôs the helping verb ‚Äúdo‚ÄĚ that takes the tense. The main verb ‚Äútake‚ÄĚ doesn‚Äôt take the tense and remains in its base form.
(c) ‚ÄúDo‚ÄĚ to emphasize a statement: ‚ÄúI did take the bus.‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúI do take the bus.‚ÄĚ Here, ‚Äúdo‚ÄĚ works to strongly emphasize a response to a particular question like, say, ‚ÄúDid (or ‚ÄúDo‚ÄĚ) you really take the bus?‚ÄĚ Again, in such cases, it‚Äôs the helping verb ‚Äúdo‚ÄĚ that takes the tense. The main verb ‚Äútake‚ÄĚ doesn‚Äôt take the tense and remains in its base form. (June 20, 2009)
From the weekly column ‚ÄúEnglish Plain and Simple‚ÄĚ by Jose A. Carillo in The Manila Times, June 20, 2009 ¬© 2009 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.