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Author Topic: The grammar of imperative sentences with a double “that”  (Read 184 times)
Joe Carillo
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« on: July 11, 2017, 10:36:37 PM »

The following sentence that uses a double “that” was presented to me for analysis by Forum member Miss Mae: “Never mind that that taxation system would abolish other tax stratagems.”

I contended that (1) its first “that” is a subordinating conjunction linking the main clause “never mind” and the subordinate clause “that taxation system would abolish other tax stratagems”; and that (2) the second “that” is a pointing adjective.

This analysis drew this response from Forum member Glenn: “I vehemently disagree with Joe’s answer stating, among others, that in the phrase ‘that that taxation,’ the first ‘that’ is a subordinating conjunction. In what does it function as such? Perhaps Joe could explain this claim in detail to convince a doubting mind.”

I explained to Glenn that we need to recognize that the sentence in question is in the imperative mood, in which the person being commanded or asked to do something as well as the first-person entity doing the commanding are not identified but only implied. That sentence is, in fact, a deep form of ellipsis, which omits one or more obviously understood words that must be supplied to make the construction grammatically complete.

Formally, that ellipted sentence has the following grammatical structure: “I want you not to mind at all that that system would abolish other tax stratagems.” Here, we can clearly see that it’s a complex sentence consisting of an independent clause, “I want you not to mind at all,” linked by the first “that” to the subordinate clause, “that system would abolish other tax stratagems.” This is why that first “that” in the imperative construction can only be a subordinating conjunction.

In another discussion board, Forum member Royljc made the following posting: “I know that the past perfect is used in describing two past events in different time order, but can I use the past perfect to describe a single past event? And can I use the simple past form in the following sentence, ‘I lived in the US for three years,’ provided that I no longer live in the US afterwards? I’m having problems figuring out the difference between these two tenses.”

I told Royljc that the past perfect tense is indeed often used in sentences that describe two past events that happened at different times, as in the following: “The special car sale happened last week just when I had already bought my sedan.”

In such sentences, the event that happened earlier—the one that doesn’t have a specified time of occurrence—takes the past perfect, while the later event—the one that does have a specified time of occurrence—takes the past tense.

But yes, the past perfect tense can also be used to describe a single past event. This is when the time of occurrence of that particular past event is not specified or is unknown, as in this sentence: “The evidence had disappeared.”

Normally, though, such sentences in the past perfect follow another sentence in the simple past tense, as in this example: “Two weeks ago, the investigators looked for proof of the presence of the suspects at the scene of the crime. By then, the evidence had disappeared.”

Now, is the use of the simple past tense in this sentence presented by Royljc correct: “I lived in the US for three years”?

Of course, but only if the person speaking no longer lives in the US at the time of speaking. Otherwise, the present perfect progressive would be called for: “I have been living in the US for three years now.”

But if that person has lived in the US for three years until right before the time of speaking, then now lives in, say, Manila, the present perfect is the proper tense: “I have lived in the US for three years. Now I’m a Manila resident.” (2011)

This essay, 726th in the series, first appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the January 29, 2011 issue of The Manila Times, © 2011 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.
« Last Edit: July 11, 2017, 10:51:36 PM by Joe Carillo » Logged

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