Dog's Dinner

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Monday, December 06, 2004

Like, Totally Unreal, Man (Radio Dub)

[This piece has been revised somewhat as of 10:31 PM Poland time, December 6, 2004. I often revise pieces after the fact but in view of the glaring errors in the first paragraph of this one I am making note of it here. For those who encountered the earlier version, I can only say in my defense that a) whether in the internet cafe or the school library, my blogs are generally composed to the caterwauling of rambunctious teens and twentysomethings, rendering total concentration of the faculties a near-impossibility; b) I haven't actually been teaching English grammar since spring semester-- I now more or less exclusively "teach" or rather, conduct Conversation, of which more later-- so the technicalities aren't as fresh in my mind as they might be.]

Teachers of English as a Second Language generally train their students to measure the conditionals by ascending degrees of unreality (or, descending degrees of probability): The "Zero" Conditional is used for unchanging Laws of Existence: "If you die in your dream, you die." The First Conditional indicates a real possibility: "If you're a good girl, I'll buy you an orange." But not always a very real one: "If Will-o'-the-Wisp wins, we can go to the Bahamas." The Second, often used for daydreaming, indicates hypothetical situations of varying degrees of possibility or im: "If he were dead, you'd weep for him." "If you were a man, you'd fix that drain yourself." And the Third indicates something that never happened and now, never will. Sometimes used to advance an argument about the past which may affect the future: "If the Great Powers had jointly invaded Germany in 1936, the Holocaust wouldn't have happened." Other times used to wallow in self-loathing: "If I had listened to the color of my dreams, things would've turned out very differently."

Here are the Third Conditional sentences in Battersby's book, as written:
If Jane hadn't stayed out in the sun so long, we'd never have met each other.
If my parents had had more money, they wouldn't have stayed together so long.
If Mike and Cathy had got married, he wouldn't have got into trouble.
If we hadn't gone to Jackie's party, you would have enjoyed yourself.
If we'd arrived just a few minutes earlier, she wouldn't have got sunburnt.
Stupid man! If he'd followed our advice, I'm sure he would have regretted it.
If I hadn't spent every night at the disco, they could have sent me to a better school.
He's happy now, but if he'd accepted the job, we might have caught the train.
If you had remembered to bring the road map, I might have done better in my exams.
It was a great party. If you'd gone, we wouldn't have got lost.

And from the Mixed Conditionals, just a few:

If we're going to catch that train, we'd better get a couple bottles of wine.
If you were thinking of applying for that job in accounts, you never will.
If it's nine o'clock in the morning here, why didn't you say?
If you must practise the trumpet in your room, don't bother-- it's gone.

I've been reading and re-reading Strunk & White's Elements of Style lately, more just for fun than for guidance-- many's the time I've sinned against its edicts and I'm sure to continue to do so in the future. But it is a tremendous delight to read, even if you disagree with some of its precepts, the writing (as you would expect of E.B. White) is unparalleled in its elegance and some of the examples are fun. I've often thought that writing a textbook would be pleasurable to the extent that it involves dreaming up examples-- not that the Elements, or "The Little Book," is a textbook, but they have that in common.


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