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Stylistics of Different Languages

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It is fair to say that English has a very confusing verb system. Although Romance languages like French and Italian have multiple tenses, and French is notorious for its irregular verbs, those languages do have a consistent system for forming verb tenses. Unlike languages in the language groups spoken on the Continent (German, Slavic, Romance), English does not have a unitary verb system. That is to say, each tense in English has multiple forms, like "I sit";"'I do sit"; and "I am sitting." There are stylistic differences between and among the various verb forms, and these differences can cause confusion both for native speakers of English, and for those who are study English as a Second Language (ESL).

This already substantial difficulty is compounded by the strong preference of most Americans for slangy, colloquial English. In particular, ESL students may be baffled when they hear their co-workers, fellow students, and friends using verb tenses that are not found in textbooks.

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Solution Summary

Native speakers of American English as well as students who are studying English as a Second Language may find English verb forms confusing. In addition to the standard verb tenses found in textbooks. there are also informal, slangy forms that many American use on a daily basis. This soluton explains how all these verbs are formed, and the stylistic differences between and among them.

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The Formal and Informal Versions of English Verb Tenses.


The English language has a tense system that is unique among Indo-European languages. Unlike the three language groups spoken on the continent (Germanic, Slavic, and Romance) English does not have a unitary verb. That is to say, it does not have a single form in the present tense. Rather, English has multiple forms for each tense.
And it's not just that American English has multiple forms; American English has multiple forms that show a gradation to formal to informal. Since Americans have a marked preference for informal verb forms over formal verb forms, the differences in the degree of formality can cause considerable confusion for students who are studying English as a Second Language (ESL). This is especially problematic because such students may lack equivalents for the informal tenses in their native languages.
However, there is also an issue for students who are native speakers of American English. Dialogue in movies and TV shows as well as the lyrics for popular songs almost always use informal, colloquial, English. As a result, students who have grown up with popular culture may have some difficulty in switching to the formal English that is appropriate in business and professional environments.
Clearly, then, a mastery of English requires a mastery not just of all the tense formations but also the stylistic distinctions between and among different versions of the same tense.

The Present Tense

The English verb has three basic versions of the present tense:
I sit.
I do sit.
I am sitting.
However, it is not enough simply to memorize these forms. Fluent speakers of English also understand when to use each of them.
"I sit" is often used as a generalization: "I sit in the same seat in class every day." There is thus a key opposition between "I sit" as a generalization, and "I am sitting," which is specific and refers to the present moment. The -ing form of the verb often implies a temporal limitation, as in "I am sitting here until the bus comes."
The distinction between "I sit" and "I am sitting" often causes difficulty for ESL students. They may answer the question "Where do you live?" by saying "I am living in New York City." This form is an appropriate answer only when it is ...

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