Lindsay Lewis

English/ ESL consultant: Word worker, writer, teacher, mentor and poet. Author of This Won’t Hurt a Bit! on writing clear content.

English: The Wild and Crazy Bird

Posted by on Oct 10, 2017

 After 25 years of teaching, I still love my job. My clients reveal the strange irregularities of English grammar which keep it fascinating.  This week, my Iranian engineer wrote a question using the verb to be. We all know that the verb to be conjugates as follows: I am, you are, he is, we are , you are,  and they are, for it is an amalgamation from two verbs in Old English. My student wrote “Why  I not am getting a promotion.” According to our rules, the affirmative is as follows: I am getting a promotion, you are…etc. With the use of the question word why, however, the verb inexplicably changes to the second person- you are, you aren’t. The question would be, “Why aren’t I getting a promotion?” or more traditionally , “Why am I not getting a promotion?” I then asked him to repeat the phrase “Why am I not” as fast as he could.  Most likely, this is a phonetic shift because the word aren’t is easier to pronounce than the phrase am I not.  Having such a wide variety of international clients from all ages and walks of life enables me to continually revisit my native language and enjoy its quirks. 

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