Self-doubt

I never thought this day would come. I’ve started doubting my English.

As you know, English has many varieties, the most common being British English and American English. I speak (and write) Australian English, which takes from both styles – I spell organisation with an ‘s’, and the past participle I use for ‘get’ is ‘gotten’.

The latter example has been giving me some strife.

In English we have a selection of perfect tenses (I have done, I have been doing, I had done). French doesn’t – they have the passé composé (their past simple) and the imparfait (similar to our past continuous, but the use is sometimes different. Please don’t make me explain – my English grammar is much better than my French grammar). In English we use the present perfect and present perfect continuous to connect an event that happened in the past or started in the past with the present.

The Present Perfect (the first one of these tenses that I teach) is tricky for two reasons:

1.      The French don’t have an equivalent tense

2.      It is structured in a similar way to their passé composé (auxiliary have + past participle), so elementary to intermediate students often use the Present Perfect instead of the Past Simple

So, when I teach the Present Perfect, I like to spread several exercises over a few weeks, getting them out of the way at the beginning of each class. These exercises include matching time expressions to the Present Perfect or the Past Simple, choosing the correct tense for different sentences, structuring questions in each tense, and completing a text with verbs in each tense. And, of course, an exercise with the infinitive, past simple and past participle of several irregular verbs.

So we have:*

be                    was/were         been

do                    did                   done

eat                   ate                   eaten

go                    went                 gone

know                knew                known

shut                  shut                  shut**

take                  took                 taken

And, of course:

get                   got                   gotten

Et cetera.

On the last one, most of my students say “get, got, got”. I used to correct them, saying that it should be “gotten”. Then I realised – it’s British English. I also used to correct “take a decision” (it’s “make a decision”, God damn it!), but then realised that that, too, was right.

One time I said, “gotten. You can say got, but only in British English.”

My students looked at me blankly. “What type of English are we learning?”

Now I grudgingly admit that it’s okay, but tell them that in American and Australian English it’s “gotten”, so they can use either and be correct. I also hold my tongue when I hear someone say they “took a decision”, and think I’ve become quite adept at pointing out differences between different styles of English when they arise.

Or so I thought. Last week I had two pre-intermediate doing the infinitive, past simple and past participle exercise, and we reached the verb “to hit”.

“Hit, hit, hitten,” my student said.

I couldn’t remember whether or not “hitten” was a word.

 

*Can I just say thank God my students have already been drilled in this at school. It comes back so quickly, even for elementary students. I don’t know what I’d do if I had to teach this from scratch.

**One student said “shit, shut, shut” for this one. I answered with a quick, “no – shut, shut, shut” and left it at that.

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