• Why Pinoy writers strongly prefer the modals ‘would’ and ‘could’ (2)

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    Jose A. Carillo

    Jose A. Carillo

    In last week’s column, I started a review of the English modal auxiliaries to put in context a Filipina English teacher’s exasperation over the strong—and I’d say often unwarranted—preference by Filipino writers for the modals “would” and “could” in their newspaper reports and stories.

    I’ve already discussed the modal-pairs “will” and “would” and “can” and “could” as function words that work with verbs to convey various shades of necessity, advice, ability, expectation, permission, or possibility. This time I’ll take up the third modal-pair “shall” and “should,” which in American English—the English standard Filipinos use—expresses (a) simple futurity; (b) command or exhortation, inevitable or likely eventuality, and determination to do something; and (c) polite questions suggestive of asking permission.

    “Shall” and “should.” “Shall” for simple futurity: “We shall expect a raise in six months’ time.” For command or exhortation: “You shall be unflinching in the face of peril” (imperative). For inevitable or likely eventuality: “We shall be ready for armed confrontation.” For legally mandated action: “It shall be unlawful to traffic in contraband goods.” For stating polite questions in the first-person (suggestive of asking permission): “Shall we take off now, Sir?”

    “Should” for futurity from a point of view in the past: “We should have done the research first instead of acting blindly.” For expressing condition, obligation, propriety, or expediency: “Should she drop the subject, she won’t be able to graduate.” “You should settle your accounts first before enrolling.”

    With this quick primer on the three basic modal-pairs, we should now be able to analyze whether the sentences presented by Ms. Isabel E. in her e-mail are grammatically correct or not:

    1. The bulletin board notice: “The gym would be closed on August 5-6 for repainting.” This use of the past-tense “would” is erroneous; the simple futurity “will” should be used instead: “The gym will be closed on August 5-6 for repainting.” However, there is indeed a tendency for Filipino writers in media to use “would” in such sentences because of the so-called normal sequence-of-tenses rule in English grammar (http://tinyurl.com/zb4pvuk).

    This rule provides that when the reporting verb is in the past tense, the operative verb of the reported statement takes one step back from the present into the past, as in this attributed announcement: “The condominium residents association announced that the gym would be closed on August 5-6 for repainting.” The bulletin board notice alone isn’t reported speech, however; instead, it is direct speech with no attribution or reporting verb. Thus, what it needs is the verbal auxiliary “will” to indicate simple futurity: “The gym will be closed on August 5-6 for repainting.”

    2.The Manila newspaper report: “Duterte would meet with LGU leaders at the end of the month.” On its face, this sentence should use the simple futurity “will” because it isn’t indirect but direct speech: “Duterte will meet with LGU leaders at the end of the month.” If it’s the usual statement in newspapers attributed to someone, however, it becomes reported speech where the operative verb takes one tense backward and becomes “would”: “Malacañang announced that Duterte would meet with LGU leaders at the end of the month.”

    3. The Cebu newspaper report: “The Mactan mayor announced he could impose new traffic rules effective immediately.” This statement is in the correct form of reported speech but its use of the conditional “could” is grammatically defective. A condition has to be supplied to make that statement work properly, as in this example: “The Mactan mayor announced he could impose new traffic rules effective immediately if the major street repairs are not finished overnight.” Otherwise, the modal “would” to express intention should replace “could” in the original sentence.

    To wrap up this discussion about modals, I’ll take up next week how they work under varying degrees of conditionality.

    Visit Jose Carillo’s English Forum, http://josecarilloforum.com. Visit me on Facebook. Follow me at Twitter.com @J8Carillo. E-mail: j8carillo@yahoo.com

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