THEORY ago (was: Most common irregular verbs?)
|From:||R A Brown <ray@...>|
|Date:||Tuesday, January 17, 2006, 10:50|
Henrik Theiling wrote:
> But adverbs (or adverbials) are often formed by adpostion + noun. So
> that's quite a good reason to call it a postpostion.
Seems logical reasoning to me.
> "The year ago" is not standard English. One would say "a year
> ago." Think of "ago" as synonymous to "past" or "gone by."
But they're not. People _do_ say "the past year" or "the year gone by"
but, as you yourself write, we do not say *"the year ago".
>>What's the justification to call it an adjective here?
> My justification is, as usual, the entry in the American Heritage
But what makes the American Heritage Dictionary infallible? According to
the Oxford English Dictionary the word is only an _adverb_:
" *adverb* before the present (used with a measurement of time)."
Chamber's English Dictionary also gives it only as an adverb. Why are
these two dictionaries in error?
> The Columbia Guide to Standard American English: "_Ago_ is both
> adjective, as in _The murder took place many years ago,_ and adverb,
> as in _The murder took place long ago._ It is Standard in both
With all due respect to "The Columbia Guide to Standard American
English", I fail to see how _ago_ can be an adjective in the first
sentence. I am sure the intuitive feeling of most L1 speakers is that
'ago' is the "same thing" in both sentences.
The traditional analysis that I have known since the 1950s is that 'ago'
is an adverb and that both "many years" and "long" are measurements of
time which is needed to complement 'ago'.
Paul Bennett wrote:
> The pan-linguistic definition of an adjective pretty much seems to be
> "anything that is not clearly any other part of speech".
That's *adverb*, surely.
All sorts of disparate things have been traditionally bundled into the
category "adverb". It may be that 'ago' is one these ;)
Nik Taylor wrote:
> My guess is simply that it's an example of fitting English usage into
> standard categories inherited from Latin.
NO - not in this instance! Cf the Latin:
_abhinc duos annos_ Vergilium uidi = I saw Vergil _two years ago_.
In Latin the word for 'ago' (abhinc) comes _before_ the noun phrase, not
after it. What is more, unlike English 'ago', _abhinc_ can be used by
itself as a simple adverb with reference to future time when it means
But when used of past time, it is practically always accompanied by a
noun phrase in either the accusative (time how long ago), or ablative
(time when). the use with the accusative is the more common.
It is normally said that the adverb _abhinc_ is being used with a
measurement of time - hence, I suspect, the traditional explanation
given in authorities like the OED.
But it seems to me there is no reason not to analyze 'abhinc duos annos'
as a preposition+NP. It is very clear from that in the earliest Greek
writers, what we traditionally call 'prepositions' were no more than
adverbs added to give more explicit meaning to the oblique cases of
nouns. In the Homeric works, they may come either before or after the
noun and, indeed, need not even be adjacent to the noun. I suspect that
if 'ago' came before NPs, then Latin grammar books would happily list
'abhinc' as a preposition :-)
> Postpositions are not
> generally recognized as a part of English (and many grammarians aren't
> even aware of their existence), so they shoehorn it into the
> conventionally-recognized category of "adjective"
I agree postpositions are not normally in English (but postposited
prepositions do occur: "He leadeth me ... the quiet waters by."), but
that is no reason to shoehorn 'ago' into the adjective category.
> I can't see any good reason, other than an assumption that "English
> doesn't have postpositions" (or perhaps even the lack of awareness that
> such things exist), to call "ago" anything but a postposition.
> It certainly does not act like an adjective
It most certainly does not, pace AHD. Nor is there any justification
from Latin labellings the thing as an adjective.
There only two reasons that I can see for not labellings 'ago' as a
a. adpositions are normally preposited in English;
b. it does not account for phrases such as 'long ago'.
As far as I understand it, no one has denied that the phrases 'two years
ago' and 'long ago' are adverbial in function. So what is the problem in
saying of 'ago' "adverb ... used with a measurement of time."
But I would not argue with someone who considers that 'ago' is a
postposition in "two years ago", as I think it is often possible to give
more than one acceptable analysis to phrases. But I just cannot see how
'ago' can be construed as an adjective. As Nik wrote: "It certainly does
not act like an adjective."
I recall how our English teacher long ago so often reminded us: "by
their deeds shall ye know them."
BTW How do Conlangs handle 'ago'?
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