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OT: ago

From:Harold Ensle <heensle@...>
Date:Thursday, January 19, 2006, 0:33
Hello everyone,

I had to post something when I saw the following sentences:

    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

This may be the worst linguistic analysis I have ever seen...and from
an authoritative source as well.
"ago" is always an adverb and it always modifies the verb. They seem
to be suffering from the delusion that "ago" is modifying "years" in
the first sentence and modifying "long" in the second sentence.
Actually it is just the opposite. "years" and "long" are modifying "ago".
This is why these words precede "ago". Thus "many years" is functioning
as an adverb in order to describe another adverb ("ago"). The only
oddity is that "many years" has nothing marking it as an adverb (other
than its position). But with words of quantity, such marking is unecessary,
since context is sufficient to avoid ambiguity. There are other examples
in English of this same process. Consider: "He is three feet taller than I."
Notice that "three feet" is modifying "taller" in that it is telling us
how much taller he is. So in this context, "three feet" is clearly acting
as an adverb, yet the only sign of this is its preceding position.

Another way to see that this is true is to find another way of saying the
same thing in English. The first sentence could instead be: "The murder
took place in the past by many years." "in the past" (="ago") is modifying
the verb "took place" and "by many years" is modifying "past".  In fact,
you could perform the English trick with quantities and simply put it
in preceding position yielding: "The murder took place many years
in the past."  See how "many years" does NOT modify "took place", but
rather "past" telling us how much "past" there is.

While "ago" is always an adverb in relation to the verb, one is not
free to use it alone...definitely another peculiarity. It always has
to be further modified. However, this does not change the fact that it
is an adverb when used.

Besides this one peculiarity, the structure of these sentences are
typical English.


Herman Miller <hmiller@...>
Gary Shannon <fiziwig@...>