THE major sustaining force of the efforts on this page is the availability of passionate readership. Avid and intelligent readers of this column are spread all over Nigeria. And these are active, vibrant, inquisitive and sensitive readers. Their seeming silence over time would wrongly suggest that they are not there. But as soon as something as small as a single letter is not in its right place, the readers would begin to stir…This reality flatters me beyond even my own comprehension. This creates the paradox in which the readers are actually the writers. What a delightful situation! I salute my attentive readers of close to thirty years.
At least two readers drew my attention to the illustrative sentence 2b) in last week’s article: “Did the white men *supposed that we had no culture?” The readers noted the error in the final –d in the word supposed in view of the fact that the interrogative sentence is introduced by the word do which is in its past form. This is a correct observation.
While thanking the readers for this observation, I feel free to draw heavily upon an earlier article that has a bearing on the matter.The general rule is this: Whenever the supporting do is brought into a sentence for the purpose of negation or question formation, it is that verb (do) that carries the tense and concord/number markers. In consequence, the main verb or verbs do not experience change in form. Examples are: 1a) He knew the truth. 1b) He did not know the truth. 2a) She spoke her mind. 2b) She did not speak her mind. 3a) I accepted the offer. 3b) I did not accept the offer. 4a) He knows the truth. 4b) He does not know the truth. 5a) She speaks her mind. 5b) She does not speak her mind. 6a) She sings well. 6b) She does not sing well.
Let’s have more examples: 1a) Militants attacked the army chief’s convoy. 1b) Militants did not attack the army chief’s convoy. 2a) The cold weather prevented us from enjoying the holiday in England. 2b) The cold weather did not prevent us from enjoying the holiday in England. 3a) The national assembly delayed the passage of the bill. 3b) The national assembly did not delay the passage of the bill. 4a) The police frustrated the investigation. 4b) The police did not frustrate the investigation. 5a) The lady loves flowers. 5b) The lady does not love flowers. 6a) Diligence opens all doors. 6b) Diligence does not open all doors.
Note that in (a) of numbers (1)-(4), each of the main verbs carries the tense: attacked, prevented, delayed, and frustrated. But in (b) of the corresponding numbers, the form do is introduced. The do form now becomes did because the tense is transferred to it. In consequence each of the main verbs, now relieved of the tense, is presented in its basic, uninflected form: attack, prevent, delay, and frustrate.
The pairs of sentences in numbers (5) and (6) are in their present simple (everyday) tense. The verb in each of sentences (5a) and (6a) carries s, an indication that it is inflected to reflect the third person singular subject: loves, opens. The do form is introduced in each of their (b) counterparts. The subject, being in the third person singular form, requires that the verb should carry the s or es or ies as the case may be. Characteristically, this feature is transferred to the form do so that it becomes does.
The influence of the do-form is also applicable to structures of questions. The questions could be those requiring yes/no answers (known as yes/no questions) or wh-questions (those beginning with wh-words: what, when, where, which, how).
Read the following sentences: 1a) The journalist wrote an interesting report. 1b) Did the journalist write an interesting report? 1c) The journalist did not write an interesting report. 2a) The result of the election surprised the party leaders. 2b) Did the outcome of the election surprise the party leaders? 2c) The result of the election did not surprise the party leaders. 3a) The victim reported the case to the police. 3b) Did the victim report the case to the police? 3c) The victim did not report the case to the police. 4a) The school suspended sporting activities. 4b) Did the school suspend sporting activities? 4c) The school did not suspend sporting activities. 5a) The fraudster deceives his victims. 5b) Does the fraudster deceive his victims? 5c) The fraudster does not deceive his victims. 6a) The lady loves flowers. 6b) Does the love flowers? 6c) The lady does not love flowers.
The rule we have specified and illustrated so far is also in operation in those sentences. In all the (a) sentences in which the main verbs are the only verbal elements available, those verbs are inflected either for tense or number. In all the (b) and (c) sentences in which the do-form is introduced for the purpose of forming either questions or negation, it is the do form that becomes either did or does. The main verbs in the latter cases remain in their basic, uninflected forms.
Please note that the (b) sentences in (1)-(6) are yes/no questions. We can also have wh-questions: (1) What did you tell the chairman yesterday? 2) What did the Chief Press Secretary suggest to the Governor? 3) What did your father give you? 4) What did the teacher explain to the inquisitive student? 5) Why did you leave the campus so early? 6) Why did the soldiers attack the Odi community in Bayelsa State? 7) Why did Jesus curse the fig tree? 8) Why did President Muhammadu Buhari delay for so long before appointing his ministers? 9) When did you leave Lagos? 10) When did Nigeria gain her independence? 11) When did Nigeria join the United Nations? 12) When did the plane take off? 13) Where did you pass the night? 14) Where did Chief Obafemi Awolowo live when he was Premier of Western Region? 15) Where did you find your wallet? 16) Where did the meeting take place? 17) How did you arrive so early? 18) How did you run the company during the time of recession? 19) How did the information get to the management? 20) How did the Federal Government win the civil war?
All the sentences are in their past forms. How is this indicated? The indicator is the supporting verb-form do which is in its past form: did. The main verb following did is consistently in its infinitive, uninflected form. The rule remains the same in its application even when the sentence is in its present form.
Read the following sentences: 1) What does this noise suggest? 2) What does the president think of his cabinet? 3) What does the Bible say on divorce? 4) What does your conscience tell you? 5) When does the programme commence? 6) When does the law take effect? 7) When does your would-be husband normally visit? 8) When does your tenancy take effect? 9) Why does she not attend the weekly meeting? 10) Why does Jesus speak in parable? 11) Why does God allow Satan to wander in the world? 12) Why does the financial assistance come only once in a year? 13) How does a snail move? 14) How does she keep body and soul together? 15) How does salt preserve meat? 16) How does a cat see in the dark? 17) Where does a kite stay during the rainy season? 18) If God is everywhere, where does He live? 19) Where does he meet his lover? 20) Where does the Nigerian president live?
Those sentences are in their present forms and all obey the rule we have highlighted repeatedly.
At any rate, the sentence from last week’s article should read: “Did the white men suppose that we had no culture?”