20140307

‘know’ 和 ‘knew’


我的哲學專長是知識論,因此, ‘know’ 這個字對我特別重要,今天想談談這個字。別緊張,請繼續讀下去,我要講的可不是抽象難懂的知識論,而是 ‘know / don’t know’ 和過去式 ‘knew / didn’t know’ 用法上的一些分別;這些分別在字典未必有清楚的說明(至少我查過三四本字典也找不到),學習英語的人也許會容易忽略。

我初到美國時,便因為應該用 ‘didn’t know’ 而錯用了 ‘don’t know’,讓人摸不著頭腦。發生的情況一般是這樣的:有人告訴我一些他認為我不知道的事情,而我真的不知道,聽他說後有些出奇,便說 ‘I don’t know that’,並多謝他告訴我;通常那人的反應是怪怪一笑,或皺皺眉頭,甚至一茫然,因為我應該說的是 ‘I didn’t know that’

這一字之差,意思卻可以說是相反。說 ‘I didn’t know that’,是表示同意,意思是「聽你說之前,我並不知道,不過現在知道了」。假如是不同意或想表達懷疑,可以說 ‘I don’t know about that’‘I don’t know that’s true’;用現在式的 ‘don’t know’,是因為我仍然是在這個「不肯定事情真假」的狀態。

假如那人估錯了,其實我早已知道他說的那件事,我又該怎樣反應?我可以說 ‘I knew that’ ‘I know that’,前者強調我在對方說話之前已經知道,後者則沒有這個強調。‘I knew that’ 並沒有「我現在則不知道」的意思。

如果是我自己知道某事,想告訴別人(因為相信他們不知道),可以用問句的方式,一般是說 ‘Did you know that…?’ 而不是 ‘Do you know that…?’。可是,如果我自己不知道,是真心問,向別人請教,那麼,無論問的是 ‘know whether’, ‘know how’, ‘know when’, ‘know what’, ‘know who(m)’, ‘know where’,都一律用 ‘Do you know…?’ 而不是 ‘Did you know…?’(例如 ‘Do you know how to solve this problem?’)。

很煩吧?卻不可以不察也。有些人學習了幾十年英文,仍然會犯不少文法和用法的錯誤,就是因為不留意這些細微卻重要的分別。


12 則留言:

  1. IF I were you

    instead

    if I was you

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  2. "有些人學習了幾十年英文,仍然會犯不少文法和用法的錯誤,就是因為不留意這些細微卻重要的分別。" < ---- !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  3. I didn't know that.Thank you.真是不容易理解呢! 現在仔想想也覺很有趣味.

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  4. -->>很煩吧?卻不可以不察也。有些人學習了幾十年英文,仍然會犯不少文法和用法的錯誤,就是因為不留意這些細微卻重要的分別。

    gosh, i couldn't have put it better.

    this is what i do everyday, explaining the nuances in usage to undergrad and graduate students. granted, my students are international students, so their understanding of the differences is somewhat limited. but their attitude toward studying english is that, if people generally understand them, they don't need to be so precise as long as they are communicative, which is puzzling because in the age of computer, your writing is usually the first thing that a person sees before they (yes, i use it as a singular pronoun) even have any idea of who you are.

    yes, the "know vs. knew" is very high up on the list, and it causes much confusion and embarrassment. another one of my favorites is "i would..." as the opening for a piece of advice or suggestion, as in "I wouldn't use a bilingual dictionary at your level [of english proficiency] if i were you", which is just a polite way to say "you should use a monolingual, i.e. eng-eng, dict." but is often MIS-interpreted as "oh, that's just your preference, so i can do what i feel most comfortable with." and of course, as a result, they think that customers and clients, studies and research, and are the same things. [facepalm]

    and it gets even more confusing when you talk about pronunciation patterns that carry actual differences in meaning. e.g. appropriate (v.) vs. appropriate (n.), take out (v.) vs. take out (n.), and the White House vs. the white house. (and don't get me started on "this is uncle wong/auntie chen" or this is "my mommy/daddy". no one in their right mind would ever put uncle/auntie and the person's last name together in english or refer to their parents as mommy/daddy after 6.)

    but it's little unfair, really, because knowledge of a second language mustn't be a prerequisite to success in life, but it is the reality. anyway...

    [btw, the "if i/he/she/it were" vs. "if i/he/she/it was" issue has to do with formality. generally, use the former in writing (and speaking even, if you prefer) for formal occasions and the latter in informal ones. so, in everyday english, at least in north america (but i do see it used this way, too, in uk tv shows and by uk friends), most people would choose to say "if i was you".]

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    1. Thanks for your informative comments. I think you mean "appropriate (adj.)" rather than "appropriate (n.)".

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    2. Yes. Appropriate (v) vs (adj). I knew I missed something.

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  5. i didn't know that 即廣東話"唔講都唔知添",中文沒有時態,所以會加"唔講"以表示過去式。

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    1. 請參考 "你講我先知"﹑"一言驚醒夢中人"﹑"你提醒咗我"﹑"你教曉我..."﹑"係咩?原來..." 等等。

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  6. I didn’t realize that it could have so many details behind them and now I know, thanks Wong.

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  7. 我還是不明白關於 i didnot know 和 i dont know

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    1. "I did not know" = 之前我唔知 (依家我知)
      "I do not know" = 我唔知 (依家我重未知)

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