Have you ever considered looking at verb forms in two different categories as “near” and “far”? Believe it or not, that’s possible and, more importantly, that’s real. Also, it makes a lot of sense.
Chia Suan CHONG, my CELTA tutor, brought this very point up on Friday. She said “Take speak and spoke, for example”, and went on to say those two verb forms could be used to exemplify the temporal distance between such sentences as “I speak with my parents” and “I spoke with my parents”. It is obvious that the former is about a nearer period of time, whereas the latter is more distant. A similar case exists with “can” and “could” as well as every other verb available.
Is it only temporal distance that we can talk about? As Chia explained, verb forms could be used to convey social, psychological, and hypothetical distance in addition to temporal distance.
What does all that mean?
That was the question asked by each of us when Ms. Chong introduced this interesting concept new to all of us. Despite the fact that it may have sounded a little weird at first, it all made perfect sense when Chia talked more about “Use of Verb Forms to Convey Distance”.
Social distance, to continue with, is also considered to be politeness and impoliteness. “Can you give me 5 pounds?” certainly implies a closer relationship in a conversation than “Could you give me 5 pounds?”. If the sentence is “Would you mind giving me 5 pounds?” or “I don’t suppose you could give me 5 pounds”, it is possible to talk about a greater social distance.
“A plane crashes” is more effective than “A plane crashed” when it is viewed from a psychological perspective. Also, people can be heard telling stories in simple present tense rather than past simple when they want their words to have a deeper impact on the listeners. Such use of verb forms to convey psychological distance may even be a super asset for understanding whether a person is telling the truth or not while giving the account of an event.
The final type of distance covered in class was hypothetical distance. That can be best explained with “If I worked abroad one day…” and “If I work abroad one day…” Which one in your opinion sounds like a more realistic attitude toward a professional prospect in another country? Which one conveys a stronger belief or desire? Doubtlessly, it is the second one in the light of all the information Chia shared with us on Friday afternoon.
I am sure she will write about this very topic on her blog http://chiasuanchong.com from a tutor’s point of view and enlighten us further on the subject matter. I must say I can’t wait for it!