Literal ESL #1

Part of learning a language is making mistakes. Sometimes these mistakes, if taken literally, can be nonsensical, hilarious, bizarre, and entertaining.

This is an actual mistake from one of my ESL students, and my interpretation:

Quote: “I am having six years old daughter”



Of course, my student meant to say “I have a six year old daughter”.

I hope.

Grammar stuff: We know “I am having” is incorrect here, and that it suggests the process of bearing a child rather than the state of being a parent. The reason is that the verb “have,” when used to show possession, is a non-action verb. Non-action verbs cannot be used in the progressive tenses (basically any tense ending in -ing). When “have” is used in a progressive tense, as it is in this incorrect example, it becomes an action verb. Action verbs (naturally) suggest action (I am having a shower, I was having lunch, she will be having a baby in a few weeks, etc).



About Boggleton Drive

I teach things to people and sometimes draw comics.
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20 Responses to Literal ESL #1

  1. You know, we foreigners like progressive tenses, probably because most other languages don’t have them (like German). Hence we tend to overuse them a tad, with sometimes comical results. Thanks for the giggle.

    • It’s funny, I can now often identify an ESL learner’s first language through their mistakes. This mistake was made by a Punjabi speaker, and a present progressive overuse is quite typical of Punjabi ESL students

  2. Funny post! I’ve moved to Paris recently and whilst I chat away assuming that everything I am saying is in perfect French, some of the looks that I get from the people whom I am chatting to suggest otherwise! Haha.

  3. Bindu says:

    My students ask me, “Ma’am, badminton having?” Guess what they mean. This was really hilarious, esp the last frame.

  4. Connie B. Dowell says:

    This is so funny and informative! I’m a writing tutor. I work with a lot of ESL students and I’m just starting to learn about teaching and tutoring ESL and really dissecting my own language to view it from an outside perspective. I wouldn’t have known how to explain that type of mistake to a student, but now I do! Thanks!

    • Yeah! There’s so much that we know intuitively that we often can’t articulate. Once one has an understanding of the meta-language of English, one starts to see everything differently! P.S. Even thought it’s “correct”, I hate using “one” as a pronoun (sounds too bombastic for my taste).

  5. That mistake made me think she’s cannibalizing someone’s six-year old-daughter. I hope it’s not her own daughter. That would be too sick.

  6. The Waiting says:

    SO glad you’re doing ESL posts now. Just a mine of humor begging to be excavated!

  7. kvetchmom says:

    The Hello Kitty t-shirt just about killed me. Always love your posts!

  8. My Last Pen says:

    Hi Bogglenton Drive,
    Thanks a lot… your post is really helpful..,
    I am very poor in English. Actually I hated English since grade school.
    I just learn to love English now..

  9. hollybernabe says:

    How old are your students? Because, when my son was 8 and I got pregnant (he had been the only child up to this point), he had some pretty interesting notions about what a pregnancy meant. He was talking about all these neat things he was going to do with his new brother, that it occurred to me that he didn’t realize that I was having a baby. As in an infant. He just knew that in a few short months, a new brother or sister for him (preferably brother) would be moving in. When I pointed out to him his sibling was going to be a baby, and he said, “But Mom, I don’t want a BABY brother. I want one that’s six years old!” I told him a six year old kid wouldn’t fit in my tummy and a baby it would have to be. Which confused him, I think. I wondered if he thought we were saving money just to go buy a new brother from the new sibling store or something.

    Anyway, I finally had to buy a book on childbirth with pictures to show him just what exactly happens when a baby is born (especially since I was having mine at home and I didn’t want him to freak out). As it was, she was born in my dining room very early on Christmas morning before my son woke up. So he wakes up for his Christmas presents, only to discover a new baby. I think I disappointed him even more when he found out I gave birth to a little girl. “Why did he have to be a girl, Mom? Why?” “I can’t put her back, honey. She came out the way she wanted to.”

    So, depending on the age of your student, maybe what was written was what was meant. Or at least if your student had the understanding of getting a new sibling that my son had. 🙂

  10. Pingback: Literal ESL #2 | Boggleton Drive

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