AEE 1152: Why You Must Know the Rules to Break the Rules in English

Have you ever heard somebody use the word “did” inappropriately in a sentence?

Did it seem to go against what you have learned when it comes to verb tenses and rules in English?

There are times when you may go against the rules when it comes to everyday conversation.

There are instances when everyday conversation is a bit different than what you learn in a textbook.

We’re going to look at this example and help you to understand when you may use this exception to the rule.

This story and question helps to highlight where there is some confusion in this area.

Hi Lindsay, Michelle and Jessica,

I am a 3 Keys IELTS student, I started listening to you in September, 2018 on the iOS app.

I have a question for you but before that, I just want to share a story that is relevant to my question. I was a student in an English course back home in the Kurdistan Region in Iraq before moving to Canada. I still remember when I asked my teacher this question that I am going to ask you here, he told me it’s wrong. Back then I heard from a video on YouTube that said “ I did take the course for three months”.

My question is what did do here? Is this to emphasize something or does it have another function? Please if you can explain the purpose of using did in past actions, I would greatly appreciate it. Because I have heard it here too and find that native speakers use it sometimes.

Love you guys,

Adnan

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The Rules Can Be Confusing

So in this situation, the question becomes why did the teacher reject “did” in this situation?

This teacher was probably focusing too much on one use of the past tense and maybe didn’t want to change it.

Though this fits in a textbook setting, it may not necessarily work in real life all the time.

There ARE reasons to change it, and this is what you want to focus on.

There are times when you have to change things up and break the rules a bit for everyday conversations.

This is where confusion sets in, especially when you hear natives using something different than what you have been taught.

When Do You Break The Rules Here?

So understanding that there are times when you break the rules, this may make you wonder when exactly that is.

This is real life as compared to what you learn in a classroom and from only a textbook.

Today, we are going to cover two main reasons to use “did” in the past tense statement–that isn’t a question.

  • To emphasize: This is just like in the example where you want to emphasize something. I did take the course for three months–this must have been to emphasize something. An example might be to say “I DID order the cake.” This is to put emphasis on the fact that you did take care of something. It definitely offers more of an impact than just saying “I ordered the cake.” This also has much to do with the tone of your voice as it will carry the message and proper emphasis.
  • To clarify or correct someone’s mistake: Somebody may have an idea or perception and it may be wrong. You want to therefore clarify this and correct them on their misunderstanding or mistake. Somebody may say “You didn’t give me your phone number, did you?” You could easily respond to this by saying something like “I DID give you my phone number last week–see it’s right there in your phone.” Yes it can be talking about past tense, but it is to help clarify something that they have wrong.

These are both instances where you would break the rules a bit so to speak, and they are perfectly valid.

Remember The Specific Uses For This

Though this goes against what you may learn in a textbook, there are times when it fits perfectly.

The main thing to remember is that this is about emphasizing something in some sort of way.

It may be to correct or clarify, which as you can see works well if you use the proper tone of voice along with it.

You might also use this to show surprise or for some other reason why something is important.

You might hear something like “Oh no, you didn’t RSVP to the wedding? I just heard from them.” You could respond to this by saying “I DID respond and I sent in my RSVP card weeks go.”

It can be used to emphasize, if something is incorrect or a surprise, or to clarify a situation.

If you can remember these instances, then you can make this work to your advantage.

There are times when the “rules” must be broken, and this is the perfect example of that.

Takeaway

Sometimes grammar may change depending on emotion, and this may present unique examples.

This is why even though grammar may not always seem that exciting, it can be.

There is often more to things than meets the eye.

Try to remember to use this only in specific situations where you are trying to clarify.

This goes to show that sometimes rules can be broken when it comes to everyday conversations over just a textbook.


If you have any questions, please put them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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