Saturday, June 12, 2010

Two questions about time

The following query appeared on the ETJ mailing list: Why is one item in each of the following pairs wrong?

  • Do you know what time it is?    right
  • Do you think what time it is?   wrong 
  • What time do you think it is?   right
  • What time do you know it is?    wrong
I'll post my reply after you've had some time to think about it.

4 comments:

garic said...

It's not clear to me that this is really a question about English as such. There's nothing here, as far as I can see, that contradicts the grammar of any native speaker. They're just odd questions to ask, and would be in any language (unless the construction in question had some specific idiomatic meaning).

That said (and to underline the point that there's nothing really grammatically odd or wrong about them), one can come up relatively easily with slightly contrived contexts in which the questions marked "wrong" sound ok. For example: "When you lie there daydreaming, do you [ever] think what time it is, or do you just let the whole day drift away?"

I'm not sure, in other words, that the question is really a linguistic one at all.

Caly1979 said...

pragmatics?

ruidh said...

One question asks for precise information. the emphasis is on knowing. If you use this form, you;re not interested in a guess.

The second form is more interested in an estimate of the actual time even if it's not very precise. The time is the key piece of information, not the certainty of it.

Cerainly you could answer either question with "I think it's 4:30."

ruidh said...

I don;t like my answer anymore.

One is more formal and a form you are likely to use with a stranger. The other more informal and one you are more likely to use with someone you already know.