Richard Firsten writes a column called "Grammatically Speaking" in Essential Teacher
a quarterly TESOL
publication. The premise is that English language teachers write in with their grammar questions and Richard answers them.
Although some of his answers are fine, it's not uncommon that he gets it wrong, sometimes shockingly so.
In his most recent column
, the first question is why you can say "how good a student he/she is!" but you can't use the same construction with plurals "*How good students they are!"
Richard answers, basically by saying, 'well it doesn't work with plurals,' (more specifically, it works only with countable singulars) which is fair enough. The actual whys behind many of these questions are opaque even to linguists. But it would be helpful to elucidate, pointing out, as the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language does, that you run into the same issue with so/such.
Not so bad! But then he blows it with the next question: [or not. Update: here]
"In the sentence I'm headed for the beach, what part of speech is 'headed'?"
Richard answers in part,
"Some verbs have given birth, so to speak, to adjectival forms that have distanced themselves from the original meaning of the verbs they come from. For example, when you say She's determined to finish the job on schedule or She's very determined, you’re describing the subject, so you can clearly view determined as an adjective. The use of determined in this context doesn't rely on the verb to determine. Similarly, to head for is obviously a verb, but to be headed for can be viewed as an adjectival phrase in that it will describe a person or thing (If the company doesn't change its fiscal policies, it's headed for bankruptcy)."
In "He is Fred" and "He is running", you're also describing the subject, but that doesn't mean there's anything adjectival about them. The test of an adjective is that it share most of the following properties:
-can be graded
-can be modified by 'very'
-can appear both attributively and predicatively
-can appear in a fused head construction (e.g., the *rich* get richer)
All are true for 'determined'.
they're more determined.
they're very determined.
the determined people / they are determined
the determined are hard to beat
All are false for 'headed'.
*they're more headed
*they're very headed
*the headed people / they are headed (for the lake)
*the headed will arrive sooner
Clearly, 'headed' is a verb.
The second part of the question is, "I think that I'm headed for the beach and I'm heading for the beach mean basically the same thing, which is very strange. I can't think of another sentence where you can use the present participle and the past participle and have the meaning be the same."
Richard brings up rumored
for some reason I can't seem to fathom (maybe I'm missing something) but doesn't offer any other verbs that follow this pattern. Anyhow I would say that all of the following are at least as similar as the headed/heading
- When the Northern hemisphere is pointed/pointing towards the Sun, the days are longer,
- The hemisphere that is tilted/tilting towards the Sun is warmer because sunlight travels more directly to the Earth’s surface
- Position the hearing aid so that it is faced/facing towards the. sound chamber speaker.
I think now that classes are finished and I'm headed for the holidays, I'll have some more time to blog so you can look forward to a few more posts on the problems with this column.