With the sad anniversary of Princess of Wales's tragic death, and all sorts of articles appearing all over the place, I stumbled upon something I've always found amusing, because it is so characteristic of innocent pre-school children's writing and yet often found in the grown-up world as well. A phonetic phenomenon that has to do with spelling.
If you think about it from a child's perspective, it totally makes sense! If English is your native language and you have never heard about perfect infinitives, 'of' is what you certainly hear instead of 'have' in its weak form with the dropped 'h': 'She must of forgotten all about it!' (= 'She must've forgotten all about it!').
In grown-up writing you can find it as well, especially if it is mimicking oral speech, like in this extract from Agatha Christie's Dead Man's Folly:
- or in the headline above, for that matter.
Sometimes, in even less careful speech, the '-v' of 'have' also disappears, leaving only the schwa sound behind, as in this lovely poem by Shel Silverstein:
Perfect Infinitive with its long chain of words in a particular order is one of the most difficult constructions for students of English, who always struggle with it. To help them, we can show the students this funny spelling mistake that English-speaking children often make when they are just learning to read and write and which stems from the pronunciation. Its absurdity can be vivid and picturesque enough to help remember the structure. Also, learning it rhythmically, in poems and songs can be of enormous help. Two songs are absolutely fantastic here, as if written specifically for grammatical purposes. Learning them by heart will certainly guarantee that Perfect Infinitive used with modal verbs will be engraved on students' memories forever!
One is an oldie by ABBA:
The other one is from the early days of MUSE:
Both are fun to sing!
My name is Elena Rafaelevna Watson, I have been teaching English as a foreign language for over 25 years now. I have also been translating and interpreting (English/Russian) for over 20 years.