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Nouns Modifying Nouns

Today Alleen-Marie Coke asked two interesting questions which I thought deserved a broader audience.

Today’s word, yes, is tricky. In your example, “yes vote”, wouldn’t yes be an adjective?”

“When I taught ESL, I taught the response, “Yes, I do”, “Yes I can”, etc. I have noted, however, that these days many people respond with a simple, “I do”, or, “I can”, abandoning the use of the yes altogether. What do you make of this?”

My response was this:

In the phrase the “yes vote”, yes is not an adjective. English is a language that allows nouns to appear in attributive position without an adjective suffix. In Russian you would have to add an adjective ending if you want a noun to modify another noun. While English allows machine language, Russian requires a “relational” adjective suffix: mashin-nyi yazyk. Whenever doubt arises whether an attribute is a noun or adjective, noun is always chosen if the attribute may be used—without a suffix—as a noun.

Yes in English is first and foremost a “sentence adverb”, which means it may replace an entire sentence. An appropriate response to the question, “Will you do that” is simply, “Yes,” which replaces “I will do that.”

Another way of shortening the answer, is to repeat the subject and the auxiliary, “I will”. You may combine the two answers to affirm that you will do it as “Yes, I will,” though there is no penalty if you don’t.

In Britain, by the way, this response requires the default verb do. This is also the proper response in Britain to any yes-no question, “Did you bake the cake?” : “(No, but) I will do.” This is why do is called the default verb (or pro-verb); it can replace any verb.

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