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This is something I always get confuse with (native language German). As far as I know "did + verb" is something done and finished in the past. But isn't it the same with "verb + ed"?

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  • You may get better answers to this question on English Language Learners – TrevorD Jul 7 '13 at 23:55
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    There are several verbs do. One is the automatic do of Do-support, where German would simply move the verb; instead of *Went you?, we say Did you go?, splitting the tense off onto the dummy verb do. Another is the stressed do of I did read your paper, emphasizing the action. Still another is Action do as a pro-verb for any active verb -- What I want to do is overthrow the tyrant/*own a house in Schenectady. There is no real contrast with the past; but the rule says the tense goes on the first auxiliary verb, and auxiliaries are often required. That's all. – John Lawler Jul 8 '13 at 0:03
  • @TrevorD Thanks for the advice, I just checked some of the questions and it looks like something for me. I appreciate it! – Stefan Weiss Jul 8 '13 at 0:05
  • @John, maybe "That's all", but I do continue to be confused! – user19148 Jul 8 '13 at 0:07
  • @John Lawler Thanks for the answer. One of your examples fits exactly to my question which is "did read it" and just "read it" (past tense). When should I to use one or the other? – Stefan Weiss Jul 8 '13 at 0:12
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The normal way of talking about something in the past tense is to use "verb + ed". For example, "I finished the project on time".

You might use "did + verb" if you wanted to emphasise the point. In the previous example, if someone claimed that you completed the project late, you might say "I did finish the project on time, and here's the evidence".

Using "did + verb" where there is no doubt about the truth sounds strange to native English speakers. Saying something like "I did go shopping for food yesterday" will probably lead to the response "Well nobody said you didn't!"

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    Welcome to EL&U, troyan. Excellent answer, +1! – user19148 Jul 8 '13 at 0:16
  • @toryan This is actually an answer which I appreciate a lot. I used "did" in both ways - to emphasise the point and as far as I understand know also in the second not needed way. But up to know no one ever answered me that way - not yet - and I even wouldn't describe myself as an intimidating guy :) But again thanks a lot - I did(!) learn something new today! – Stefan Weiss Jul 8 '13 at 0:23
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    The same also applies in the present tense. "I do go shopping." vs. "I go shopping." – Pitarou Jul 8 '13 at 0:28
  • That's the emphatic do. – John Lawler Jul 8 '13 at 2:22
  • I thinks people use did + verb just to emphasize the point they want to make, or to try to make others believe him/her. – user45397 Jul 8 '13 at 6:24
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"Did + verb" isn't actually it's own tense, like "has + verbed" or "had + verbed" both are. Instead, the difference is merely emphatic.

She sang in the school play.

There's no special tricks to understanding this sentence, it's exactly what it sounds like. In the school play, which was in the past, the person you're talking about sang. This just sounds like you're telling somebody a fact about another person (she), and the context of the rest of the discussion isn't really relevant.

She did sing in the school play.

The actual meaning of this sentence is still the same. She sang in the school play. However, you're now emphasizing the truth of the sentence. This is very bizarre wording if you're just stating a fact with no other context. It's likely that, if you chose to word it this way, you said something before hand, such as:

  • She says she never sings in public, but back in high school she did sing in the school play.
  • Her father doesn't remember, but she did sing in the school play.
  • She didn't perform in the talent show, though she did sing in the school play.

The most obvious and common use will be in situations like this, where her singing in the school play provides a direct contrast to what was said immediately before, but that's far from the only time it's correct to be emphatic.

She has such a beautiful voice. After all, she did sing in the school play and the competition for the role was pretty fierce.

As a note, in all of the examples I've listed, you can just say "sang" instead of "did sing." It is not at all incorrect, it simply doesn't have the same emphasis that "did sing" does.

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    See also do-support on Wikipedia. – snailcar Jul 8 '13 at 21:23
  • Emma, do the modal "will" work the same way in reference to future events so that if one remove it from a sentence the only result is a changing in emphasis? – user19148 Jul 8 '13 at 21:42
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    You can use it similarly, yes. However, "will" is also part of the simple future form of the verb, so determining when it's emphatic can take a little more work. Generally, though, native speakers are likely to contract it if it isn't, but will never do so if it is (ex. "She'll break it if you give it to her." vs. "She will break it if you give it to her.") – Emmabee Jul 8 '13 at 22:15
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    @Carlo_R: In some contexts exactly the same "emphatic" sense can be conveyed using either "I will do it!" or "I'll do it!" (said perhaps in exasperated response to being nagged). But notice that you always need both verbs there, even if you don't want to stress either. So it's not really the same as OP's [optional] do-support for past tense, where did is invariably stressed unless it's simply enabling a questioning or negating utterance. – FumbleFingers Jul 9 '13 at 2:00
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    Side note: "did X" can be used to emphasize that the action indeed took place, or it can be used to emphasize that it was in the past but not the present. "Sally can't sing." "Hey, she did sing in the play." Versus "Does Sally sing?" "No, but she did sing when she was in school." – Jay Jul 9 '13 at 13:38
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After I've finished typing this, it will be grammatically possible for me to say "I did answer the question", but in practice I'd only be likely to use that verb form if I was emphatically disagreeing with someone who was suggesting I had not in fact answered.

As this NGram shows, 250 years ago he did eat, for example, was actually more common than he ate. But today we normally only use this kind of do-support for questions ("Did you answer?"), for negation ("You did not answer"), and for emphatic [refutation] ("Actually, you're wrong. I did answer").

It's important to note that in the third case there (emphatic [refutation]), the word did is invariably heavily stressed. Unless it's a question or negating construction, if did isn't stressed, you probably don't want it.

  • Okay, Fumble, I'll set it up for you... But you didn't answer the O.P.'s question! :^) – J.R. Jul 8 '13 at 23:35
  • @J.R.: So you did! Not sure how to respond though! Do you/did you think I should maybe have said YES! to OP's question about whether "did + verb" is something done and finished in the past" applies equally to "verb + ed"? Being a comment, did/does this not count as an answer? – FumbleFingers Jul 9 '13 at 3:49
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    No, I was just thinking you'd say: But I did answer the question! Your answer is fine. – J.R. Jul 9 '13 at 8:38

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