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This morning I read this sentence (see story):

On July 24th and again on July 29th, Egyptian police did shoot dead unarmed African migrants attempting to cross that border.

Why "did shoot" and not "shot"?

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    This would make more sense if you excerpted the previous paragraph from the story: "Egypt’s security forces seem unable to block what are presumably jihadist infiltrators […]. On July 24th and again on July 29th, Egyptian police did shoot dead unarmed African migrants attempting to cross that border." Aug 12, 2010 at 0:43
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    At the time I hadn't realised the significance of the previous paragraph. I was so stuck on the (to me) odd "did" that I wasn't reading it in context. It took this question to go back and see it in the correct light. Aug 13, 2010 at 18:36
  • I think I've seen this kind of did in legalese. Oct 4, 2012 at 6:34

2 Answers 2

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The "did" is there to add emphasis. Similar to:

"You didn't read the book."

"Yes, I DID read the book."

If you look at the context where this appears in the article, "do" is being used to contrast that clause with what has come before. It's kind of like a focus marker, except that it also triggers a change in verbal morphology because "do" takes tense here instead of the main verb "shoot". Compare:

"I asked for cake."

"I DID ask for cake."

Here it's more obvious that the tense resides in the auxiliary and leaves the main verb without tense (hence it appears in the same form as the present).

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    +1, good explanation. In the case of this article, the previous paragraph talks about the seeming inability of Egypt’s security forces to control the border zone; "did shoot" draws contrast with that.
    – Jonik
    Aug 9, 2010 at 17:15
  • Very nice. I have wondered about this construct from time to time, but never looked into it. Thanks. Aug 10, 2010 at 1:25
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    Good answer. For some reason I have trouble reading the "do" as adding emphasis but I (do?) understand the logic. Thanks! Aug 11, 2010 at 20:41
  • Think about (some) wedding ceremonies. "I do" (take such-and-such to be my yada yada). No one says. "I take" or "I do take" but the emphatic "I do" says it all. Oct 28, 2010 at 22:38
  • Here's a case for emphasis: Parent: (Turning off the TV) You can't watch TV until you've finished your homework. Child: (screaming) I DID finish my homework! Jul 1, 2017 at 14:28
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This is an example of a English phenomenon know as do-support, whereby a dummy "do" is inserted to ensure that an utterance has tense. It is usually restricted to utterances where the movement of the verb is somehow blocked: e.g., in a negative statement or a question. It can also be used for emphasis as noted, but isn't grammatically required. I would venture to say that this isn't as natural or forthcoming in native conversation, and does a diservice to the comprehension here. For what it's worth, I very much prefer "shot dead".

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    I'm not sure I would agree that this should be considered a case of do-support. Do-support, as far as I understand it, is when "do" is inserted purely so you have something to apply tense to (hence, "support", it doesn't do much on its own). Here "do" does have a function of its own. This is probably splitting hairs though.
    – Alan Hogue
    Aug 10, 2010 at 0:29
  • I see your point. Seeing as this is syntactically required, it isn't really "supporting" anything, but it is functionally equivalent to true cases of do-support. What function do you think do has here other than to support the tense for stylistic devices?
    – Charlie
    Aug 10, 2010 at 1:55
  • I have spent a little time trying to look this up today, and have had no luck. So I'll just say that it seems to me that "do" here is providing something like contrastive focus in information structure terms. So in that sense it certainly has a function other than as a landing site for tense. If its primary function was to host tense, then it would not be optional, I think.
    – Alan Hogue
    Aug 10, 2010 at 2:29
  • @itrekkie: Using just "shot dead" (without "did") wouldn't provide the needed emphasis, and the contrast with the previous paragraph's mention of their inability to shoot. Aug 12, 2010 at 0:46
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    Sure. "Do you want to go?" and "I do not want to go". In these cases, "do" only serves to host the tense. In the example in the question, this isn't syntactically required as in these two examples, and serves only to add emphasis. I'm starting to agree more and more with Alan Hogue that this may not be considered a really solid case of do-support, given it isn't strictly required.
    – Charlie
    Aug 30, 2010 at 1:42

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