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." – ShreevatsaR Aug 12 '10 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. – markdrayton Aug 13 '10 at 18:36
  • I think I've seen this kind of did in legalese. – hippietrail Oct 4 '12 at 6:34

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 '10 at 17:15
  • Very nice. I have wondered about this construct from time to time, but never looked into it. Thanks. – Vincent McNabb Aug 10 '10 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! – markdrayton Aug 11 '10 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. – Jared Updike Oct 28 '10 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! – Ubu English Jul 1 '17 at 14:28

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 '10 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 '10 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 '10 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. – ShreevatsaR Aug 12 '10 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 '10 at 1:42

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