Common errors to avoid: The “to be” verb

Introductory Logic Lesson 11, “The One Basic Verb,” teaches the first step in translating categorical statements into standard form. This step is to translate the statement so that the main verb in the sentence is a verb of being: is, are, was, were, will be, and so on. Thus a statement like “Stars twinkle at night” gets translated into something like

Stars are nighttime twinklers. 

To do this correctly, the subject and predicate must both be nouns, and the verb must be the proper ‘to-be’ verb. The procedure outlined in the lesson is generally clear, but there are two errors I want to help you avoid.

One common error not mentioned in the textbook is the problem of the helping verb. Some students might try to translate the above sentence this way:

Stars are twinkling at night.

They think, “I used the word are, which is a ‘to-be’ verb, so it must be correct.” The problem is that the whole verb here is “are twinkling,” the are being merely a helping verb. The way to fix this is to make sure that the predicate is a noun, usually formed by turning the main verb into a noun (e.g. twinkle –> twinklers).

Secondly, it is sometimes best to make the predicate a noun by adding a new noun, usually a genus of the subject. For example, you could translate the above statement as

Stars are bodies that twinkle at night.

How would you translate this statement:  “Women are more dangerous than shotguns”? Probably best to add a noun, e.g.

Women are more-dangerous-than-shotgun people.

For clarity’s sake, you may want to use a different noun implied by the verb. For example, in translating “She’s got electric boots” (recognize those lyrics?) it would be overly awkward to say,

She is an electric boots getter.

Much better to translate this as

She is an owner of electric boots

or

She is an electric-boot wearer.

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