When I still used to go/went to school I learned X

Discussion in 'English Only' started by wolfbm1, Feb 18, 2013.

  1. wolfbm1 Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish
    Hello.
    "When I still ..................... school I learned how to make fish paste."

    I would like to express the idea that the action of going to school was uncompleted.
    How can I complete the gap?
    1. used to go to
    2. went to

    I don't really want to say that I don't go to school now.

    I'm afraid that #2 can mean a completed action.
    I don't think I need to use the past continuous here.

    I think I could use the word attend or be, but I would rather use the word go. Is it possible?
     
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2013
  2. Copyright

    Copyright Senior Member

    Penang
    American English
    As soon as you put "still" in any of your constructions, it means you no longer attend school.
     
  3. wolfbm1 Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish
    Thank you, Copyright. :)
    So, in order to keep "still" in the sentence, I would have to say:
    "When I still attended school I learned how to make fish paste."

     
  4. Copyright

    Copyright Senior Member

    Penang
    American English
    You mentioned that you "don't really want to say that I don't go to school now." When you have "still" in the sentence, it tells me you don't go to school now.

    Let me suggest "I learned how to make fish paste in school" and you can tell me what you don't like about it. :)
     
  5. wolfbm1 Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish
    Thank you for your suggestion. That's an interesting way of putting it.
    I need the uncompleted meaning of "going to school" or "attending school" to create a proper context for uncompleted "learning how to do something."
    Your answer in post #2 confirms that I cannot say: "When I still went to school I learned X."
    Your sentence
    "I learned how to make fish paste in school" has the completed effect. To create an uncompleted effect I would have to say:
    " In school I kept/continued learning how to make pasta." But that is a topic for a new thread.

     
  6. Copyright

    Copyright Senior Member

    Penang
    American English
    That's why I gave you "I learned to make fish paste in school." It's ambiguous. It could mean "I learned back when I was in school" or "I learned in school today." We don't know the school status of the speaker with that sentence.

    As I just mentioned, that is not necessarily true.

    No, that's not true at all ... and is a very odd sentence. :)
     
  7. wolfbm1 Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish
    I have to admit that I chose the completed meaning quite arbitrarily.

    So, I don't really need to say "I kept learning ..." or "I tried learning ... ."

    I moved the adverb of place to the beginning so that I can make a longer list of skills my class learned, e.g.

    "(I remember that) in school we learned the multiplication table, in practical and technical class we learned how to cook, in PE we learned how to climb a rope."

    The sentence above, by default, can have a completed meaning but that is not necessarily true.
     
  8. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    This does mean that the learning was completed. It does not say that the school attendance has been completed.
     
  9. wolfbm1 Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish
    Thank you. So I misunderstood Copyright. I need to ruminate it a bit ...

    Is the above conclusion wrong, then?
     
  10. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    You have defined all the things that were learned and stated that the learning was completed ('we learned').
     
  11. wolfbm1 Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish
    O.K. To achieve the uncompleted sense, I need to use the trick with the word try:
    (I remember that) in school we tried to learn the multiplication table, in practical and technical class we tried to learn how to cook, and in PE we tried to learn how to climb a rope."
     
  12. Copyright

    Copyright Senior Member

    Penang
    American English
    This all sounds like school is over for you ... not for the day or the year but forever.

    I'm not sure why there is a need to try to include the information that you're still in school. Knowing that might help. And knowing the grade you're in now and when you learned whatever it was you learned might also be useful.
     
  13. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    The 'trick' with the word 'try' does not convey that your attendance at school was uncompleted. That is because you are applying it to the verb 'learn'. Nothing you do with that verb will say whether your school attendance is complete or not.

    The simple phrase 'in school' means 'while we were at school'. It already conveys the fact that at the relevant time your school attendance was not completed. For that purpose, nothing more is needed than the two words 'in school'.

    (By the way, 'while we were at school' is equivalent to a past continuous because 'were' is a verb of state, not action. That is why we do not say 'while we were being at school'.)
     
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2013
  14. Thomas1

    Thomas1 Senior Member

    polszczyzna warszawska
    Let me quote some relevant posts from another thread entitled I was reading / I read a book during the flight, which might be relevant to the discussion.
    How would you express the same with the verb 'learn' please?
    For example in the sentence:
    I remember when I was still at school we learnt(???) the multiplication table, in practical and technical class we learnt(???) how to cook, and in PE we learnt(???) how to climb a rope.
    I want to focus more on the action as a whole, but don't want to present the action of learning as 'completed' (as it is the case in the sentence 'I read a book during the flight'). The thing whether we did learn all these things (completely) is of little consequence.
     
  15. Myridon

    Myridon Senior Member

    Texas
    English - US
    I thought we recently discussed the difference between "learn" and "study", but I can't find it.
    It is easy to picture someone reading a book and not finishing it in a single flight. It is hard to imagine someone studying the multiplication tables for 12 years and not learning it. In what way do you mean that the learning is not complete? Your teacher died when you got to 8x7 so you never learned 8x8?
     
  16. Thomas1

    Thomas1 Senior Member

    polszczyzna warszawska
    Yes, I had read that thread. But still, I think 'study' wouldn't be the best choice for the sentence I'm asking about, or indeed?
    I'm more interested in how to express that the action of learning simply took place, just as in the sentence with the verb 'read'. In the Polish imperfective we emphasise that 'learning X' took place. The issue of whether I actually learnt X is of little consequence, although it is usually implied that you learnt something, but we don't know how much (that is simply not important).
     
  17. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    Please be assured that the following answer relates only to the question of whether the action described was completed or not: it does not deal at all with the question whether anything was fully learned. In fact, let us take the verb 'to run'.

    With the English past tense you have the choice between the simple form ('he ran') and the continuous ('he was running'). The simple presents the action as a completed event, the continuous presents it as an uncompleted event. Thus:

    'He ran a 10,000 metre race. While he was running, he lost five pounds in body weight.'

    Here, 'ran' simply says the action happened (a single, completed event).
    'Was running' says that the loss of weight took place within the time frame of that action.
     
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2013
  18. wolfbm1 Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish
    I've got a question regarding: 'He ran a 10,000 metre race.'

    Do we know if the person ran the whole distance from start to finish? (From 0 to 10,000 metres? Maybe he just participated in the race and failed to reach the finish line for some reason.)

    If the answer is 'No', then how would you express the idea that the runner fully ran the 10,000 metres?
     
  19. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    Yes.
     
  20. lucas-sp Senior Member

    English - Californian
    I think you might be getting yourself confused! The vast majority of times, if you're saying that someone "ran a 10K race," then you're presumably describing him running the whole race.

    If you aren't, then you can say "He tried to run a 10K race but collapsed after 500 meters" or "He only ran half of the 10K race" or "He entered a 10K race but didn't finish."

    If you're talking to someone who you think would doubt that he finished the race, then you could say "He successfully ran a 10K race" or "He ran the whole 10K race."

    In real life, almost all of these ambiguities are reduced by context. So even if he didn't finish the race, if you're talking to someone who knows he didn't complete the race, you could say "He sure ran that 10K race, didn't he!"

    So if it's really important that the listener know whether you're still in school or not, you'll say so, or it'll come out in the conversation in some other way. The tense of the verb itself doesn't do that much work. The relationship of the various verbs to the speech situation tells a lot to the listener.

    So if you're still in school and still learning to make fish paste, just say "We're learning how to make fish paste in school." Bam!
     
  21. Myridon

    Myridon Senior Member

    Texas
    English - US
    Yes, "study" would be much closer for what you mean than "learn." That's why I mentioned it.
    If you say you learned something, then you completed the learning of whatever part of the entire subject that you studied. "While we were studying cooking, I learned to peel a potato." You did not learn everything about cooking, but you completely learned how to peel a potato.
     
  22. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    As I understand it, you wish to say that (i) you learned to make fish paste at school and that (ii) you are still at school, and (iii) you wish to achieve this meaning unambiguously and do it in a statement of one clause.

    "In school, I have learned to make fish paste."
     
  23. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    Compare post 13:
    However, wolfbm1 is evidently seeking some light on the difference between Polish aspective tenses and English simple and continuous. That is why he wants a sentence of two clauses, each with a different verb.
     
  24. wolfbm1 Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish
    I was hoping you would say 'No', because I am prone to translating "ran" in 'He ran a 10,000 metre race.' into Polish using the imperfective form.

    It is interesting that even the Polish imperfective form can mean that the runner ran the race from start to finish. And as lucas-sp explained, that is what we usually assume.

    I can freely translate the following sentences using the perfective form:

    "He only ran half of the 10K race"

    "He entered a 10K race but didn't finish."


    "He successfully ran a 10K race"

    "He ran the whole 10K race."

    Thank you very much for now. I wonder what Thomas will think about it.
     
  25. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    I realise that. The two languages are different. The Latin imperfect would also be used in that case.

    The past simple is regularly used in English to express a completed action in the past which lasted an extended time.
    It does not express mere completion ('perfection' of the action) alone.
     
  26. Thomas1

    Thomas1 Senior Member

    polszczyzna warszawska
    Well, at some point I thought I had finally understood something, but now the more examples I analyse, the more confusing it gets.

    Let me recapitulate what I think might be the case, and correct me if what I will have written about English is not correct:
    It is possible that the following sentence:
    I read a book.
    can mean two things in English:
    1. In the past I read some part of the book (a page, two, maybe a chapter or even the half of the book). The activity of reading is over.
    2. In the past I read the whole book. The activity of reading is over.
    How do we know it is #1 or #2?
    Usually, through the context. So if I say:
    During the flight, I read a book.
    It is rather more logical to interpret the sentence that I read some part of the book. However, the interpretation 'I read the whole book.' isn't out of the question. But if I say:
    Last month, I read a book.
    It is more logical to interpret it to mean that I read the whole book, although it is sill possible that I read just a part of it.


    On the other hand, why the sentence:
    I ran a 10K race.
    can be only interpreted as a completed activity and that the person did run the whole 10K metres is elusive to me. :confused:
    My question: is it possible to say in English:
    I ran in a 10K race.
    If so, is its intepretation also limited to the same one as in the case of 'I ran a 10K race.'?


    The next example, with the verb 'learn', is also mysterious, because in Polish it is perfectly acceptable to use its imperfective equivalent in the past, and to inform that the action of learning took place at some point in the past, that's it. Does it also inform you whether someone really learnt/achieved something? By definition it doesn't. However, in practice it is, I daresay, almost always inferred that you learnt/achieved something. How much? It depends on what you learnt. For instance [now, I'm writing Polish in English :D]:
    When I was at school I learnt English.
    This sentence informs you that the process of my learning English is over now and that I learnt some English Up to what level? We don't konw this. We can only assume here. Maybe, it's a nativelike proficiency, or, maybe, it's just enough to be able to buy your groceries at a local deli. (In contrast, if we used the perfective aspect in the Polish sentence, it would mean that the person acheived to learn English quite well. Such a statement could even be received as self-conceit in certain contexts.)
    My questions are:
    What does the English sentence 'When I was at school, I learnt English.' tell you about the extent to which you learnt English?
    How can you express the difference between the Polish imperfective and perfective aspects in this particular case in English?
    However, if I say in Polish using the imperfective aspect in the past [again Polish-English sentence]:
    When I was at school, I learnt the multiplication table.
    It means that the process of my learning the multiplication table is over now. Did I learn it? Again, the usual inference is that yes. How much, well, the usual inference is that the whole (which is usually taught at Polish schools, i.e. multiplying from 1 to 10 by various combinations of these digits).
    Question: what does the English sentence: 'When I was at school, I learnt the multiplication table.' tell you about the degree of your achievement?
    Because of this apparent ambiguity of the Polish imperfective aspect, it is possible to cheat. For example, kids sometimes can use the imperfective in their answers to cheat their parents [context: a child was given a poem to learn by heart as his homework] [Again, Polish sentences written in English]:
    Parent: Have you learnt the poem?/Did you learn the poem? [The perfective aspect used, because the parent is more interested in the result of the activity than in the activity itself. I know the meaning in this case is closer to 'memorise', but that's not important for the Polish sentence.]
    Child: I learnt. [The imperfective aspect used; the child is elusive; he only informs his parent that the activity of his learning the poem took place. We don't know whether he actually learnt the whole poem by heart or not.]
    Question: how would you express this nuance in English?
     
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2013
  27. lucas-sp Senior Member

    English - Californian
    Well, again, in English we don't really expect the verb tense alone to do all of the heavy lifting. If you actually want to express whether you've read every single page of the book - or whether you aren't going to read the book any more - or which parts of the book you read - you have other ways to say this.

    I read a bit / I read some of my book / I read a little = my particular "act of reading" that I did on the plane is now over, since I'm not reading right now, but I still will do some more reading in this book
    I started reading my book = I opened a book and began reading, beginning with the first page. I didn't read all the way to the end, though
    I read some more of my book = I read pages that were not at the absolute beginning or end of the book
    I finished my book / I finished reading Daniel Deronda / I finally made it all the way through Daniel Deronda = I read all the way to the end of my book. If I want to read it again, I'll have to start over. Also, when I got on the plane I wasn't on page 1 of the book.
    I read all of Daniel Deronda / I read Daniel Deronda cover-to-cover = I started reading on the first page of a book and read all of the pages in the book
    I read some more of Daniel Deronda, but I hate it. I don't think I'm going to read any more of it.


    Now, "learn" is different. If you "learn" something, then you learned all there is to know about it. If I learned to make fish sauce, I can now make fish sauce. If I learned Polish in school, then I can now speak in Polish - or alternately, and this is important, I'm lying to make myself sound more intelligent/skilled than I really am.

    But this doesn't mean that we can't express the idea of "doing some learning on a topic but not exhaustively learning about it in every single one of its aspects." Instead, we use the perfectly good verb to study. Or you can use the other words that popped up in the plane example - started to, do some, finished doing, etc.

    Did you learn your lines?
    I learned them.
    = I now have them completely memorized
    I started learning them
    I finished learning them
    I learned some of them
    &c.

    If you want some Aktionsart, "learn" is a verb of accomplishment (like "drown"). "Study" is a verb of activity (like "swim").
     

Share This Page