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When pigs fly! (When pigs flied! [flew] )

Discussion in 'English Only' started by SoLaTiDoberman, Nov 2, 2011.

  1. SoLaTiDoberman Senior Member

    Japan
    Japanese-Tokyo
    Hello, members.
    I'm reading "SPEAK ENGLISH LIKE AN AMERICAN for native Japanese speakers (by Amy Gillett)".
    In that book she wrote that "when pigs fly [slang]" means "never", "impossible".

    I think 'subjunctive mood' might be better.
    How should I think the syntax of this sentence?
    I would like to hear your opinion!

    Thank you
    So La Ti Do-berman
     
  2. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    New York
    USA - English
    I have no idea what you are asking. "When pigs fly" is indeed a common expression in English, and it is indeed used to describe something that will never happen, or that is very unlikely.
     
  3. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Hello SoLaTiDo

    Three points:
    (1) The usual expression in BrE is "And pigs might fly!": for example
    Loob: I might tidy the house tomorrow
    Friend who knows Loob well: And pigs might fly!


    (2) Variations are certainly possible - people do say things like "Right - and I just saw a pig flying past the window". And I see that GWB says that "When pigs fly!" is common in AmE.

    (3) You don't need the past subjunctive - and if you did, the past of "fly" is "flew", not "flied":).
     
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2011
  4. SoLaTiDoberman Senior Member

    Japan
    Japanese-Tokyo
    Thank you for your comment.

    It seemed to me that "when pigs fly" was not a usual sentence, but it is a 'subordinate clause'. I thought the main clause was probably abbreviated.
    I thought the complete sentence would be;
    "When pigs fly, your absurd idea/plan/thing will happen in this real world!" or something like that.

    And I thought 'subjunctive mood' must be better, because the speaker was talking about the impossible thing.
    "When pigs flew, your absurd idea would happen in this real world!"

    I'm sorry I didn't understand the correct past tense of "fly", which might make you confused.
     
  5. SoLaTiDoberman Senior Member

    Japan
    Japanese-Tokyo
    Thank you, Loob!
     
  6. LilianaB Senior Member

    US New York
    Lithuanian
    When pigs fly is not a sentence. It is a clause. It could also be used as a short answer to a question, for example: When will you do it? When pigs fly.
     
  7. SoLaTiDoberman Senior Member

    Japan
    Japanese-Tokyo
    Thank you, LilianaB. :)

    I know your point. And I agree with you in a certain point of view, that "when pigs fly" is not a sentence but a clause.
    And the longer/complete version would be;
    I will do it when pigs fly.
    (I would do it when pigs flew...........this is the original question which I would like to ask.)

    Yet, I disagree with you from another point of view.
    For example;
    "What?" is not a sentence in a certain point of view, but it is a sentence in a different point of view.
    So is "when pigs fly".

    What do you think?.....if I may ask.

    So La Ti Do-berman
     
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2011
  8. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    "When pigs fly" is a set phrase. It is indeed the same as never. Never does not change in tense or mood (it's not a verb), "When pigs fly" does not alter tense or mood.

    If it helps, you can imagine the phrase permanently inside quotation marks:
    e.g.
    "I told her I would do it 'when pigs fly'."
    She said she would wear pink "when pigs fly".
    "I will do that 'when pigs fly'"


    "When pigs fly" is given in response to what the speaker believes to be a stupid question / suggestion made to them and for them to act upon.
    A: "Why don't you try horse-riding?"
    B: "I'll do that when pigs fly!"



    Because it is known by everyone, and everyone understands it, there are slight variants used as light-hearted comments/ridicule by the person who hears what they believe to be a stupid statement directly from the speaker,
    e.g.
    A: "...and so the government will reduce taxes."
    B:"And pigs might fly!"
    a comment of disbelief and amazement to the person who made the unbelievable statement,
    and
    B(i)"Oh look! A flying pig!"
    a comment of disbelief and ridicule to the person who made the unbelievable statement.
     
  9. LilianaB Senior Member

    US New York
    Lithuanian
    I do not think it is a sentence, from the grammatical point of view. A sentence is a grammatical phenomenon, and it has to follow certain rules. It has to be complete. It is an expression, an answer to something.
     
  10. serious008

    serious008 New Member

    Beijing
    Chinese
    Hi neighbor.
    I met this phrase in a book before. Soon at that time I realized it means "things will never happen". You can think like this "When pig fly" is "When pig have the ability to fly in the sky". For ex. "Shark bites", "Birds fly", etc.

    serious008.
     
  11. SoLaTiDoberman Senior Member

    Japan
    Japanese-Tokyo
    Thank you, both of you, PaulQ & LilianaB.

    Very interesting to know!
     
  12. SoLaTiDoberman Senior Member

    Japan
    Japanese-Tokyo
    Hi. serious008
    I agree with you. "When pigs have the ability to fly in the sky" instead of "when the pigs (or pork) fly in the cargo plane;)" will never happen.
    This is why I thought "subjunctive mood" should be better to be used in this kind of expressions.
    This is why I created this thread.
    It's just out of curiosity.
     
  13. serious008

    serious008 New Member

    Beijing
    Chinese
    Well, people should always have curiosity in learning things.:D
     
  14. SoLaTiDoberman Senior Member

    Japan
    Japanese-Tokyo
    Thanks, Death Smile, for your comment.
    And this forum made me solve some part of the curiosity.

    According to #3 by Loob, my consideration would be correct in BrE.
    In BrE, the special auxiliary verb;"might" is used, which strongly suggests "subjunctive".
     
  15. SoLaTiDoberman Senior Member

    Japan
    Japanese-Tokyo
    Oh, thanks.
    I thought "when" and "if" were interchangeable.
    I got your point!
     
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2011
  16. Hermione Golightly Senior Member

    SW London
    British English
    I'd describe When pigs fly! as a subordinate clause of time functioning as an idiomatic exclamatory comment, meaning ' that will never happen' in response to a previous statement. It is not a sentence because a sentence has to have meaning on its own.

    If I suddenly say " When it's two o'clock.", nobody will know what I mean. They will ask "What about two o'clock?"
    When clauses referring to future time are in the indicative, present simple, Perhaps it's the future idea that makes you think of using the subjunctive/conditional past form of the verb.

    We'll have lunch when our friends arrive.

    We had lunch when our friends arrived.

    When I'm tired, I'll go to bed

    Loob will tidy her house when pigs fly!


    Hermione
     
  17. SoLaTiDoberman Senior Member

    Japan
    Japanese-Tokyo
    Thank you, Hermione Golightly, for your detailed and fruitful explanation.
    It helped me a lot.

    I've learned a lot of fruitful things from this thread, and I'm very pleased and satisfied, although I have to admit my initial consideration was superficial and wrong.

    My curiosity has been fully satisfied.
    Thanks again.
    So La Ti Do-berman
     

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