begging your pardon [why this tense?]

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longxianchen

Senior Member
chinese
Hi
Here is a dialogue from the novel, Tess of D'urbervilles:

"Now, sir, begging your pardon; we met last market-day on this road about this time, and I said "Good-night", and you made reply "Good night, Sir John", as now. Then what might your meaning be in calling me "Sir John" these different times, when I be plain Jack Durbeyfield, the haggler."

Why did the author use "begging" rather than "beg", and "be plain" rather than "am plain"? Was the author not good at tense?
Thank you in advance.
 
  • suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    There is nothing wrong with begging there, it is quite idiomatic.

    You are not going to get far criticising the grammar of one of England's great authors! However, this is DIALOGUE and he is using BE there to suggest a region dialect for the character.

    Also, he was writing some years ago, so the phrasing you will meet throughout the text could be not so common these days.
     

    longxianchen

    Senior Member
    chinese
    Sorry. I didn't mean criticizing him but to attract more attention to my thread. Do you mean "begging your pardon" was an idiomatic usage, instead of "beg your pardon", at the time? And is "BE" a subjunctive usage in the region dialect? Thank you. By the way, seems that you are very familiar with the novel.
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    Yes I mean begging your pardon was fine then and probably still is.

    You do not need to label the BE as subjunctive, it is just a non-standard use of the verb to be which is common in many regional dialects. It is the present tense and declines like this:
    I be
    you be
    he be
    we be
    you be(s)
    they be(s)

    Some regions add an S in the plural forms.
     

    longxianchen

    Senior Member
    chinese
    OK. Without your explanation, I would never know that. And I seemed to have met with such language phenomenon in The Bible, where it is a special subjunctive. Really thank you.
     
    Last edited:

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Here's Peter Trudgill, the sociolinguist:
    Standard English has irregular forms of the verb to be both in the present tense (am, is, are) and in the past (was, were). Many nonstandard dialects have the same form for all persons, such as I be, you be, he be, we be, they be, and I were, you were, he were, we were, they were.
    I don't find the -ing form strange. We say similar things like, 'Not meaning to criticise you - I wonder why you did what you did' when we're adding a kind of preface.
     
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