Cat chat

« previous post | next post »

From a Duolingo chat page:

The timelessness of being a cat / L'intemporalité d'être un chat.

(Versions of the feline tense/aspect chart have been circulating since at least 2019, originally appearing in Russian on the English language-learning site Skyeng Magazine.)

My favorite cat post:

"I am a cat?" (8/19/16)

My favorite cat novel:

Wagahai wa neko de aru
"I am a cat"

1905-1906 by Natsume Sōseki (1867-1916)


Selected readings

"Is Hello Kitty not a cat?" (8/30/14)

"Cat and mouse on the Chinese internet" (7/30/15)

"Turkish 'kedi' and English 'cat'" (7/25/20)

[h.t. Gene Hill]


  1. Laura Morland said,

    May 20, 2021 @ 12:37 am

    Having lived with a cat throughout the pandemic, I can relate.

    I'm wondering about the origins of this delightful table, because while the verb tenses are (past) perfect, the definite article before "next summer" is either an editing lapse or a foreigner's mistake.

  2. Hans Adler said,

    May 20, 2021 @ 1:30 am

    I have been waiting for an occasion to ask this question here, and this one may be as good as it gets:

    Am I falling prey to the recency illusion, or is there a strong trend for people on the Internet to treat the appropriate use of the past perfect as optional? I have a hunch that it started less than ten years ago and it's strongest where the US influence is particularly strong. But it's already so common that I have stopped thinking of everyone who does it as a native speaker of a non-European language.

    I tried to check my observation with Google's n-gram viewer, but I didn't get any conclusive results either way. Given that "If I went yesterday" returns only 3 pages of Google hits on the web, I wouldn't expect to see this phenomenon in books yet, anyway.

    I did find some low quality discussions on the issue. Also, there seems to be a song "If I saw you yesterday, would it make a difference?" from Surfvampires, a group from Brunei.

    Has anyone else observed this? Is it just noise?

  3. Victor Mair said,

    May 20, 2021 @ 5:25 am

    Here are a couple of other online Iterations of this charming cat chat chart:

    In English on Twitter from July 2020:

    "English for Cats", Gabrielle, Best English Online (9/21/20)

  4. Victor Mair said,

    May 20, 2021 @ 5:30 am

    See also "Let Sleeping Cats Lie", The Grammar Cat (2/27/13)

  5. Dan Schmidt said,

    May 20, 2021 @ 6:17 am

    I believe that the past perfect has been getting more and more optional for ages (as one might expect). I certainly noticed it in the 20th century.

  6. Victor Mair said,

    May 20, 2021 @ 6:33 am

    What I find most incredible about cat behavior is that they can lie on a couch continuously for incredible lengths of time, but then spring into electric action at the drop of a hat.

    Why can't we do that when we get out of bed in the morning?

  7. rpsms said,

    May 20, 2021 @ 9:03 am

    Where does "I am always on the couch anymore." (Philadelphia regional) fit on this chart?

  8. Philip Taylor said,

    May 20, 2021 @ 2:09 pm

    rpsms — I have no idea. But what does "anymore" contribute to the semantics of the phrase ? Does it mean anything more (or less) than "I am always on the couch" ?

  9. Wally w said,

    May 20, 2021 @ 4:07 pm

    I am not rpsms, and I ‘ve only spent about two days in Philadelphia in my life, but to me the anymore adds I didn’t use to be always on the couch but these days it seems I am always on the couch.

  10. Dara Connolly said,

    May 20, 2021 @ 5:32 pm

    Hans Adler said:
    is there a strong trend for people on the Internet to treat the appropriate use of the past perfect as optional?

    After "if", you mean? It seems that "if I had gone" feels wrong for a large number of speakers, and so they default to alternative formulations such as "if I would have gone", "if I had have gone", "if I had of gone", "if I hadda gone", as well as "if I went". Similarly for the negative "if I hadn't of gone".

    I don't think this trend is regional; whether it's recent is harder to say because the internet presents us with a lot of casual and non-professional written output.

    Why does it happen? And why only after "if"? My guess is that "had gone" doesn't "feel" sufficiently irrealis and so speakers are reaching for a conditional form that is not available in standard English. Similarly, French speakers are admonished never to use the conditional form after "si", even though it may feel more natural for them to do so.

  11. Jerry Friedman said,

    May 20, 2021 @ 7:01 pm

    Philip Taylor: "I'm never on the couch any more" means "I'm never on the couch these days," so in a large region of the U.S., "I'm always on the couch any more" means "I'm always on the couch these days." For details see "positive any more" or "positive anymore".

  12. Philip Taylor said,

    May 21, 2021 @ 5:21 am

    For me (L1 <Br.E> speaker), "Had I gone" is the most natural way to express "If I had gone". And my thanks to those who explained "anymore" — I am staggered !

  13. Michael Watts said,

    May 22, 2021 @ 10:01 pm

    "If I had gone" is probably getting rarer in part for an unrelated reason – on the internet, the EN-form "gone" is dying out, being replaced by "went". It's very common now to see e.g. "I should have went…", which is not grammatical for me.

  14. Michael Watts said,

    May 23, 2021 @ 8:24 pm

    In fact, here's an example of "I've went digging twice".

  15. Michael Carasik said,

    May 24, 2021 @ 5:23 pm

    Many years ago I remember reading an excerpt from a Chinese science fiction novel that translated as "Everybodyovskyism in Cat City."

RSS feed for comments on this post