The band Fallout Boy recently released a version of the song, We Didn’t Start the Fire. The song was first released in 1989 by the singer/songwriter Billy Joel.
Joel’s song was about notable events and people in the United States and throughout the world from the years 1948, when Joel was born, to 1989.
More than 30 years have passed since then. Now, Fallout Boy remade the song to include events from 1989 to 2023. Joel’s song was in chronological order, meaning the events are presented in the order in which they took place. Fallout Boy’s version is not chronological.
Another difference between the two is Fallout Boy’s remake uses more full sentences. Both songs are mainly lists of people, places and events that many Americans are likely to remember.
In today’s Everyday Grammar, we will explore some of the different ways that the present tense is used in the song and some additional grammar points.
We use the present tense not only to describe action happening now but to talk about habits and repeated actions. The present tense is also used to talk about beliefs that people hold now and are likely to continue to have in the future.
The updated song moves back and forth between more recent events and events many years ago. Sometimes, events from the past are described using the present tense. Here is an example:
Michael Jackson dies. (3rd person singular, simple present tense)
To form the simple present tense, we use:
Subject + base verb + the rest of the sentence.
Make sure to add an “-s” to the base verb with the third person singular form (“he,” “she” or “it”).
With some verbs that end in letters like “o,” “z,” or a combination of some consonants, we add an “-es” ending to the third person singular, as in “goes” from this line in the song.
White rhino goes extinct.
Here the use of “go” in the 3rd person present tense is an informal way to say “becomes” extinct. It is also worth noting that the “-es” ending sounds like /z/ rather than /s/.
In the song, we see the modal verb “can” in the negative with a contraction.
I can't take it anymore.
“Can’t take it anymore” is an expression, meaning that you are not able or refuse to accept something that is difficult or bad in some way.
The song even uses the passive voice in the present tense with the verb “get” in place of the auxiliary or helping verb “be.”
Trump gets impeached twice.
To form the passive:
Subject + form of the verb “be” (or "get')+ past participle of transitive verb + rest of the sentence
Next the band refers to the terrorist attack on the United States on September 11th, 2001.
World trade, second plane, what else do I have to say?
The question, “what else do I have to say?” can also be found in the first version of the song. This question is rhetorical, meaning an answer is not expected. Instead, the question is asked to have a dramatic effect on the listener. The question does not need an answer because it is only asked to prove a point or an argument. This question means: “There is nothing more to say because I have said everything necessary.”
In today’s Everyday Grammar, we looked at the use of the present tense in the song We Didn’t Start the Fire. We also considered rhetorical questions and passive voice and even the modal verb “can.”
I’m Faith Pirlo.
Faith Pirlo wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
habit – n. something a person does regularly in a repeated way
consonant – n. a speech sound (such as /p/, /d/, or /s/) that is made by partly or completely stopping the flow of air breathed out from the mouth
extinct – adj. describing a species that no longer exists
informal – adj. suited for ordinary or everyday use
contraction –n. a shortened form of a word
passive voice – n. a way of writing or speaking that uses passive verbs where the subject receives the action of a verb
impeach – v. to charge (a public official) with a crime done while in office
transitive verb – n. a verb that takes a direct object
refer to –v. (phrasal) to talk about or mention something
dramatic – adj. striking in appearance or effect
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