Saturday, December 10, 2005

Why do we say "I'm on the bus"?

I always hearing you students complaining that English is so illogical. Not to me it isn't! Any foreign language is going to seem illogical when we compare it to our own. We grew up with our mother tongue (that's why it's called mother tongue, by the way), so of course it seems natural and logical to us.

You just can't get used to expressions like "on the bus" because it seems stupid. I'm not ON the bus,you say, like sitting on the roof, I'm IN the bus! And then you anglophones go and make it even more complicated by saying that you are IN a car, not on a car. What the hell am I supposed to make of that? OK, calm down, I'll try to explain.

You know that there is a lexical item in English that most people call a phrasal verb. You know, normally a little verb followed by a preposition, like wake up, break down, etc. Well the verb get takes every preposition. And very often, the verb get is used to indicate a change of state:
I was in bed
I get up
Now I am up (ie, not in bed any more)

I was single
I get married
Now I am married. (to get married isn't a phrasal verb, but you get the point, dont you?)

And so it is : I was on the pavement, I get on the bus, so now I am on the bus. So the change of state here is going from the ground to somewhere higher, which you can understand because in French we say monter, like go up or climb.

If you still can't see the logic, that's too bad, but it won't cause you any problems if you take the attitude "that's how it is in English, I can't change it, so I'll have to accept it". The best learners, like children, have this positive, accepting attitude. The poor learner lets these kind of questions stop him or her from making progress. C'est comme ├ža!

5 comments:

MacGyver13 said...

While reading your article I was wondering why I never thought about ‘being on the bus’ as a problem.
But looking at this more carefully, I noticed that, in this matter ,the odd one is ‘in a car’, because you say :
I’m on a train, on a bus, on a plane, on a boat, all of them are means of transport, right ?
So, if it were logical, you should say ‘on a car’ , right ?
But even to me( frenchy, remember ?) it sounds…strange, and why that ?
Because that doesn’t match with what I’ve heard, what I’ve read and what would come to my mouth if I had to say it.
So, no matter what is logical or is not, the more you wonder why, the more it looks complicated, and the less you feel comfortable when you have to speak.
Personnally I try to act like children, I memorize parts of what I hear (or read) , and when I’m able to use it without even thinking of it , that’s great !
Sure, it’s good to have an explanation when there is one, but it’s not necessary.
But I had a good time picturing you sitting on the roof of the bus trying to explain to your students the logical roots of all this ;-))
Mc

Jonathan Lewis said...

You are model student MC!

MacGyver13 said...

Not really ....but you do know that !
Mc

Anonymous said...

While going through the article and the comments I had this suggestion. The usage "on the bus", "on a train", "on a plane" or "on a boat" etc. might be because, we have this perception about climbing onto something. So it's like going from a "lower ground" to a "higher ground", as in climb on to a horse or something. However, we go into a car from a standing position to a seating position. So it's like going into a tent or something.

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