niedziela, 11 września 2011

Birth in English

Today, let's turn to a happier subject: birth.  How do we talk about it?  Many Polish students have problems in this area--and no wonder.  English and Polish go about this subject in very different ways.

In Polish we say Urodziłem (urodziłam) się, the same way (grammatically speaking) we would say Ogoliłem się, like something we do to or for ourselves.

But in an older form of English, people would say, A woman bears a child.  They used the verb to bear, which has nothing to do with a bear (an animal), but instead means something like carry.  It is still correct to say a woman bears a child, but it's a bit old-fashioned. 

Nowadays, people prefer to say, A woman gives birth.  Notice we don't say a birth.  In this sense, birth is uncountable.  A woman gives birth to a baby.

Getting back to the verb to bear--this is an irregular verb.  We don't say bear/beared/beared.  Instead, we use bear/bore/borne.  The spelling has changed, but basically when we want to say Urodziłem (urodziłam) się in English, we have to use the passive form of this verb.  The way English speakers think, the baby doesn't do anything.  The baby is passive during the whole process.  The mother does all the work.  So we say that a baby is born (present simple passive), has been born (present perfect passive), was born (past simple passive) and so on.

Most of the time, we use the past simple version, especially when we talk about ourselves:

I was born on 25 February 1943.

She was born in Poland.

They were all born in the maternity ward of a hospital thirty years ago.

We DON'T say: I borned.   We DON'T say: my mother borned me.  Both of these are completely incorrect--and worse yet, if we use them, other people might not understand us.

We can use the present simple version (a child is born) or occasionally the present perfect (a child has been born) to announce news.  A famous American Christmas hymn goes:

Go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born.

We should also remember that we use birth, born, etc. metaphorically, to mean "created" or "become":

A star is born (someone who was not famous has suddenly become famous--a star)

The idea of liberty was born in the hearts and minds of the people.