Don’t or Didn’t? A Grammatical Argument

From my experience of learning English and Chinese, I have to admit that even though it has funny sounding words that means exactly like they sound like pompous and ridiculous long words that no one can say it in one breath like supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, English is an easy language to master. Way easier than Chinese.

f58199482e5e09620da708b7d2f272c6Anyway, back when I taught English to the wealthy spoiled international students at the private school, I got into an argument with one of my student, Peter, over a simple grammar rule. When to use don’t and when to use didn’t.

I have to admit, that kid was persistent with his argument. He kept saying he was right and I was wrong and I just kept telling him the opposite. Deep down, I never liked Peter. He was one of those kids that was on the principal’s blacklist, the kids that cheat on tests and do unspeakable things like disobey teachers, smoke, and do drugs.

Anyway, that day, having to teach and run errands for my other job, it was the second to last period of the day. I was teaching when to use didn’t and when to use don’t for the third time. I taught in Chinese, their native language. I told them. I didn’t do it means 我没有做 and I don’t do it means somebody telling you to not do it, basically I don’t have to do it or 我不要做or 我不能做.

I took a quick breath as they completed the exercise on the worksheet. Afterwards, we went over the answer. I don’t really have an answer key to any of the exercises in the book. I usually just do them in my head, almost like someone would say play by ear but 99% of the time, I turn out to be right.

As I was going over the answers, I hit a bump. One of the sentences in the exercise read “When I tell you to not play so close to the road, you______ do it.”

Of course, the correct answer is don’t but when I read the answer, an argument was somehow sparked between me and Peter when he asked, “Teacher, why not didn’t?”

“Well,” I calmly answered him, “because didn’t mean 没有 and in this case, it does not fit into this sentence since it’s someone telling someone to not play so close to the road.”

He kept talking, “What about I don’t know and I didn’t know? They mean the same thing. So why can’t I use didn’t?”

He was right, I don’t know and I didn’t know did mean the same thing but in this sentence, don’t and didn’t means different things. At this point, although I knew the answer, I have no idea how to answer him. I told him again, now, my voice was slightly pitched from the irritation. “Yes, they do mean the same thing but not in this sentence.”

He stood up and pointed his finger at me, “Aha, so you admit you’re wrong!” I stood up too and I could feel my face gettingn6p_how-to-draw-an-angry-face-tutorial-drawing big and red and could blow any second. My hands clenched the side of the table in an iron grip. “Just admit it, you’re wrong.” He said and that was it. That was the last straw.

My hands let go of the table and clenched into fists. I took a breath through my nose and composed myself. You are the grown up in this situation, not the child, I told myself. “I don’t want to discuss this anymore. Let’s move on.”

“You’re wrong. The teacher is wrong.” Peter singsonged and that was the last straw.

I blew. “OUT!” I roared. “Get out now!”

“No,” he said like a little kid.

I stood up, went to his desk and pulled him out of the classroom. Then I locked the door behind me. I turned back to my students, who stared at me wide-eyed. I went back to my desk. “Now, where were we?”

For the rest of that day, I kept expecting the high school principal to burst in to the room and demand my explanation of kicking Peter out of the room but he didn’t. The principal would never stand side with Peter. I wasn’t in the mood to be lectured by any adult figures that day anyways. I was in bad enough mood from running around working three jobs and school. That is why I resolute to quit after the school year was over and never to teach again but then again, I don’t really get to control that, do I?

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