Schooltime: How Good Is Your Grammar?

If you solve this, you’re genius!

Mr Smith had four daughters. Each daughter had a brother. How many children does Mr. Smith have?

This question exposes the loopholes in English Grammar. I had first not looked at the tenses in present and past before giving an answer, but when you observe correctly, you identify the ambiguity of the question that even the person who formulated this question, lost some points and can’t qualify as genius.

Reason? The wrong use of tenses.

(A) Mr Smith HAD four daughters.
‘Had’ in English tenses could be in the past and preterit form (I am not sure the last exists though save for in other European languages like German, Spanish, French, Italian etc) and could mean the absence of the daughters, that is, the daughters are dead. Mr Smith has NO DAUGHTER AGAIN.

(B) Each daughter had a brother.
This where the problem lies, because the preterit can’t be distinguished from the past tense, and the only way out of this labyrinth is to employ the pluperfect tense ‘had had.’ The person who posted the question said ‘had had’ is tautology😏😏

For example: If each daughter had a brother, and from the first premise, we presume the daughters are dead, this verb ‘had’ has nothing to tell us about the state of their brother, if he’s living or dead. We can only make presumptions which wouldn’t have been the case were the pluperfect employed. I could reframe this with another example.

(a) I had a sister, Obianuju.
(b) Obianuju had a father
(c) Do I still have a father?

The answer is YES and No, depending on the tense of the verb functioning as past or preterit. The past or preterit tense ‘had’ doesn’t show anything if my father died before Obianuju and she had a father or Obianuju died and father is still living. In fact, father is still living. This error couldn’t have been avoided had the ‘genius’ who formulated this question used the right tenses.

So, the answer to the question above is this:

It’s either Mr. Smith has no child or he has a son (as in Schrödinger’s cat)

English students, what do you say?

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The magazine for the culture