stories directory
grammar directory
annex directory
TESL directory
paired stories, second series
#2: slavery today
a: Francis Bok
language and meaning notes
annotated version
beginners' version
supplementary materials

Francis Bok: grammar and meaning notes

1 — ‘
spent the first seven years of his life
Usually the object of the verb ‘spend’ is ‘money’ or a noun phrase referring to an amount of money. (For example, “I spent too much money last night,” or “I spent three thousand dollars last night.) But it is also frequently used with ‘time’ or a noun phrase referring to an amount of time, for example, “Dick didn’t spend much time in Egypt” or “Dick only spent two days in Egypt.” With both ‘money objects’ and ‘time objects,’ ‘spend’ is a ditransitive prepositional verb, using the preposition ‘on.’ (For example: “I spent three thousand dollars on wine last night,” or “Dick only spent three hours on that job.”)

2 — ‘
raised chickens
The verb ‘raise’ is used in a special sense here to refer to looking after the chickens, getting them to reproduce, and then looking after the young chickens while they grow up. ‘Raise’ is also used in a similar way to refer to the process of looking after a child while it is growing up. For example, “Tom’s parents were killed in an accident when he was a baby, so he was raised by his grandparents.”

3 — ‘
Francis was his favourite
This means that of all his children, Francis was the one he liked most. ‘Favourite’ is used as a noun here although it is usually an adjective.

4 — ‘
used to working in the market
This means that the other children had had the experience of working in the market many times before — and therefore they knew how to do it and were not frightened or confused by it. [be + ‘used to’ + n/ing] is a set passive.

5 — ‘
had been selling
This verb phrase is in the past perfect progressive. It is used here to indicate that an activity continued for some time and then stopped at some time in the past before another event happened. (Here the ‘activity’ is the selling in the market, and the ‘other event’ is the noise of guns in the distance.)

6 — ‘
heard people shouting
‘Hear,’ and other perception verbs such as ‘see,’ ‘feel,’ ‘watch,’ ‘smell,’ are ‘complemented’ by the ing-form or the base form. (For an explanation of what ‘complemented’ means here, see the entry on verb complementation in the “Grammar Glossary.”)

7 — ‘
had had their heads cut off
This is an unusual case of a causative use of the verb ‘have.’. The main verb ‘have’ (which is in the past perfect tense here) is ‘complemented’ by the base form of the verb ‘cut off.’ Usually, when the verb ‘have’ is used causatively the action that is described by the ‘complementing’ verb is something that the person wanted to be done, as for example in, “Jill had her hair cut short.” Here, of course, the situation is different. (The sentence in the text is similar to a sentence like, “After the accident, Jack had his licence taken away.” ) (For more on what ‘complemented’ means above, see the entry on verb complementation.) (Notice also that the word 'had' is repeated as happens when 'have' is the MAIN VERB of a VERB PHRASE in the PAST PERFECT.

8 — ‘
at the last minute
To say something happened at the last minute is to say that it almost happened ‘too late.’ For example, “Dick arrived at the airport at the last minute,” means that if Dick had arrived any later than he did, he would have missed his plane.

9 — ‘
Giemma did tell the children to stop
Normally the auxiliary verb, ‘do’ is used only in questions and negatives. It is used, as here, in positive statements only to emphasize a contrast. In this case, the contrast is between Giemma’s bad behaviour in allowing his children to beat Francis and his good behaviour in finally telling them to stop. Another example: “Dick failed the math test, but he did do better than three-quarters of the class.” Here, the auxiliary is used to emphasize the contrast between the unfortunate fact that Dick failed the exam and the fortunate fact that he did better than three-quarters of the class. (See: Note #17 below.)

10 — ‘
was given a small shelter to sleep in
‘To sleep in’ is a ‘to’-infinitive adjective clause — a type of non-finite clause. It can be seen as a short form of the finite adjective clause ‘in which to sleep.’ However, as is often the case when a ‘to’-infinitive adjective clause is used, it is preferable to the full finite clause. (In other words: it sounds better and more natural to native speakers.) (For comments on the word 'shelter,' see Note 8 to "Michael Allen Lee.")

11 — ‘
Francis worked as a slave
This is an example of the structure: [subject + ‘work’ + ‘as’ + noun]. To say that Francis worked as a slave is more or less the same as saying he ‘was’ a slave but it emphasizes the fact that, as it turned out, Francis’ slavery was temporary. To take another example, if Jack’s Aunt Mary had a job as a bartender during the war but was a housewife before and after the war, it would be correct to say, ““During the war, Jack’s Aunt Mary was a bartender,” but it would be more natural to say, “During the war Jack’s Aunt Mary worked as a bartender.” (Sometimes this sort of structure can be used with verbs other than ‘work’. For example: “Jane served as secretary at the meeting,” or “Dick lived as a woman for several years.”)

12 — ‘
with one leg missing
The word ‘missing’ is an abbreviated adjective clause. It is a type of non-finite clause. It can be seen as a short form of ‘which was missing.’

13 — ‘
this didn’t bother Giemma and his family
This is approximately like saying, “Giemma and his family didn’t mind.” It means, in other words, that Giemma and his family didn’t worry about the fact that Francis couldn’t understand them and they didn’t see any reason to teach him their language.

14 — ‘
used gestures to tell Francis what to do
The clause ‘to tell Francis what to do’ is a ‘to’-infinitive adverbial clause. Like other adverbial clauses it modifies a verb, in this case, the verb ‘to use.’ ‘To’-infinitive adverbial clauses give information about the purpose of the action described by the verb, about why the action happened in other words.

15 — ‘
struggled to learn Arabic on his own
Doing something ‘on your own’ is doing it without any help from anyone else even though it’s something that’s difficult for you to do. For example, “When Jill was only seven years old she could cook complicated meals on her own.” (This expression is similar to ‘do something by yourself,’ but to say, “Jill cleaned up the house by herself,” does not imply that cleaning up the house is a difficult thing for Jill to do.” )

16 — ‘
the other raiders had the power
To say that the raiders ‘had the power to kill and capture’ just means that this was something they could do because of the especially strong position they were in. To take another example: “Only the government has the power to send people to jail.” (Saying that someone does not have the power to do something just means they cannot do it.)

17— ‘
by the time Francis finally escaped
This means that at some unspecified time before Francis escaped, his Arabic become excellent. “By the time Jill arrived Jack had left,” tells us that when Jack arrived, Jill was not there — but it doesn’t tell us exactly when Jack left.

18 — ‘
Giemma’s wife, who was watching, urged him to shoot.'
‘Who was watching’ is a NON-RESTRICTIVE ADJECTIVE CLAUSE. In other words, the information that it gives is not required in order to know what the phrase ‘Giemma’s wife’ refers to. The commas used before and after the clause indicate that it is non-restrictive. In the sentence, “The old man who was watching Giemma urged him not to shoot” the adjective clause ‘who was watching Giemma’ is a restrictive adjective clause — as is indicated by the fact that is not ‘set off’ with commas.

19 —
‘he decided that he would wait three years’
‘Would wait’ is an example of the ‘future in the past’ It is used, as here, to describe an event which was in the past at the time a story was told, but which is in the future from the ‘point of view’ of a particular time in the story. In other words, at the time Francis wrote his story, the period of three years of waiting was in the past, but at the time of his first two escape attempts, it was in the future. It is also possible to form the future in the past by using ‘go’ in the past progressive — “He decided he was going to wait three years.”
(See: Note # 9 “Clint van Loggenberg,” Second Series, #1b.)

20 —
‘he felt it would take that long’
The phrase ‘that long’ refers to ‘three years.’ The word ‘that’ can be seen as a pronoun replacing ‘three years.’

21 — ‘
this time he did succeed
Here again the auxiliary ‘do’ is used in a positive statement in order to emphasize a contrast. See Note #9 above. (Here, the contrast is between Francis’ failure to escape on his first two attempts and his success on the third.)