Monday, 1 December 2014

When would you do?

English-English (some forms of it at least?) allows (or encourages) one to use do after an auxiliary verb to represent a predicate, as in (1):

(1) I ate all the chocolate, even though I shouldn't have done.

...but the elliptic version is also possible (and the only option in AmE):

(2) I ate all the chocolate, even though I shouldn't have.

EngEng speakers don't always use the do. For instance, someone just told me:

I believe many of us say:
A: I remember you!
B: Yes, I imagine you would.  [rather than would do]

So, the question is: what conditions the use of pro-predicate do in BrE?

Is the answer:
  • form-based (grammatical or prosodic)?
  • semantic (depending on the meanings of the aux verbs or the predicates)?
  • pragmatic (communicating something more than the do-less alternative)?
As far as I know, not a lot has been done on this. (I wrote a blog post about it once and someone else wrote a blog post for which they couldn't find much more than what I'd written.) It makes lovely project because corpus data could tell you a lot. And it's the kind of thing that maybe could become a publishable paper.

There are also historical and sociolinguistic questions about this. It seems not to be as common in Scotland and Ireland. Is it as common in north and south of England? Is there evidence of it spreading or shrinking? Why does Australia seem to have it (maybe) but the US and Canada don't? (See comments at my other post.)