Re: Present tence copulative verbs

From: dan-ake mattsson (
Date: Wed Sep 02 1998 - 02:00:32 EDT

Ben Crick wrote:

>On Tue 1 Sep 98 (09:35:20 +0200), wrote:
>> My mother tongue is not English, but it seems to me that the translation
>> (RSV) "Before Abraham was, I am." is grammatically wrong, and the only
>> way to defend it, is to introduce a mystical element (which of course is
>> not based on grammar). The use of perfect would on the other hand be
>> English. Is this view correct?
> You raise some interesting points, Dan-Ake.
> The retro-translation of John 8:58 into Hebrew by Franz Delitzsch uses
> the phrase 'aNiY HuW' "I he". There is no verb; the present tense of "to
> be" is understood, but not expressed. As far as English usage is
> one would say e.g. "I have been in England since 1990"; whereas a German
> would say "Ich bin in England seit dem Jahre 1990": using the Present
> English uses the Perfect. Both English and German understands "I have
> *and still am* here": "Ich bin *und bleibe noch* hier".
> So the English "Since Abraham was, I am" is accurate in expressing PRIN
> ABRAAM GENESQAI, EGW EIMI. Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that
> Norwegian and the Scandinavian languages follow the German usage of the
> Present and Perfect tenses here.


Your English and German examples are clear. Norwegian and Swedish (my
native language) would use a perfect in a clause similar to the two above,
thus being similar to English rather than to German. My problem, however,
is not connected with "since 1990" or "seit dem Jahre 1990", but with the
preposition "before". I have been taught that present tense in English is
ungrammatical if it is used to describe a period of time which lasts from
BEFORE a particular point in the past and until the present.
My question therefore is: Can you quote any example from English prose of a
construction similar to:
"Before Abraham was (or, came into existence), I am."? If this is a normal
(or possible) way of expression, I am wrong. If there are no examples of
such constructions, the normal way of rendering John 8:58 in the versions
is mystical rather than grammatical.


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