Present-Day English (PDE): Definition and Examples

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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The term Present-Day English (PDE) refers to any one of the varieties of the English language (usually a standard variety) that is used by speakers who are alive today. Also called late or contemporary Modern English.

But not all linguists define the term in this way. Millward and Hayes, for example, describe Present-Day English as "the period since 1800." For Erik Smitterberg, on the other hand, "Present-Day English refers to the period from 1961, the year in which texts that make up the Brown and LOB corpora were published, on" (The Progressive in 19th-Century English, 2005).

Regardless of the precise definition, Mark Ably describes contemporary English as "the Wal-Mart of languages: convenient, huge, hard to avoid, superficially friendly, and devouring all rivals in its eagerness to expand" (Spoken Here, 2003).

Examples and Observations

"Perhaps the two most salient characteristics of Present-Day English are its highly analytic grammar and its immense lexicon. Both of these features originated during the M[iddle] E[nglish] period. Although English has lost all but a handful of its inflections during ME and has undergone little inflectional change since, ME marks only the onset of the burgeoning of the English vocabulary to its current unparalleled size among the languages of the world. Ever since ME, the language has been more than hospitable to loanwords from other languages, and all subsequent periods have seen comparable influxes of loans and increases in vocabulary. . . .

"All areas of life in the present-day era have seen the influx of new words. To be sure, many words derive from electronic technologies . . .. Some words come from the entertainment industry such as . . . anime (Japanese animation) and celebutante (a celebrity known in fashionable society). Some words come from politics, for example, POTUS (president of the United States), rubber-chicken circuit (the round of fund-raising dinners attended by politicians), and wedge-issue (a decisive political issue). . . . New words also come from a mere desire to play with the language, such as baggravation (the aggravation at having one's bags lost at the airport), fantabulous (beyond fabulous), flaggin' (flashing or giving gang signs), losingest (in last place), stalkerazzi (a tabloid journalist who stalks celebrities)."
(C. M. Millward and Mary Hayes, A Biography of the English Language, 3rd ed. Wadsworth, 2012)

Verbs in PDE

"The Early Modern English period, particularly the 17th and 18th centuries, witnesses developments that result in the establishment of the Present-Day English verbal system. The most noticeable of these affect the subjunctive and the modal auxiliaries, tense auxiliaries (future and [plu]perfect), passive, and the progressive (be + -ing). At the end of the 18th century, a fairly high degree of paradigmatic symmetry exists in the verbal group: various combinations of tense, mood, voice and (to a certain extent) aspect can be systematically expressed by sets of auxiliaries and endings."
(Matti Rissanen, "Syntax." Cambridge History of the English Language, Vol. 3, ed. by Roger Lass. Cambridge University Press, 2000)

Modals in PDE

"[A]lready in Present-day English we seem to be reaching a stage where some modals (shall, ought to, need) are reaching the end of their useful life."
(Geoffrey Leech, "Modality on the Move." Modality in Contemporary English, ed. by Roberta Facchinetti, Manfred Krug, and Frank Palmer. Mouton de Gruyter, 2003)

Adverbs in PDE

"In Shakespeare, there are many adverbs without -ly (our will . . . which else should free have wrought, Macbeth, II.i.18f), but the -ly forms are more numerous, and the relative number has increased since then. In our example, free would be replaced by freely in present-day English.

"Today there is a residue of adverbs without the suffix, e.g. far, fast, long, much. In another group of adverbs, there is vacillation between suffix and no suffix, something which has been utilized systematically in a number of cases: dig deep vs. deeply involved; he was admitted free vs. speak freely; right now vs. he rightly concluded that . . .; cp. also clean(ly), direct(ly), loudly(ly), near(ly), short(ly), etc."
(Hans Hansen and Hans Frede Nielsen, Irregularities in Modern English, 2nd ed. John Benjamins, 2012)

Spelling and Speech Habits in Present-Day English

"The irregularities of present-day English spelling are more in evidence with vowels than with consonants. . . .

"-a/ent, -a/ence, -a/ency
This is a notorious source of mis-spellings in present-day English because the vowel in both sets of suffixes is reduced to /ə/. There is some guidance on the choice of a or e spellings from related forms with a stressed vowel: consequent - consequential; substance - substantial. All three endings -ant, -ance, -ancy or -ent, -ence, -ency may occur, but sometimes there are gaps: we have different, difference, but rarely differency; we have delinquent, delinquency, but rarely delinquence."
(Edward Carney, English Spelling. Routledge, 1997)

"Spelling also exerts a certain influence on speech habits so that so-called spelling pronunciations come into existence. . . . [T]he previous silent t in often is pronounced by many speakers. Of this Potter writes: 'Of all the influences affecting present day English that of spelling upon sounds is probably the hardest to resist' (1979: 77).

"There are, in other words, tendencies for people to write the way they speak, but also to speak the way they write. Nevertheless, the present system of English spelling has certain advantages:

Paradoxically, one of the advantages of our illogical spelling is that . . . it provides a fixed standard for spelling throughout the English-speaking world and, once learnt, we encounter none of the difficulties in reading which we encounter in understanding strange accents.
(Stringer 1973: 27)

A further advantage (vis–à–vis the spelling reform propagated by George Bernard Shaw) is that etymologically related words often resemble each other despite the difference in their vowel quality. For example, sonar and sonic are both spelled with o even though the first is pronounced with /əʊ/ or /oʊ/ and the latter with /ɐ/ or /ɑː/." (Stephan Gramley and Kurt-Michael Pätzold, A Survey of Modern English, 2nd ed. Routledge, 2004)

Changes in Pronunciation

"Changes are taking place in the way words are stressed. There is a long-term trend in two-syllable words for the stress to be moved from the second syllable to the first: this has happened in living memory in such words as adult, alloy, ally and garage. It is still going on, especially where there are related noun-verb pairs. There are many pairs where the noun has first-syllable stress, and the verb second-syllable stress, and in such cases many speakers now stress the verb also on the first syllable: examples are annex, contest, contract, escort, export, import, increase, progress, protest and transfer. In cases where both the noun and the verb have second-syllable stress, there is a tendency for the noun to be given first-syllable stress, as with discharge, dispute, redress and research; occasionally the verb may also be given first-syllable stress." (Charles Barber, Joan Beal, and Philip Shaw, The English Language, 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press, 2009)

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Nordquist, Richard. "Present-Day English (PDE): Definition and Examples." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). Present-Day English (PDE): Definition and Examples. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Present-Day English (PDE): Definition and Examples." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 8, 2023).