A Star Wars Anniversary: 37 Years of the Little Green Sage

by • May 23, 2014

With the arrival of the 37th anniversary of the initial release of Star Wars, we at Grammarly started to reflect on what makes the film so great. Being language lovers and word nerds at heart, we are particularly fascinated and charmed by the grammar of the great Jedi master, Yoda. To celebrate May 25, and our love of Star Wars, we dissected a few of classic Yoda-style quotes in order to better understand the patterns that #yodify English language.

 

A Grammar and Style Guide to #Yodify Your Language

A Grammar and Style Guide to #Yodify Your Language

 INVERTED WORD ORDER

Powerful you have become. The dark side I sense in you.”

In Yoda-speak, the position of modifiers (adjectives, adverbs, and modifying clauses) as well as objects are often swapped with the position of subjects and verbs; they come before the subject and verb in the sentence rather than after it. Modifiers, however, must immediately precede the subject-verb phrase as in:

“If into the security recordings you go, only pain will you find.”

Note that “if” is still placed at the very beginning of the sentence, as it would be in proper English.

FLEXIBLE SUBJECT-VERB ORDER

“Ready are you? What know you of ready? For eight hundred years have I trained Jedi. My own counsel will I keep on who is to be trained.”

In most cases, Yoda gets the subject-verb order right for English—subject then verb. Sometimes, however, he switches the order of verbs and subjects. This tells us that the placement of subjects and verbs in Yoda’s native language is much more fluid than in English.

MISSING AUXILIARY IN NEGATION and LACK OF CONTRACTIONS

“Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not.”

When Yoda wants to negate something he does something peculiar—he drops the helping verb ‘to do’ and then places the negation after the verb, unlike in English. “Size does not matter” becomes “Size matters not.” This rule, however, is flexible, particularly with the verb negation “do not,” which is perfectly correct English, i.e. “Do or do not. There is no try.” In fact, one can say that Yoda learned the correct negation of “to do” and “to be” (i.e. “I am not.”) etc. and applied that construction consistently to all verbs.

Additionally, English teachers and lovers of formal writing should be proud that—despite his other mistakes, at least—Yoda never used a contraction. Every “don’t” or “won’t” or “shouldn’t” for Yoda was a do not, will not, or a should not.

DROPPED AUXILIARY IN PRESENT TENSE QUESTIONS

“Ready are you? What know you of ready?”

Many ESL learners struggle with the added “do” in English questions. As with his removal of “do” in most negations, Yoda often drops the “do” in questions; he forms questions with the interrogative pronoun then the subject and verb (occasionally inverted). “Where do you go?” becomes “Where go you?” and “Why do you say that?” becomes “Why that you say?” For other tenses, the auxiliary “do” remains, but often the word order is inverted.

 

If to #Yodify something you want, follow these main rules you must:

1. Move your modifiers, modifier phrases, and objects before the subject-verb phrase.

2. Swap your subject-verb order.

3. Drop the auxiliary “do” when negating most verbs and place the negation after the verb.

4. Do not use contractions.

5. Drop the auxiliary “do” in present tense questions.

 

Check out some of our favorite quotes in literature, #Yodified:

“Across the sky a screaming comes.” (Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow)

“A bright and cold day in April it was, and the clocks thirteen were striking.” (George Orwell, 1984)

“The best of times it was, the worst of times it was.” (Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities)

“You know not about me, without a book by the name of Adventures of Tom Sawyer you have read; but no matter it is.” (Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn)

“The saddest story heard I have is this.” (Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier)

“The moment English one learns, set in complications do.” (Felipe Alfau, Chromos)

 

What are your favorite literary quotes, #Yodified? Share in the comments!

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