Madam, Teacher or Cikgu?

  • Mind Our English
  • Thursday, 02 Jun 2011

IT is acceptable to call a doctor whose name is Siti, Dr Siti and a police inspector whose surname is Lee, Inspector Lee? Is it all right to call a teacher whose name is Siti, Teacher Siti? Do we call a married teacher whose name is Lucy Lau Madam Lau? Is it correct to call this teacher Madam Lucy? Or is it more accurate to call her Madam Lucy Lau? – Bryan Yap Jet Rong

It is acceptable, in fact usual, to call (or more formally “address”) a police inspector whose surname is Lee, “Inspector Lee”. But a lady whose first name is “Siti” usually has another name after that, like “Siti Fatimah”. So, you should address her as “Dr Siti Fatimah” unless she has told you to address her as “Dr Siti” only.

You don’t address a teacher as “Teacher + her/his name”, but you may say “Cikgu + her/his name”. When addressing a Malaysian teacher, you may also use one of the following words before her or his name, whichever is appropriate: Puan, Encik, Cik, Mrs, Mr, Miss or Ms (pronounced Miz). When you have a new teacher, it is a good idea to ask the teacher what she or he would like to be called. (Ms, by the way, is a fairly new term that doesn’t indicate a lady’s marital status.)

As for the term “Madam” for married Chinese women teachers, a Chinese friend of mine (who was a teacher) explained the following to me. You use “Madam” with the lady’s father’s surname, but “Mrs” with the lady’s husband’s surname. Thus if Lucy Lau is married to Mr Lau, you call her “Mrs Lau”. If her original surname is Lau and she is married to a Mr Lim, for example, you can call her either “Madam Lau” or “Mrs Lim”. But as I said before, ask her what she would like to be called.

I don’t think you should call her “Madam Lucy” or “Madam Lucy Lau” unless she tells you to.

Has or had

THIS was a question in my child’s school test paper:

I saw a proboscis monkey which ______ a huge nose in the zoo last week.

A. has B. had C. have D. having

The answer given was A. Has

Please tell me why the answer is not B. Had to synchronise with the past tense of the sentence viz “saw” and “last week”. – A mother

The answer can be either B or A. The sentence uses a past reporting verb “saw”. A verb of perception can be used to report what you or other people see, hear, etc. (See Collins Cobuild English Grammar 2nd edition, 2005, p.316, 7.10 “verbs of learning and perceiving” and p.321, 7.27 “verbs used with ‘that’-clauses”). When a past reporting verb is used in a sentence, the relative clause that follows it also uses a past tense (tense consistency). Hence “had” is used:

“I saw a proboscis monkey which had a huge nose in the zoo last week.”

However, when reporting something that is permanent, a present tense verb can be used. Since proboscis monkeys always have huge noses, we can also use “has” in the sentence:

“I saw a proboscis monkey which has a huge nose in the zoo last week.”

Below are some examples of the use of the present tense and the past tense in similar sentences on the Internet:

“Back into the main area, we saw a Gymnocereus [a type of cactus] which has an odd habit, growing as a sprawling, spreading plant.”

(from British Cactus & Succulent Society, Southampton & District Branch Newsletter, December 2009)

The odd habit described is a permanent feature of the plant: so the present tense verb “has” is used.

“We saw a puffin which had about eight sand eels in its mouth to feed its young.” (from a report on a school trip to Skomer Island, off the coast of south-west Wales, UK)

Puffins don’t always have “eight sand eels in its mouth to feed its young”: so the past tense verb “had” is used in the relative clause.

Position of adverb

AN adverb modifies an adjective or another adverb or a verb and it provides the answer to how, when and where and so on.

Where should we place the adverb?

1. Sometimes it is after a verb as in He runs fast.

2. However, I also notice that sometimes an adverb is placed between an auxillary verb and another verb.

We have on today sent him a letter.

We have regularly updated the information in our records.

We can now proceed with legal action against him.

Perhaps your goodself can provide a better example.

3. There are also times when an adverb is placed in front of a verb.

I strongly believe that I am able to complete the job.

Please advise on the position. – David Tan

This question demands a long answer, since there are many kinds of adverbs, and where an adverb is placed depends on what kind of adverb it is. A clear and excellent account of this can be found in Michael Swan’s Practical English Usage (2005), pp.16-22. Further information can be obtained by looking up (using the Index) the relevant sections of Collins Cobuild English Grammar (2005).

However, let me deal with this subject in a limited way and deal mainly with the sentences you gave me, and the positions of adverbs that modify verbs.

There are three positions for such adverbs in a clause: the front position the mid-position and the end position. The front position is found at the beginning of a clause, and the end position is found at the end of the clause. The mid-position is found between an auxiliary verb and the main verb, after main “be” verbs (is, am, are, was, were), and before other one-word verbs.

1. In your sentence “He runs fast.”, “fast” is an adverb of manner, and this kind of adverb is usually placed at the end of a clause or a one-clause sentence. Let me give you another example:

“He always speaks loudly.”

Here, you find an adverb of manner “loudly” in the end position, and another adverb, that of indefinite frequency, “always”, in mid-position, before the verb.

2. I have to make three corrections to your sentence “We have on today sent him a letter.” We use “today” by itself, not with any preposition, and we use the simple past tense, not the present perfect tense, in a sentence which specifies the time of action. Besides, “today” is an adverb of time, and is usually placed in the end position (although in other sentences and for different purposes, it can be placed in the front or mid-position). So, the sentence should read:

“We sent him a letter today.”

In your sentence “We have regularly updated the information in our records.”, “regularly” is an adverb of indefinite frequency and is correctly placed between the auxiliary verb “have” and the main verb “updated”.

In “We can now proceed with legal action against him.”, “now” is an adverb of time, but is placed in the mid-position, because there is no emphasis on it. “Now” would be emphasised if we were to write “Now, we can proceed with legal action against him.” (front position), and slightly less so if we were to write: “We can proceed with legal action against him now.” (end position).

(By the way, it’s not a good idea to use the term “your goodself”, which is outdated and only used jocularly nowadays.)

3. In the sentence “I strongly believe that I am able to complete the job.”, the adverb “strongly” is an emphasising adverb (a sub-category of adverbs of degree), which is placed before the verb whose action it emphasises (Collins Cobuild p.294, 6.49-6.50). The adverb “strongly” therefore is in mid-position before the verb “believe”.

Improving grammar

HOW do I improve my English grammar? I’m a working person. Could you please recommend a good grammar book? – Atirah

Try looking at Collins Cobuild English Grammar. If you find this too technical, Michael Swan’s Practical English Usage (International Student’s Edition, 2005), though not a grammar book as such, does teach a lot of grammar in a reader-friendly way. Both are available in large bookshops like MPH.

Take a look inside first before you buy to see if the book you have chosen meets your needs. I know bookshops often seal their books in plastic to prevent casual browsing, but you have a right to ask a shop assistant to take off the plastic seal to look inside the book if you are interested in buying it, although of course you are not obliged to buy it after you have looked at the contents.

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