Dear Mr. Verb-Wow, what a nice, carefully crafted letter. Thank you. I'm not quite sure about that sentence and be forewarned: This is a corner of the world I really know nothing about. First, with a speaker of a Slavic language, I would automatically have my aspectual radar scanning, so might get hypersensitive in this situation.
My husband Bruce has been teaching himself Russian for the past year and has found some Russian email penpals who want to improve their English, so everyone benefits.
One penpal wrote the following in an email, in English: "I like to ask my grandma about that." Bruce thought this might be a misstatement of "I would like to ask my grandma about that", but no, the penpal said it was meant as it was written: he enjoys regularly asking his grandma about whatever it is he asks her.
As a card-carrying English major I agreed with Bruce that this sentence sounds slightly awkward to us, though grammatically it seems well formed, particularly if restated slightly ("I like to ask my grandma about these things"). It seems even better stated as "I like asking my grandma about that", which is where the question of a gerund comes in.
Apparently some verbs of preference or affinity take a gerund form after the first verb: I adore asking my grandma (never I adore to ask), I dislike asking my grandma (never I dislike to ask). But despite my card-carrying status, I cannot find a linguistic rationale for the perceived awkwardness of "I like to ask my grandma about that".
In Russian one can imagine this sentence being used with an imperfective verb to enhance the repetitive/unfinished nature of the action, and the syntax would reflect this. English doesn't have this, so we're left with an ambiguity in what is otherwise a sincere effort to communicate the speaker's delight in asking his grandma about something.
Are we wrong to perceive awkwardness in the sentence? Or is there a deeper complexity at work?
Many thanks for your enlightened response.
Out of context, it does sound odd to me, because like to V is a repeated action, and that sounds like it might be a single piece of information, something you wouldn't ask about repeatedly. "Does she read Tolstoy? I like to ask her about that." That doesn't work pragmatically or semantically. Even with a general topic ("What does she remember from the old days? I like to ask her about that."), it seems vaguely odd, unless you have a situation where repeatedly asking about the same thing is appropriate: "She meets the most amazing people every day and always has great stories about them. I like to ask her about that." Your first reformulation is along those lines, I think. For me, it doesn't seem like I like asking changes the above.
I turned to Monica for advice on this one:
Monica sez: Well, I agree with Mr. Verb — it all depends on context. And my first thought about what was weird about the sentence was exactly what Mr. V wrote — that the weirdness may come from the conflict between the habitual (which is the unmarked interpretation of present tense in English*), which implies doing something more than once, and the singular "that" - there's just a pragmatic problem with asking habitually about a single thing. ("Gramma, is it Tuesday?" "Gramma, is it Tuesday?" "Gramma, is it Tuesday?")So, this probably isn't really satisfying, but I'll keep chewing. In the meantime, people who actually know something about the area are invited to chime in!
* This was just to let me footnote that this does of course vary between stative and active (or "dynamic" or whatever you want to call them) verbs. But let's not go there. Please.