The Grammar Query Thread!

Discussion in 'Writing' started by Forrest, Aug 29, 2002.

  1. JunkMonkey

    JunkMonkey Registered User

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    But it's not a POV.

    And even if it were then how does she know the bolt has been thrown at all? There could be a chair jammed under the handle, a million tins of tuna stacked against it, or an elephant sitting with its back to the door.

    She doesn't know. All she knows is the door won't open.

    The author knows and is telling us it's the bolt - and if the author is telling us as an omniscient narrator then he is perfectly entitled to tell who, how, where, when, and why the bolt was thrown if he wants.
     
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2012
  2. PaulWhite

    PaulWhite Registered User

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    Obviously, as a non-native speaker and as a person, still having problems how to use English tenses correctly (as in my language there's different structure of verb tenses), I'm not going to say which example is better. But, well, there's always a but, this quote of your editor is pretty incorrect:

    My grammar says that primary use of some tenses IS IN COMBINATION with another (ie different) tense (in the same sentence).
    a) Like the definition of Past Continuous:
    Or the basic definition of Past Perfect:
    So, there's nothing jarring having two different tenses in the same sentence. It's a natural use of some tenses (like in above example) to combine themselves with a different tense in one sentence.
     
  3. Scorpion

    Scorpion Registered User

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    Yea, it's just one of those absurd 'writing rules' that have developed over time. When someone wise says "Try to limit the use of 'had' as you lose immediacy in your writing" what people read is "Remove every had you see as it's bad writing."
     
  4. Sarunus

    Sarunus Registered User

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    I am also a non-native speaker of English, but I prefer the second (yours). It is the demonstration of a completed action. The 'was' version strongly implies, to me, that the identity of the person who threw the bolt is important or about to be revealed. With 'had been', the identity isn't important. What's important is that the bolt is, indeed, thrown.

    As a reader, I don't think it would matter a whole lot to me either way, without being able to see the context. It seems to me to be a matter of personal preference.
     
  5. Sarunus

    Sarunus Registered User

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    I agree. I think his version reads easier to me because it is the difference between pluperfect and perfect tense, which to me, is not as dissimilar as are the perfect and imperfect tenses, as suggested by the editor.
     
  6. G.L. Lathian

    G.L. Lathian G.L. Lathian

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    If you have ever tried to open a door that's locked? It's quite easy to tell. It doesn't feel like tuna cans, an elephant or chair on the opposite side. It feels locked.

    You're assuming it's non limited. I'm not familiar with his choice of narrator.

    I'm saying, knowing the door had been locked previously is not important information, so it doesn't need to be in present perfect tense.

    What do I get as the reader from knowing it 'had been' thrown? Nothing. Because obviously if it 'was' locked, it had been thrown at some point earlier. Plus, 'had' is an overused word and avoiding it is always nice IMO.
     
  7. Scorpion

    Scorpion Registered User

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    Sure, had is an overused word and avoiding it is nice.
    But had has its place and its uses. I do not think there is something jarring about using it in that sentence, as the editor suggested. That was the original question. 'Was' doesn't sound any better or more fluent in my ears...
    It's a detail, but I'm just wondering: it might not be important information story-wise (who knows though?), but might it contribute to the style of writing? Are we simply concerned with the story or with the writing style, as well? And then it boils down to taste, doesn't it...
     
  8. G.L. Lathian

    G.L. Lathian G.L. Lathian

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    Very true!
     
  9. sullivan_riyria

    sullivan_riyria Creator of Worlds

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    Wow - thanks for all the feedback folks!
     
  10. JunkMonkey

    JunkMonkey Registered User

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    I bow to your obvious vast experience of trying to open doors with a wide variety of obstructions behind them. :D
     
  11. G.L. Lathian

    G.L. Lathian G.L. Lathian

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    Indeed. I respect your knowledge on the subject as well! ;)
     
  12. E_Moon

    E_Moon Registered User

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    Two comments.

    1) Verb forms requiring multiple words ("helper verbs" as we called them in elementary school) can express a writer's resistance more active forms. Something to check in revision. Sometimes the perfect or progressive does contain necessary cues, but more often it's a sneaky way to suck power out of the active verb. Progressive (-ing forms) verbs tempt the writer with an apparently active core (run, jump, smash) but unless the continual action must be pointed out to the reader, they actually weaken that core...and often require "helpers" to pinpoint a moment of action.

    2) What one reader finds ordinary may well jar another reader. Professional readers (editors, for instance) are familiar with a wide range of writing styles and also reader responses. Yes, there are bad editors. Pedantic editors and (more rarely) careless editors. Prissy editors, politically motivated editors, etc. But critical comments by good editors should be noted and the section of work under discussion scrutinized for an alternate way of writing that does not jar the (good) editor.

    No, wait, 3 comments. (Yes, nobody expects the Spanish Inqui--that.) Any verb form may be grammatically correct, and in current use, without its being ideal for a specific sentence. Choices are (almost) infinite. But for every actual fictional work, in every scene of it, and every sentence in that scene, there is a best combination. Not merely accurate, but best--that conveys the exact meaning needed in the way a reader will retrieve that meaning with the least effort, and slot it into the story (including all its implications) quickly and accurately. Sometimes that requires one of the more complex verb forms. Sometimes it doesn't. It's the writer's job to know how much of the meaning in that sentence--and the verb form chosen for it--a reader needs at that moment in the story. Info-dump by verb form is as bad as infodump by stuffing in a handful of adjectives. So is info-starvation. If the reader needs that "had"--use it. If the reader doesn't--don't. If the writer fully understands what those forms mean--then it's easier to pick the best one.

    Examples (because I'm evading work, of course. Why else? Verb forms italicized; note that some are in set-off phrases & not structural.)

    Tim went to the cellar five times, carrying up boxes of old magazines, before he noticed the open chest in the back corner.

    Tim had gone to the cellar five times to carry up boxes of old magazines before he noticed the open chest in the back corner.

    Tim had been going to the cellar all day--five times at least, carrying up boxes of old magazines--before he noticed the open chest in the back corner.

    Tim had been going to the cellar all day, and not until the sixth trip down those narrow stairs had he noticed the open chest in the back corner.

    Tim had been going to the cellar all day, and not until the sixth trip down those narrow stairs did he notice the open chest in the back corner.

    Which is "best" depends on what goes before and comes after and exactly what information you think the reader needs right now.
     
  13. roozmarry871

    roozmarry871 Registered User

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    good idea

    its good idea. i hope so its good for us and others..
     
  14. Igor

    Igor Ze vriter

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    Perhaps the editor is aiming for a simple state - was thrown.
    Whereas had been thrown also indicates action behind it, maybe even intent.
    The second - yours - feels more natural, more logical and better sounding.
    Igor
     
  15. Napket

    Napket Registered User

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    I'm not sure if this is the right thread to ask this, but it's related to the stories I write at least. It's a matter with English grammar.

    In my language, if I write about something that happened, say, yesterday, an hour or a week ago etc etc, I usually use past perfect tense. 'She had told him about it yesterday', for example. It's different with the spoken language, which believe or not, is grammatically wrong 80% of time (yah, we're like that). I was just wondering, is past perfect tense always necessary in English? If I write a paragraph explaining what someone had done previously, before the current situation, it's filled with those 'had' words. I don't remember learning the details about this during the school, mainly because I didn't write in English back then. I'd appreciate the help so that I could edit my stuff to look nicer. :)
     
  16. StephenPorter

    StephenPorter Registered User

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    In general, yes. I am assuming that you're writing in past tense. In that situation, the main story is happening in the past, and events prior to the current events of the story ought to be in past perfect. Of course if you are writing in present tense, then simple past is perfectly effective. one of the arguments in support of writing present tense prose is that it sidesteps those clumsy "had"s everywhere.

    Stylistically, there are times when it might be better not to. Usually this is if you have a long flashback scene. You can use "had" a few times at the beginning to get people comfortable with the fact that it's a flashback, then slip into simple past for the bulk of the scene. Then make the last few sentences of the flashback past perfect again to reinforce the timeframe before shifting back to the current events of the narrative.

    Also bear in mind that American grammar is more forgiving about this than British grammar.
     
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2013
  17. StephenPorter

    StephenPorter Registered User

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    Drat that double post!
     
  18. Napket

    Napket Registered User

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    Thanks Stephen! I rarely write in present tense and it feels awkward, because I've always preferred past tense. Of course, as a writer, I need to adapt and try new ways, so I'm not ruling that option out.

    I also tried to edit some flashbacks in my stories. Some worked fine with 'had's only at the beginning and some felt like the narrator had done some kind of time-jump in the middle of narrating. :D But now I know there are parts which don't require that many 'had's for the reader to understand. Although I live in Britain currently, my accent and writing style are American, it's just easier for me whose main language isn't English. Thanks again for the help!
     
  19. Taramoc

    Taramoc Author and Game Designer

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    I'm stuck with this one, so I figured I'd ask the smart people around here.

    What is the correct one among these:

    Amet's obsession with reclaiming his throne was absolute
    Amet's obsession to reclaim his throne was absolute
    Amet's obsession of reclaiming his throne was absolute

    In case more than one are correct, which one you find better?

    Thanks in advance.

    Taramoc
     
  20. CharlotteAshley

    CharlotteAshley Registered User

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    The first option, "with reclaiming" is correct. One has obsessions with things. You don't have an obsession to, or an obsession of. :)

    Charlotte