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I, Brian
June 23rd, 2003, 06:10 AM
While editing I suddenly realised there may be an overt tense usuage issue in my curernt work.

I desperately want to ensure this work breaks into the markets, so obviously I need to see whether this is a real issue that I should deal with right away.

Here's an example text:

"Lemarian stood staring with his mouth open"

now compare that to

"Lemarian stared with his mouth open"

My query - is one of the above more technically correct than the other?

I'm not sure whether I'm falling into a trap of present tense versus past tense.

Any comments appreciated.

June 23rd, 2003, 06:26 AM
I would have used either your first example or:

Lemarian stared at *whatever* open mouthed.

Rocket Sheep
June 23rd, 2003, 09:31 AM
I think the term you are looking for is 'gerund'.

They are equally correct but two different sentences... as an example it isn't very good since you left out the 'standing' in the second one.

"Lemarian stood staring with his mouth open"

"Lemarian stood and stared with his mouth open" should be the second example.

the -ing is correct in the first sentence because it is something he is doing while he stood (a gerund). It is often converted to -ed in writing to make the writing seem more immediate but they are both in past tense. The trick is to lessen the patterns that sometimes become obvious with too many -ings (and to tighten the writing) by using -eds (you have probably been told that -ings indicate passive writing and to replace them with -eds but gerunds are not passives and are quite often necessary).

"Lemarian stands and stares with his mouth open" or "Lemarian stands staring with his mouth open" is present tense.

Many writers take different stands on gerunds... many go thru a phase of hating them for their clunkiness and their relation to passives, only to return to using them in moderation. Some never notice their existence.

June 23rd, 2003, 10:19 AM
I've got to quibble a little here... (sorry Rocket Sheep...)

I don't think we're looking at a gerund here, but rather at the past-progressive tense.

A gerund does, indeed, end in -ing, but it functions as a noun in a sentence, while the past-progressive tense refers to an action that was happening in the past.

PP -- "Lamarian stood [and was] staring with his mouth open."
Gerund -- "Lamarian preferred staring to simply standing openmouthed."

Check out these links:



Regardless, this is really beside the point... I tend to quibble over grammar stuff way too much.

The point is, I, Brian, like Rocket Sheep said, either of your examples is correct. Personally, I do prefer Juzzza's suggestion -- it cleans things up a bit and takes out that nasty past-progressive thing altogether.



June 23rd, 2003, 12:06 PM
I think it depends on the mood you want to set.

The first, "Lemarian stood staring with his mouth open", is closer, while the second, "Lemarian stared with his mouth open" seems farther and more disassociated.

I hope you understand what I'm saying.

June 23rd, 2003, 04:42 PM
"Staring" as it's used here is a participle. It is an adjective modifying Lamarian.

Another example of a participle used that way:
"He fell screaming her name."

What makes those sentences sound a bit funny is that normally such a participial phrase would begin the sentence, followed by a comma. Placing them after the verb creates a vague modifier problem.

June 23rd, 2003, 07:29 PM
Something to consider:

Though both sentences are technically correct, if you use any one format too much (lots of "-ed" endings, for example), it'll be repetitious. Each can be effective, but both can become redundant, so use whatever most fits the situation and mood, but change things up when you can.

I, Brian
June 24th, 2003, 03:18 AM
Thanks for the comments, folks.

Not being a technical writer (I have absolutely no capacity for languages :eek: ) I suddenly wondered if I'd fallen into a newbie trap of writing in the wrong tense.

So long as no one's stating that I've slipped into passive voice, or raising present vs past tense usuage, then it sounds like I should be fine.

Thanks again. :)

Rocket Sheep
June 24th, 2003, 09:10 AM
If you are going to be a writer of any kind then you probably should have a capacity for at least ONE language... just quietly. ;)

Kinda goes with the territory, matey.

Oh and I stand corrected J, I'm better at recognising things than naming them.

June 24th, 2003, 12:37 PM
Originally posted by Rocket Sheep
Oh and I stand corrected J, I'm better at recognising things than naming them.

And I stand corrected by Elda... maybe I should look a little deeper before I start my quibbling... ;)

Also, I, Brian, while I've always thought it important to have a good handle on the technical parts of writing (although not as good as Elda :D), I've always maintained that in good writing -- the kind that grabs you and drags you along with it -- grammar takes a back seat to style. Look at writers like Zelazny and Bester. Some of Zelazny's most engaging prose is one long jazz riff that throws grammar right down the toilet.

I guess what I'm getting down to is that, yes, know the rules, follow them and live by them in your writing... but if there's a particular feel you want to evoke with a piece of writing, don't be afraid to experiment a little, and tell the internal editor to take a powder for a bit.