1. AdamWriting
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    AdamWriting Member

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    About changing tenses in mid-sentence

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by AdamWriting, Jul 15, 2010.

    I always feel a little awkward asking grammar related questions. I hope this isn't too basic (not to mention too anal), but I would like some clarification on the subject of changing tenses in mid-sentence.

    For Example:

    Molly stamped her foot in frustration, trying to think of another way to say it.

    The red section of the sentence is past tense, but the black is present. I assume you should switch to present tense if the second action is taking place AT THE SAME TIME as the first action. Is this true?

    Another Example:

    Assuming Bill would not hear him, he opened the door and slipped inside, bolted down the steps, leaped over the sofa and crashed into the coffee table.

    In this case, the leading phrase is in black because it is present. The next three phrases occur one after another (not at the same time), so they are all past tense. I would think a sentence like this is poor because it is unclear. Does it mean, 1) The character assumed Bill would not hear him throughout his next three actions, or 2) The character first assumed Bill would not hear him when he opened the door, then, during the next two actions, he was not making that assumption.

    Is this sentence grammatically correct or incorrect? Can anyone offer some guidance on the rules regarding switching tenses in mid-sentence?

    Thanks,
    Adam
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Firstly, an easy resolve is to break these sentences into smaller bits. They are rather verbose.

    Molly stamped her foot. The words refused to come.

    Assuming Bill would not hear him, he opened the door and slipped inside. Bolting down the steps and over the sofa he crashed into the coffee table.


    Secondly, these sentences do not actually represent changes in tense within the sentence. I know someone is going to come along and show me wrong, but I think you are being just a smidge "anal," to borrow your word. ;)
     
  3. AdamWriting
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    AdamWriting Member

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    Wreybies,

    First, let me say that I'm a big fan of Monty Python and no one beats my silly walk. :)

    Back to the question at hand, I'm not asking about the example sentences in particular, but rather about the concept of changing tenses in mid-sentence. I agree those sentences are verbose, but I try to vary my sentences because I think it makes the writing more interesting.

    I find this issue comes up alot, typically in structures like:

    He starts off doing something, at the same time doing this and this, thinking this and this.

    Example:

    Sam climbed up the rope, pulling with all his might, hoping to reach the top before it was too late.

    I know this sentence can be broken down to smaller sentences, but if you do that all the time, the writing starts to sound choppy.

    So my question is, if you are writing in past tense, do you switch to present tense if the second action occurs AT THE SAME TIME as the first? Are there any other rules regarding this?

    Thanks,
    Adam
     
  4. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    In this case then, the verbs in the past progressive tense (not present tense) serve to indicate an action that happens contemporaneously with the past tense verb. That's what I mean when I say that these examples do not really represent changes in tense within the sentence.
     
  5. Perdondaris
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    Perdondaris Member

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    To put it simply, here the word 'trying' acts similarly to how it would in, "She was trying to think of another way to say it." It is not in present tense. As the previous poster said, it is basically in the past progressive tense.
     
  6. zaffy
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    zaffy Contributing Member

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    Does simultaneous have a part to play in this discussion?
     
  7. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    These words are synonyms, so yes. :)
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    good advice, wrey... but to be grammatically correct, the word should be 'contemporaneously'... sorry, i can't rein in my virgoness... ;-)

    hugs, m
     
  9. tranquility
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    tranquility New Member

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    As far as I know a verb+ing ,which is called present participle or gerund, and a verb+ed/d or the past participle represent no specific tenses: the former is considered and functions as a noun, whereas the latter seen as an adjective.
    these participles can be used in what is called 'the absolute phrase'; in that it gives information and details for a sentence in a simple and easy way without need for verbs.
     
  10. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    tranquility, are you thinking of sentences like "She's good at cooking", where "cooking" functions as a noun?

    That's different from a sentence like "She's cooking", where "cooking" is a verb in the progressive tense.
     

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