1. nicnicman
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    nicnicman New Member

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    Is this written in the past tense?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by nicnicman, Feb 21, 2011.

    I'm writing a narrative essay for college comp. and two sentences have me confused.

    Are these two sentences using the past tense correctly. More specifically, are the words "engulfing" and "following" correct even though they are in the present tense or should the sentences be reworded?

    Thanks for the help.
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yes, they're correct...

    the sentences could also be written with nothing but past tense verbs thusly:

     
  3. nicnicman
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    nicnicman New Member

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    Your alternatives are what I was thinking of changing the sentences to, but I thought the originals sounded better. I was worried it was wrong to mix the past and present tenses.
     
  4. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    The sentences are not mixing in present tense. They are 'reduced' past continuous. Think of the -ings as:

    Its brick form loomed in front of us. It was engulfing our vision.

    It, too, was situated on a hill. A long set of concrete steps which were following the steep incline up its right side led to the playground.
     
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  5. nicnicman
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    nicnicman New Member

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    Thanks a lot! That really clears it up for me. :D
     
  6. guamyankee
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    guamyankee Contributing Member

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    "reduced past continuous"

    I know enough to know that there's a lot I don't know.
     
  7. nicnicman
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    nicnicman New Member

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    Maybe you could help me with this sentence as well:

    I thought about changing like this:
    But, I was unsure about starting a sentence with "but."

    What do you think?
     
  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wouldn't use it in quite formal writing, but I wouldn't hesitate to use it in fiction, because my own fiction voice is not all that formal.

    ChickenFreak
     
  9. zaffy
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    zaffy Contributing Member

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    Usually (,) I enjoyed climbing the steps (,) with the repetitive courses of bricks shooting by me on the left while my fingers ran along the chain link fence to the right, but as we neared the top an ominous feeling came over me.

    Sometimes long sentences do not work, but I think this one does.
    I would leave the first two commas out, so it reads quickly just like the action.
     
  10. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    1) Would you just look at all the different things going on in that sentence:

    - Usually, I enjoyed climbing the steps
    - The repetitive courses of bricks were shooting by me on the left
    - My fingers ran along the chain link fence to the right
    - We neared the top
    - an ominous feeling came over me.

    It's like a competition to see how many people can fit into a telephone box.

    2) Breaking it into two sentences is an improvement. Looking at the grammar/word choice of your sentences...

    Usually, I enjoyed climbing the steps as the repetitive courses of bricks shot by me on the left and my fingers ran along the chain link fence to the right.
    ...is kind of funny to me because it's as if you only like climbing the steps while:
    the repetitive courses of bricks shot by me on the left and my fingers ran along the chain link fence to the right (and at no other time).
    Remember as = while = at the same time (usually 2 actions are happening continuously)

    3) Another problem I have is with 'repetitive courses of bricks'. I suggest you look up the meaning of the word 'hyperbole'. I don't really get your drift here, either.

    4) The left/right thing also didn't appeal to me. It's like an instruction in a manual.

    5) 'But as we neared the top an ominous feeling came over me.'
    In order to avoid starting a sentence with but--which of course is fine in fiction as long as you don't overdo it or it becomes choppy to read--you can use e.g.
    When we neared the top an ominous feeling came over me.

    I would be more likely to do something like:
    It was always fun climbing the steps. I counted the bricks and ran my fingers along the chain link fence. Just as we neared the top an ominous feeling came over me.

    But if you want grammar gymnastics i.e. all the events fitted into one sentence:

    Climbing the steps, I counted the bricks and ran my fingers along the chain link fence, but just as we neared the top an ominous feeling came over me.
     
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  11. nicnicman
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    nicnicman New Member

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    Thanks for the comments everyone. I eventually went with the first sentence, but we'll see what my instructor thinks about it.

    @madhoca
    I agree that it is too much for one sentence and I will work on an alternative for future revision

    Yeah, I agree, it definitely doesn't work with "as."
    This is from a narrative essay based on event from my life, and something that always stuck out to me was the bricks quickly moving by me on my left side. It was one of the things that I enjoyed about climbing the steps and, for this reason, I don't feel it's a hyperbolic representation of the story.
    I see what you're saying about left/right, but again, this is what I remember about climbing the stairs and I wanted to convey that to the reader. However, I will try to revise so it doesn't sound so instructional. :)
    Thanks for the tips, but I'm not sure I want to give the impression that I would count the bricks as I climbed.
    Basically, I just wanted the reader to see why I (usually) liked climbing the steps. These reasons are; the brick wall shooting by on one side and the chain link fence on my other side. But I suppose it's not working as I have written it.
    Oh, and I'm not looking to perform "grammar gymnastics." :) I think a simple sentence structure is the way to go here. So, I will be splitting it into two or more sentences.
    Thanks for the thoughtful reply, and if you have further suggestions please let me know.

    The essay has been submitted, but it is open for revision once I get back from the instructor. All your suggestion are appreciated and I look forward to more.
     
  12. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Glad to be of help, and sorry for the crabby tone of my post (yesterday was a bad day!) I'm still not sure what the 'courses of bricks' etc meant, though. Do you mean, 'the repeating pattern of the brickwork on the wall', or something like that? (Just curious).
    Hope the essay goes ok.
     
  13. nicnicman
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    nicnicman New Member

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    Crabby tone. I hadn't noticed. ;) Seriously though, I came here for critique, good or bad, so thanks.
    And yes, that's exactly what I meat by "repetitive courses of bricks". Hmmm...maybe I need to clear that up as well. A writer's work is never done.
     
  14. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    A "course" of bricks is the usual term for one layer of bricks, so "courses of bricks" is unremarkable.
     
  15. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    If the translators of the King James Bible can get away with starting a sentence with "therefore", you can get away with starting a sentence with "but" :)

    Not starting a sentence with a conjunction is one of those rules invented by people who think English should be logical, but natural language is seldom so tidy.
     
  16. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you are familiar with builders' terminology, no problem, of course. It still doesn't stop the phrase being too unwieldy.
     
  17. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, I'm certainly no builder! It's always a problem if a reader doesn't understand a word you use but unless you intentionally use a restricted subset of English (writing school readers, for example) it's always going to be a risk. It's up to the writer where to pitch the writing between "See John! Look! See John run!" and the writing of China MiƩville (who seems to relish sending readers rushing to their dictionaries). I wouldn't fault a passage for using a word I didn't know, although I might flag it for consideration.
     

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