1. JJ_Maxx
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    JJ_Maxx Banned

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    Need Help with Past Perfect Tense.

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by JJ_Maxx, Mar 31, 2013.

    Okay, here's the scenario:

    I'm telling a story in the past tense.

    The 'action' of the story takes place during a conversation between myself and a mall employee.

    Now I am giving background information about the day leading up to the trip to the mall. So now we have three layers of time.

    Here's a sample:

    See the middle part? Tons of tenses and I got super lost in it all. Any idea if I got all the tenses correct?

    Thanks.

    ~ J. J.
     
  2. blackstar21595
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    blackstar21595 Contributing Member

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    It looks fine to me. The actions are in the past, and the dialogue is in the present since it's currently happening to the characters. What you might want to do is put the middle part first and see if that works better to you since it's a flashback. At least it looks liked a flashback to me.
     
  3. JJ_Maxx
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    JJ_Maxx Banned

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    Is it a flashback, really?

    It's similar to this:

    But would it be 'Steve broke his leg...' or 'Steve had broken his leg...' and the same applies to my first example.

    ~ J. J.
     
  4. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    "had broken" is clearer than simply "broke" - but using only "broke" wouldn't be wrong because you specify the time with the clause "a few weeks ago".

    With regards to your original passage with the silk, it looks fine to me. And yeah, it's basically a flashback because you're talking about something in the past, when at present something else is happening. But who cares? lol :D The tenses seem fine to me.
     
  5. JJ_Maxx
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    JJ_Maxx Banned

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    Okay I was just wondering how many past perfect tanses I needed. If you notice I use both past and past perfect tenses:

    See? I could easily change it to, 'I saw a shimmering roll...' or 'until we had stopped...'

    ~ J. J.
     
  6. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    The past perfect is grammatically correct if you are writing about an earlier past. If you need to clarify which action happened first, and if you have words like just/already, you need it:
    - He had just put the potatoes on to boil when Angela rang him.
    - He had lived in Prague, so he knew the language well. (he doesn't live there now, though. If you write: "He lived in Prague..." it seems like he is still living there.)

    If you don't need to use past perfect for clarity, don't bother (past perfect is a bit unwieldy if too much of the writing is in it):
    - He sterilised the instruments before putting them away.

    Re. your extract: all the tenses talking about time before the first sentence (the "present moment" in the narrative) should be in the past perfect, grammatically speaking:

    "There's no way this is silk," I said as I rubbed the fabric between my fingers.

    My wife had dragged me to the mall. It wasn't until we had stopped at this small fabric store that I had seen something that caught my eye. Amongst the cottons and felts there had been that shimmering roll of fabric tucked away in the corner.

    "Oh no, sir," he said. "This is something much more valuable."


    However, I know in US English, past perfect--in fact all the perfect tenses--seem to be avoided, and readers are used to not having it and mentally joining up the dots. So if you don't feel it's needed for clarity, don't bother about it.

    The technique I was taught for flashbacks is to use past perfect to set the scene:
    "Our eyes had met across the supermarket floor. He had just dropped an economy pack of Cheerios and was trying to look as if the mess was nothing to do with him."
    - Then you slip into past tense:
    "I walked over to him, trying not to laugh. etc etc"
    - Then to come out of the flashback, you have a couple of sentences with past perfect again:
    "That was the first time I had ever tried my hand at shoplifting. It had not been much of a success."
    - And you return to the main story:
    I looked down at the package in my hand. No. It wasn't going to start again..."
     
  7. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    My wife had dragged me to the mall but it wasn't until we browsed a small fabric shop that something caught my eye. Nestled within the cottons and felts, a roll of fabric lay shimmering, as if forgotten, "There's no way this is silk," I said, rubbing the fabric between my fingers.


    "Oh no, sir, that's something far more valuable."
     
  8. Ian J.
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    Ian J. Active Member

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    A friend of mine (an English as Foreign Language teacher) had this to say when I emailed him I was having trouble with tenses:

     
  9. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, you can avoid using so much past perfect if you write the scene in chronolgical order, but if you start with the "There's no way this is silk" sentence, you have to set the actions that come before this in past perfect, strictly speaking. The past perfect contiuous/ passive etc is also necessary for the earlier actions, rather than straight past continous or past passive.
     

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