1. manfredjed
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    manfredjed New Member

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    Proper Tense Agreement

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by manfredjed, Dec 28, 2012.

    I have come across a scenario where I could use some clarification.

    The question is when something crosses tenses (i.e. is true in multiple tenses), which tense is correct.

    For example, the story is told in third person and in past tense.

    The twelfth is a long par three, and as had become custom for the day, Andy teed off first.

    The twelfth was, is and will be in the foreseeable future, a long par 3. But since the story is told in the past tense, and this is not part of a quote or thought, I think it should be;

    The twelfth was a long par three, and as had become custom for the day, Andy teed off first.

    Or does it even matter?

    Thanks for your comments.

    Terry
     
  2. F.E.
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    F.E. Member

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    My two cents, :)

    In fiction that uses past-tense narrative (especially when using a 3rd person POV), it is usually the convention that past-tense forms of verbs are used in the main clauses--whenever possible.

    So if in the usual framework of grammar (like that taught in school), if a main clause would be using present-tense form of a verb--for any of the typical uses that it is used for like describing what is going on now or describing a universal fact or describing habitual behavior or etc.--to head that clause, then, to create his fiction narrative, the writer will replace the present-tense form with a past-tense form of the verb. If there were subordinate clauses involve that were headed by present-tense forms of verbs, then they are often replaced by past-tense forms of the verbs. If those subordinate clauses were already headed by a past-tense form of verb, then that construction might or might not be replaced with past-perfect constructions--often the choice is up to the writer.

    The short answer: Your example #2 is what I'd prefer. :)

    Note that your #2 uses two main clauses. They are underlined in the below:
    2. The twelfth was a long par three, and as had become custom for the day, Andy teed off first.

    Note that how a writer tweaks the verb tenses (and other stuff) in the subordinate clauses to create his past-tense narrative is often a part of what helps form that writer's "style".

    Also, be aware that sometimes it is impossible, or almost impossible, to replace a present-tense verb with a past-tense verb in the narrative, which could be due to an idiomatic use of a phrase (idiom or fixed or frozen) or other limitations. When that situation occurs, then the writer has to make a choice: either leave it alone and use the present-tense version, or tweak the phrase/sentence into using different words and constructions, or go ahead and replace the verb with the past-tense form anyway.

    Hope this helps.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    There's nothing wrong with using present tense in past tense narration for "eternal" conditions:

    It's a matter of writer's judgment whether to use present tense in such circumstances, whether you wish to emphasize the immutable nature of the statement.
     
  4. F.E.
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    Fiction narrative done in 1st person POV can sometimes appear to be rather unclear on this, or rather, it often presents a mixed bag. Often, different writers might have different conventions or preferences. :)

    For instance, if the narrative mode was present-tense, then the example by Cogito would be a possible and a reasonable one:
    E.g. (present-tense narrative)
    1) I remember back to when I had examined my cousin's gemstone last Friday. Diamond is the hardest substance known to man. So when I saw the scratch on the gem's surface, I knew it had either been damaged by another diamond, or it was a fake. Under the circumstances, the latter was more likely.​

    But the "was" version is also possible in present-tense narrative fiction:
    E.g. (present-tense narrative)
    2) I remember back to when I had examined my cousin's gemstone last Friday. Diamond was the hardest substance known to man. So when I saw the scratch on the gem's surface, I knew it had either been damaged by another diamond, or it was a fake. Under the circumstances, the latter was more likely.​

    The difference in the two seems to be where the author wants to place the narrator's thinking of that fact that a diamond is/was the hardest substance known to man. To me, the version with "was" seems to be placing that thinking bit into the narrator's past--to the time last Friday when he was examining the gemstone. The version with "is" might be ambiguous; though since that sentence comes after the phrase "last Friday", I'm tending to think that maybe the thinking of a diamond's objective hardness might have happened last Friday -- though, it is also possible that that thinking bit is an interjection being done by the present-time narrator (to the reader or himself) right now into the middle of his recalling what had happened last Friday.

    For past-tense narrative fiction, I tend to prefer using the past-tense in this type of situation if it is reasonably possible:
    E.g. (past-tense narrative)
    3) I remembered back to when I had examined my cousin's gemstone last Friday. Diamond was the hardest substance known to man. So when I [saw] / [had seen] the scratch on the gem's surface, I knew it had either been damaged by another diamond, or it was a fake. Under the circumstances, the latter was more likely.​
     
  5. F.E.
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    Some troublesome narrative can often be those that include sentences that involve future time where their clauses are headed by present-tense verbs (a type of the futurate).
    E.g. (present-tense)
    1.) He goes to school tomorrow.
    2.) Tomorrow he goes to school.

    Many of those types of sentences could be difficult to "shift" into past-tense narrative fiction. (That is, if merely the head verb is shifted to past-tense, then the resulting sentence could end up being unacceptable.)
    E.g. (past-tense)
    1b.) He went to school tomorrow. (bad?)
    2b.) Tomorrow he went to school. (bad?)

    Though, in this case, it seems that a progressive futurate construction would work.
    E.g. (past-tense, progressive futurate)
    1c.) He was going to school tomorrow.
    2c.) Tomorrow he was going to school.
    .
    .
    Note: Using the modal auxiliary "would" for this example might end up producing a sentence that doesn't convey what the author had wanted. (This could be due to the modal remoteness that is often pulled in due to the use of "would".)
    E.g. (past-tense, using modal aux. "would")
    1d.) He would go to school tomorrow.
    2d.) Tomorrow he would go to school.
     

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