1. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Tense changes in a compound sentence.

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by TDFuhringer, Jan 18, 2014.

    I've tried Google and I've tried searching this forum, but I'm just not seeing the specific answer to my question. Here are three examples I found in my work while preparing for revision. I do this A LOT because it feels natural to me, but just because something feels natural doesn't mean it's correct.

    Peg approached Orgull and bowed, her enormous shirt dragging against the stone floor.

    Sobek shaved and dressed, looking terrific in his newly-washed clothes.

    He worked furiously, levering the top of the pin with the edge of his dagger.

    Aside from the fact that these sentences are terrible, is this kind of shift from past to present 1) grammatically correct? 2) a good choice stylistically? 3) a habit I need to break?

    Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks! :)
     
  2. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    Peg approached Orgull and bowed, as her enormous shirt dragged against the stone floor.

    Sobek shaved and dressed. He looked terrific in his newly-washed clothes.

    He worked furiously at levering the top of the pin with the edge of his dagger.

    Sound better to my ear.
     
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  3. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    You're right @stevesh .

    I forced myself to write a few pages last night in past tense, single pov only. It made my brain want to explode (it's not my natural style) but wow did those pages ever come out sounding terrific!
     
  4. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    This sentence has a couple of antecedent errors which are much worse than the tense problem. It's confusing to approach and bow, and then, have your shirt dragging across the floor. Peg needs to be approaching with her shirt dragging, then bowing -- unless for some reason, she is walking as she is bowing. The pronoun her makes this even more confusing because the dragged shirt seems to refer back to Orgull and not Peg.

    Any variation will do,
    Peg's enormous shirt dragged behind her on the stone floor; she approached Orgull and bowed.


    This too could use some rearranging to give the reader a better sense of action. I like it when I can first see the tool working in my mind , then the suspense is directed at what may happen, rather than what it's happening with.


    He worked furiously at the pin with his dagger, with shaking(or steady) hands he levered the top off.



     
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  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    this one has sobek already dressed, while he's still getting dressed!
     
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  6. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    How do these revised sentences sound?

    Peg approached Orgull. When she bowed, her enormous shirt touched the floor. Orgull suppressed a smile.

    Sobek finished shaving. He put on his freshly-washed clothes and checked himself in the mirror. I look terrific, he thought.

    He used his dagger as a lever. He struggled furiously to pry the pin out of the hinge, which worked, but was painfully slow.
     
  7. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    Again you should revisit to put the sequence in real time and by showing me it was painfully slow rather than just informing.
    I don't see what's wrong with mixing tenses a bit. I'd like to learn here too. What's wrong with,
    Using his dagger as a lever, he struggled furiously to pry the pin off the hinge. I'm not sure you need to say it was a slow go, as the struggling implied this. And the next sentence would likely infer whether it worked or not.
     
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  8. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm no grammar whizz so I'm not sure. Those sentences didn't always sound right to me.

    Essentially, the present participle (aka -ing) means that something is happening at the same time as the action in the previous clause.

    Something like...

    Will panted, running for his life.
    - which means: Will was panting as he was running for his life.

    These two actions can and should logically be together, hence it's fine.

    But I cannot write:

    Will climbed the tree, picking apples from its branches.
    - which means: Will was climbing the tree as he was picking apples.

    These two actions couldn't really realistically be together - how on earth would you pick apples if you're using your hands to climb? How would you hold on to the apples? Even if it were not "wrong", it's still a bit of an awkward sentence.

    The tense change is fine. Your concern should be rather: Could the two actions in the clauses be happening simultaneously?

    So, turning to your example sentences:

    1. Peg approached Orgull and bowed, her enormous shirt dragging against the stone floor.

    Firstly, what kinda shirt would be so long that it'd actually drag across the floor!? Even with a child in an adult's shirt that still wouldn't happen. Or did you mean skirt?

    Now onto the logic of the sentence. Depends on your interpretation of "drag". My first reaction is the movement, when you drag something across the floor. In that case, it wouldn't make sense. Peg has stopped, so there's no dragging movement possible.

    If by "drag" you simply meant it poetically - like stretched or lay - then I guess it's fine. But due to the ambiguity, it's a bad sentence at best, and illogical at worst. Because in this context, it is very reasonable to assume "drag" means the movement, since Peg was walking just a moment ago, so in this case if "drag" didn't really mean the movement, I'd use another verb or description altogether.

    2. Sobek shaved and dressed, looking terrific in his newly-washed clothes.

    This feels off to me. Sobek was just now dressing AS he was also looking good in his new clothes. That's what it means. Maia's right here. This sentence doesn't make sense. You cannot simultaneously get dressed AND look good in the very clothes you're still putting on.

    Just to clarify, since you highlighted "washed" - there's no tense clash here. The "washed" refers only to the clothes, and indeed they were washed in the past - they had already been washed.

    3. He worked furiously, levering the top of the pin with the edge of his dagger.

    This sentence works fine. Working and levering are actions that can be simultaneously happening.
     
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2014
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Just a fine point: It isn't gerunding. The form of the verb is a present participle, and the phrases are participle phrases. A participle phrase is a form of adjective phrase, which simply means a phrase that acts as an adjective.

    The participle phrase is a stand-alone item, and because it acts as an adjective, it does not have a tense to contribute to the sentence. When analyzing the tense of the sentence, ignore the participle phrases altogether.

    Be careful though. Participles are also used in combination with verbs like is, was, have, or had to form compound verb tenses like perfect or imperfect tenses. There are two kinds of participles, present and past participles.

    Present participles end with -ing, and combine with different tenses of the verb to be to form compound tenses: "He is running" (present progressive), "they were swimming" (past progressive), "she will be hiking" (future progressive tense).

    The past participle often is identical to past tense, but is frequently distinct. For example, the past tense of swim is swam, but the past participle is swum. The past participle is always used in combination with an auxiliary verb to form a compound verb: "I had swum for three hours" (past perfect tense)

    A gerund is a present participle, but one used as a noun, in order to treat an action in the abstract as a subject or object in a sentence. For example:
    "Swimming" is a gerund because it is used as the subject of the sentence.
     
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2014
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  10. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @Cogito - cheers for the grammar lesson. Knowing that it's a form of an adjective phrase actually makes even more sense now :) and also makes it clearer why the OP's original question is focused wrong.

    In fact, gonna go up and correct my post!
     

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