1. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Grammar tense needed following "as if"?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Mckk, Nov 8, 2014.

    I'm writing in present tense in my WIP and have been getting a bit confused over which tense to use.

    Should it be:

    As if he was a ghost.

    Or should it be:

    As if he were a ghost.

    And what about "could" and "would" etc?

    Should it be:

    As though he had all the time in the world.

    Or:

    As though he has all the time in the world.

    Personally I've always gone for "As though he had" and "As if he were" - but my friend keeps changing it back to "As though he has" and "As if he was". I thought you were meant to convert the verb, such as "If I were you..."? Normally it would be "I was" but because of the conditional form, it turns into "were".

    And I've also never been sure about the grammatical rules when it comes to conditionals. When do you say "If you can" and "if you will" versus "if you could" and "if you would"?
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    This one isn't about tense, but instead mood. The sentence is in the subjunctive, so were is the correct verb form. Your friend is wrong. Period. ;)


    This second one can be either/or. It would kinda' depend on what's going on. Is the action the person is doing happening now, or in the past?
     
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  3. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    This will depend a bit on the voice you're using in your WIP - if it's a formal, 'correct' narration, I agree that it should be the subjunctive, but if you're writing in a more casual voice, you may want to abandon formal grammar in favour of what sounds right. (Creative writing is about the effect the words have, not the rules behind them).

    ETA: And what sounds right will obviously vary from reader to reader. So you're going to have to make some predictions about your future audience.

    For example, if you were writing for an audience of high-brow literary types and had to decide whether your narrator would use 'who' or 'whom' (at a time when 'whom' would be correct) you could probably predict that they would notice an incorrect 'who' and it would grate and call attention to something that isn't important to your story. So you'd use 'whom'. But if you were writing for an audience of teenagers, you might decide that they'd think the 'whom' sounded stuffy and pompous, and if that wasn't the effect you were going for, you might use 'who' even though it's grammatically incorrect.

    Nothing is ever totally simple! ; )
     
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2014
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  4. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @Wreybies - thanks :) when you said "he has" or "he had" depends on what's going on, could you give a few examples of when you'd use one and when you'd use the other? Because I'm not sure I get it lol.

    @BayView - thanks :) the narration is informal but not overly so - just standard. I usually tend to stick with correct grammar, assuming I know what that is lol :D

    To give you some context, this is the passage that made me ask the question - there were other occasions when this occurred but I don't remember them right now.


    But my eyes were drawn to the void the way people can’t look away from something terrible. It’s like the way you keep staring and staring at a burning house still reverberating with screaming, or a mashed-up pigeon run over by a carriage. As if by staring you can change reality.

    In the original, I'd put "you could" but friend changed it to "can". Her sense of grammar is usually better than mine, hence why I changed it. But since this is a recurring issue in my writing, I thought I should ask!
     
  5. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wonder in that example if your friend was looking more at verb tense than verb mood? Like she thought you'd lapsed into past tense and wanted to match it to the present tense you used to set up the situation ("people can't look away").

    And maybe the same thing for the second problem from your original post? Your friend was thinking in terms of verb tense, but you're thinking in terms of subjunctive mood? Maybe?

    What's the larger context for the second issue (the has/had one)?
     
  6. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I don't have an example for the "has/had" one cus this is just a general problem I've had and I didn't note down instances that happened earlier unfortunately.

    What's a verb "mood"? And if it's simply "mood", then does it mean there's no correct form, that I can use both the present tense form and past tense form of the verb?

    I thought I was being grammatically correct when I wrote "If he were a frog..." rather than "was". But now I'm not so sure lol.

    So in the above instance, was I right or was my friend? Should it have been "can" or "could" there?
     
  7. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    And boy, does it grate when somebody uses 'whom' when 'who' is correct!
     
  8. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't know why it's subjunctive 'mood' instead of 'tense' - maybe 'tense' refers to things having to do with time?

    I think you were right with "If he were a frog..." The general idea is that if something's a wish, or a random speculation about something that isn't true, or is otherwise not 'real', you use the subjunctive. That's why you sometimes need the larger context to figure out when the subjunctive is required.
     
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  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Because subjunctive voice can also have different tenses. Voice is an orthogonal axis to tense.
     

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