1. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Tense question

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Tenderiser, Mar 30, 2016.

    I'm doubting myself over this.

    Let's say a character is sitting with a wad of cash in his hand. Are one or both of these correct for his musings?

    It had taken years to save the money.

    It took years to save the money.

    Thanks!
     
  2. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Not an expert but I'll take a stab. Could be more of an issue concerning the surrounding prose. Something more formal if the prose is formal something more relaxed if the tone is relaxed?
     
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  3. SethLoki
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    SethLoki Unemployed Autodidact Contributor

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    It looks like an example of past perfect in that scenario, So 'It had taken' seems right to me.
     
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  4. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    It took feels slightly less in the past than it had taken for me. I'd probably go with it had taken, but it depends on the scenario and the writing style has a potential impact.
     
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  5. Midge23
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    Midge23 Member

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    I think the sentence with took is correct - simple past tense.

    Had taken would be used if one thing happened before another thing - both in the past:

    It had taken years to save the money to buy the car.

    You have already bought the car, but before that you had to save the money.

    I am not a grammar master (on the long writing journey like lots of people), but this is my understanding.

    Edited to add that your first example (had taken) still sounds 'right' to me.
     
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2016
  6. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I'm glad it's not TOTALLY straightforward so I don't feel like an idiot for doubting. :D

    I guess the tone is... relaxed but tense? The character is having serious doubts so his thoughts aren't happy ones.

    And he's actually already spent the money. I don't know why I made up an example instead of pasting the real one...
     
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  7. Midge23
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    Midge23 Member

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    Maybe the past perfect (had taken) is correct then, as you are talking about two things that happened, one before the other, in the past: he saved the cash, then he spent it.
     
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  8. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    Is this his line of thinking in the present tense, or is the perspective in the past tense? I think in either case your problem is less about which tense is correct and more with the tone of the characters thoughts.

    "It had taken..." implies that he's able to rationalize, that his train of thought is calm and introspective.
    "It took..." feels more like he's emotional, uninterested in organizing his thoughts. With the imperfect there is a more visceral tone to the words.
     
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  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I believe that in a past tense narrative, they're almost interchangeable; the difference is in a small nuance.

    But in a present tense narrative, I think that the first one just wouldn't work.

    Jane folded her arms and studied the camera. Six hundred dollars. Well, and six more, and tax. She had it. She did. But it had taken years to save the money.

    Jane folds her arms and studied the camera. Six hundred dollars. Well, and six more, and tax. She has it. She does. But it had taken years to save the money.


    Doesn't the second one just sound wrong? I think that it shifts us into a past tense narrative. It should be "But it has taken years to save the money." and even that sounds somehow odd.

    While both of these are fine:

    Jane folded her arms and studied the camera. Six hundred dollars. Well, and six more, and tax. She had it. She did. But it took years to save the money.

    Jane folds her arms and studied the camera. Six hundred dollars. Well, and six more, and tax. She has it. She does. But it took years to save the money.
     
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  10. Wayjor Frippery
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    Wayjor Frippery Contributing Member

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    Hi Tenderiser, it depends on the context (as has been said above).

    had taken is past perfect. It is the past of the past - it indicates an action that happened before a known past simple action. e.g. When I arrived, he had made lunch (he made lunch before I arrived). So in your example above, if you said something like 'He was sitting on his hands with a wad of cash', then we are already in the past, so had taken would be the correct tense to indicate that he saved the money before he sat on it.

    took is past simple. It shows a completed action at a specific time in the past, e.g. 'It took Billy years to save the money, but finally he went to Disneyland'. Everything here is past and finished, and the specific time is when he went to Disneyland.

    If your character is sitting in the present (present continuous), then the correct tense for your sentence above would be present perfect - It had taken years to save the money - because the action started in the past and continues in the present: he could save more.

    I hope that helps!
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2016
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  11. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    The narrative is in past tense. Seems like this is all much of a muchness so I'll take the suggested edit (changing it to "it took"). Thank you all!
     
  12. Wayjor Frippery
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    Wayjor Frippery Contributing Member

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    Hello again. At the very real risk of being labelled a grammar nazi, I'm going to chip in with one more observation. I've harped on a bit elsewhere in this forum that grammar is meaning and meaning is grammar: they are the same thing. For that reason, I think that (based on the information in this thread) using 'it took' would be incorrect if it follows the statement, 'He was sitting with a wad of cash'.

    He was sitting with a wad of cash. It had taken years to save the money. This is correct because the past perfect in the second sentence connects the two sentences semantically, saying explicitly that we are talking about the same money and that it was saved before being sat on.

    He was sitting on a wad of cash. It took years to save the money. This combination is plain wrong in standard English. By using a past simple verb in each sentence, you have broken the semantic connection, and the two sentences no longer relate to each other. The connection has become ambiguous and although most of us would understand the meaning, the precision of the first example (the temporal relationship) has been lost. Having said that, if these lines represent the inner musings of a character who does not speak in standard English, then the problem goes away.

    I hate to come over all prescriptive, so apologies if this all sounds too text booky.
     
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  13. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Not at all, I'm grateful for the input!

    Okay, here is the actual passage which I probably should have pasted in my opening post. Rachel is sitting outside a clinic debating whether or not to go inside for her appointment, which she's pre-paid for.

    Sam and Ally had spent many patient hours coaxing her into making the appointment, followed by reassuring her that it would be fine. Ally had even skipped a date – already unheard of, but this was with a male model no less - to help Rachel research phobia specialists.

    It took countless hours at work to save the money for it. Day in, day out, sitting behind a checkout desk at the shop, her back aching and her brain turning to mush as she lifted, scanned, bagged, lifted, scanned, bagged.

    A dozen solid reasons to go to the appointment and only two minutes left to decide.
     
  14. Wayjor Frippery
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    Wayjor Frippery Contributing Member

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    It had taken... would be correct here. The moment we are in is sitting outside the clinic with two minutes to decide whether to go in or not. That moment is our point of reference - our now - for everything else that happens in this passage. Saving the money definitely happened before that reference point, so it should be expressed in the past perfect because the reference point is already in the past (past perfect is the past of the past), just like Sam and Ally's coaxing.

    ETA: If you use the past simple here, it reads like you're making a general statement about appointments at this clinic - it takes everybody countless hours to save the money not just Rachel.
     
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  15. Midge23
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    Midge23 Member

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    I can't explain it as well as the above, but had taken does sound 'right' to my ear when read as part of the whole.

    This has been an interesting and useful thread.
     
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  16. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Same on both counts!
     
  17. PassTheDrinks
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    PassTheDrinks Member

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    In my opinion, 'It had taken years to save the money" sounds better than "It took years to save the money". I'm not sure how to explain this reasoning.
     
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