1. KenV54
    Offline

    KenV54 New Member

    Joined:
    Oct 15, 2010
    Messages:
    9
    Likes Received:
    0

    Use of "would" in past tense

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by KenV54, Oct 15, 2010.

    I am tutoring a first year community college student whose first language is Spanish. She has to write an essay for a regular English 101 course (not English as a 2nd language).

    I'll give a sample paragraph:

    "When playing alone, often at night before going to sleep, my imagination would take me on a big ship to unknown places around the world. I would place a blanket on my parents' room floor, pretending that it was a ship. I would even bring food and water and my dependable dreams."

    Her professor changed this paragraph to the following:

    "When playing alone, often at night before going to sleep, my imagination took me on a big ship to unknown places around the world. I would place a blanket on my parents' room floor and pretended that it was a ship. I even brought food and water and my dependable dreams."

    Aside from the inconsistency of the corrections, I think the way she wrote it originally was better. The use of the word “would” implies something that is repeated in the past as opposed to something that happened only once.

    Also, the use of the gerund (“pretending”) fits here, in my opinion, again because she is describing a repetitive and ongoing process. She could also use just the present tense, “and pretend,” in conjunction with “would place.”

    Any opinions as to the stylistic issues here?
     
  2. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    The structure in the original sentence is normally a conditional past tense, associated with an 'if' statement. In this case, the 'if' is implicit, if she entered this state of reverie, it would proceed thusly. The professor's corrections are, in my opinion, overzealous.

    By the way, pretending in that case is a participle, not a gerund. A gerund is one subclass of participle or participle phrase, in which the participle or participle phrase is used in a noun context:
    Skating is a participle used as the subject of the sentence, so now it is a gerund.
     
  3. Trilby
    Offline

    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,098
    Likes Received:
    69
    Location:
    NE England
    'often at night before going to sleep...'
    'often' having already been mentioned the 'would' is redundant therefore the need to change 'take' to 'took'
    Pretending- present tense
    Pretended is more in harmony with the past tense of this piece of writing
     
  4. KenV54
    Offline

    KenV54 New Member

    Joined:
    Oct 15, 2010
    Messages:
    9
    Likes Received:
    0
    Cogito, thanks very much for your help, and for the clarification on the difference between a gerund and a participle. It's been a long time since I've thought about that. :)
     
  5. KenV54
    Offline

    KenV54 New Member

    Joined:
    Oct 15, 2010
    Messages:
    9
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trilby, I agree that if "would" is redundant in this case, and if "take" is changed to "took," then "pretended" should be used in place of "pretend" to keep the tenses consistent.

    But I'm not sure that I agree about "would" being entirely redundant here.

    To wit, here's a quote from the site, http://www.penguinclassics.co.uk/nf/shared/WebDisplay/0,,175609_1_10,00.html, about the alternative translations of one of the most famous opening lines in fiction.

    "Scott Moncrieff went for: ‘For a long time I would go to bed early,’ Penguin for: ‘For a long time, I went to bed early.’ One might also have: ‘For a long time I used to go to bed early,’ or ‘Time was when I went to bed early’ or ‘Time and again, I have gone to bed early.’ Alternatively, one could settle for the option offered by one member of the public when, a few months ago, Penguin asked visitors to its website to have a go at translating the first sentence of Proust; ‘For absolutely bloody ages it was lights out early.’"

    It looks as though it can be done in various ways. There was a time when I [would have worried] [worried] [would worry] about such things.
     
  6. madhoca
    Offline

    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2008
    Messages:
    2,527
    Likes Received:
    88
    Location:
    the shadow of the velvet fortress
    The student's is error-free, but the professor has one mistake. For correct structural parallelism, the sentence should be:

    'I would place a blanket on my parents' room floor and PRETEND that it was a ship'--but only if you are talking about two actions following in sequence.
    PLACE and PRETEND should have the same form, if you want to show sequence, like 'I ATE my breakfast and WENT to work'.

    HOWEVER: If you want to show that one action occurred while the other was in progress, then it should be:

    I would place a blanket on my parents' room floor, (while) pretendING that it was a ship--as the student wrote it, e.g.

    'When I was a child, I would DO my homework, WISHING I could go out and play' NOT 'When I was a child, I would DO my homework and WISHED I could go out and play'--this doesn't convey the 'repeated action' or continual idea.

    The student clearly was thinking of a habitual, repeated, continual action. Past simple is just plain wrong here.

    The rest is a matter partly of style--maybe you don't want all those 'woulds' there?--and to a lesser extent meaning, as Cog says about the 'if' clauses. Personally, I think the professor's style sucks.
     
  7. KenV54
    Offline

    KenV54 New Member

    Joined:
    Oct 15, 2010
    Messages:
    9
    Likes Received:
    0
    Great! I love it! You have validated my arguments and also my student's writing. Now, not only diplomacy but also her own survival in this course dictate that I refrain from printing out this thread and sending it to the course professor. On the other hand, your last sentence captures my feelings exactly. Maybe I should offer to tutor the professor as well, at a reduced charge, of course (professional courtesy).

    I edit some medical journal writing, and half my time is spent in correcting such stylistic issues, especially the failure to employ parallel constructions.
     
  8. McHamlet
    Offline

    McHamlet Member

    Joined:
    Oct 25, 2010
    Messages:
    17
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Thailand
    Absolutely right. I am amazed the professor made such a basic mistake. There is absolutely no way on earth 'pretended' should have been used there.
     
  9. KenV54
    Offline

    KenV54 New Member

    Joined:
    Oct 15, 2010
    Messages:
    9
    Likes Received:
    0
    Thanks for your post.

    It's interesting, since my initial post I've reviewed a couple of long essays written by this student. She writes quite well in terms of style, the only problem being the non-idiomatic use of some words, particularly "false friends" in English-Spanish, and in word order. I, myself, can write passably in Spanish, and can see that she tends to use Spanish construction at times which, while grammatically correct in English, doesn't always sound quite right.

    I suggested she take this thread into her professor--how else is she going to explain the fact that her "errors" haven't been corrected? Her answer: "¿Estás loco? ¡Tengo que aprobar este curso!"

    Now what do I do?? :)
     
  10. Islander
    Offline

    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2008
    Messages:
    1,542
    Likes Received:
    59
    Location:
    Sweden
    Google Translate? :p
     

Share This Page