1. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    "Was"

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Jhunter, Sep 23, 2011.

    Is "was" always used in past tense?

    Example: A wind was blowing through a mountain pass.

    Does this mean it was? Or can it also mean it currently is?

    While going back to edit my work, I am having a hard time not changing almost every "was" into an "is." The problem is after I do that it doesn't feel right anymore.

    I may just be over thinking this, but any help would be appreciated.

    One more thing, and I apologize if this is the wrong section to ask this. But how do you quote a characters quote in the middle of a sentence?

    Example: The paintings hanging on the walls are beautiful. My father likes to say "They give the house character." and in truth, he is correct.

    Thanks,
    Jonathan
     
  2. Timothy Giant
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    Timothy Giant Member

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    "was" is the past tense of "is" (which might sound familiar), and is always used to reflect that something happened in the past.
    In your example, it isn't blowing through that pass anymore.
    But most stories are written in the past tense, so then it does sound logical.

    Quotation depends on if you are American or British. As for American, I'm not sure (see Wikipedia, perhaps), but for British, it is both acceptable (as long as you stay consistent). The full stop at the end is not needed. You may want to replace it with a comma (inside the q'marks if you're American, outside if you're British).

    Hope this helps!
     
  3. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    So you are saying I should treat the quote just like I would dialogue?

    Like this: The paintings on the walls are beautiful. My father likes to say "they give the house character," and in truth, he is correct.
     
  4. Timothy Giant
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    Timothy Giant Member

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    Yes, in a way.

    But "they" should be capitalised and there should be a comma after "say". If you do that, you can't go wrong. :p
     
  5. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    Ok, thanks!
     
  6. Smythe
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    Smythe Member

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    If it is set in the past, 'was' is current in the past. Saying "A wind was blowing through the mountain pass. He wrapped his coat around himself to brace himself against the frozen wind." means that at the time of the events, it was current. Saying "it had been windy" means that it was, but at the time of the narrative, was no longer blowing.

    I don't know if you needed it down to that level...
     
  7. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, "was" means it was :)

    It's past tense. It says nothing at all about what is happening at the moment. maybe it's still blowing, maybe it stopped and started again, maybe it's not blowing now. But it was blowing at the past time being described.
    Perhaps you feel the work would be better using the present tense throughout? If you just change "was" you'll get a mismatch between that and all the other finite verbs. Try putting them all into the present tense and see whether you like it better than having it in past tense. Personally I find story telling in present tense to be a bit stilted, but plenty of people like it.
    I can only speak for British usage. The Oxford Style Manual gives the example where the original quote is:
    It cannot be done. We must give up the task.​
    One might then quote it as:
    He concluded that 'We must give up the task.'​
    [Note: no comma, but a capital letter]
    'It cannot be done,' he concluded. 'We must give up the task.'​
     
  8. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    You have all been very helpful, thank you.
     
  9. Lightman
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    Lightman Active Member

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    Regardless of what has been said above, it is both technically and aesthetically incorrect to use quotation marks as you did. For one, you are not reporting exact speech. Secondly, and more importantly, the quotation marks completely destroy the flow of the sentence.

    Edit: If that is in fact the British rule, the British rule is aesthetically inferior.
     
  10. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    So how would you go about using that quote?

    Also, I am American, so I am writing the American way.
     
  11. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    How do you know it's not a direct quote? They might well be the exact words his father repeatedly used.

    And if what is the British rule? In British English (as in US English) we could rephrase to get rid of the direct quotation:
    The paintings hanging on the walls are beautiful. My father likes to say that they give the house character, and in truth he is correct.​
    But if we want to show that he uses those exact words we would use quotes, although I disagree with the full stop:
    The paintings hanging on the walls are beautiful. My father likes to say "They give the house character", and in truth he is correct.​
    (Americans would probably want the comma inside the quotes. And note that I've deleted the comma after "truth" -- if you want to keep that in then you need a matching one after "and", but they're optional in British English and I think they make it cluttered.)

    ---------- Post added at 02:05 AM ---------- Previous post was at 02:01 AM ----------

    In most regards they are the same, but I flag it up just in case I'm treading on one of the differences.
     
  12. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    That example is not in my book, I just quickly typed that up to show you what I meant. But I am indeed wanting to use a direct quote.

    So the consensus is: The paintings on the walls are beautiful. My father likes to say, "They give the house character," and in truth he is correct.
     
  13. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think there's a consensus yet on the comma before the quote, but the rest seems settled.
     
  14. Raki
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    Raki Contributing Member

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    This is incorrect. "My father likes to say" can be used as a dialogue tag (direct quote). It can be considered the same as saying, "My father says, 'They give the house character.'" To make it stand as an indirect quote add the word "that" after "say" and then you can/should remove the quotations. And yes, if it is a direct quote, a comma is needed after "say," as well as afterwards if you include "and in truth, he is correct" as part of the sentence...not so if it is an indirect quote (second example following)... So: "The paintings hanging on the walls are beautiful. My father likes to say, 'They give the house character,' and in truth, he is correct." Or: "My father likes to say that they give the house character, and in truth, he is correct." Or: "My father likes to say, 'They give the house character.' And in truth, he is correct." All three are technically correct. Aesthetics, imo, are a matter of opinion, as is the destruction of the flow in this particular sentence.
     
  15. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    I assume that's a US rule, then.
     
  16. Lightman
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    Lightman Active Member

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    Doesn't matter; by saying "My father likes to say" he's implying that this doesn't refer to one specific utterance. If it said "My father said," then clearly quotation marks would be necessary.

    How exactly does this do anything? The relevant portion is still the same.
     
  17. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Doesn't matter, it's still direct speech.
    You said "Secondly, and more importantly, the quotation marks completely destroy the flow of the sentence". That version eliminates the quotation marks completely.
     
  18. Raki
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    Raki Contributing Member

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    Yes. It might be a UK rule too, but I'm not familiar with a lot of the differences. In general, you place a comma after a dialogue tag if it precedes the quoted material or after the quoted material if the dialogue tag comes after. My point here was that "My father likes to say" can work as a dialogue tag for a direct or indirect quote. The former requires a comma, while the latter doesn't.

    It means the relevant portion is indirect, the narrator or speaker is paraphrasing what the father likes to say. In other words, the father's words were different than what is listed in the sentence. With the quotations means the words between the quotations are the exact words the father likes to say. Hope that clears it up.
     
  19. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    It was indeed meant to be a direct quote from the father in this example.
     
  20. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    It would be a UK rule if the quote were treated as dialogue, but not all direct speech is dialogue!
     
  21. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Whether the character said it once or a hundred times, they still said those direct words, so the quote seems appropriate. Would you have the same objection to:

    My mother "smashed the potatoes," as she always puts it.

    ?

    ChickenFreak
     
  22. Raki
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    Raki Contributing Member

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    That's true, but you still have two different phrases working in this portion of the sentence. "My father likes to say" and "they give the house character." This is why I introduced the subordinate conjunction "that" between the two. If you applied it to the direct speech, no comma would be required either (e.g., "My father likes to say that 'they give the house character.'"). A little awkward...

    Honestly, I would change it to "My father says, 'They give the house character.'" Far simpler and sends the same message.
     
  23. Lightman
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    Lightman Active Member

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    By adding the word "that" - which can be implied.

    Yes, I would object to that, because that looks godawful.
     
  24. madhoca
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    It would more likely be:
    My mother "smashed" the potatoes, as she always puts it.
    or:
    My mother 'smashed' the potatoes, as she always puts it.
    It's only the word smashed that is idiosyncratic for the mother. Other people mash the potatoes.

    In usage other than the US, double inverted commas must be used for quotations, BUT very short quotations or sayings can be in single inverted commas,
    e.g.
    Lightman maintains that the British rule is 'aesthetically inferior', but this is somewhat amusing when you consider that only the Americans find their conventions superior. Aesthetics is often a matter of what you are accustomed to--and anyway, if you take the trouble to quote something (especially something long) you want it to stand out in the text a bit. You are not 'destroying the flow'.

    The only time you have to be really careful is when you have a quote inside speech. If you use the same type of punctuation it gets confusing. If you use single inverted commas for someone speaking, what they are quoting has to be within double inverted commas, or vice-versa if you are using US style.

    In one of the original examples, you are really just giving direct speech IMO, so:
    My father likes to say, "They give the house character," and in truth, he is correct. (US style)
    and:
    My father likes to say, 'They give the house character' and in truth, he is correct. (UK style)
     
  25. Raki
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    Unless the mother wasn't mashing potatoes, but say, stepping on ants, or giving the father a beating, or whatever odd metaphor she associates it with, and spinning that phrase. Then, you would leave the whole bit, "smashed the potatoes," in quotations. :)
     

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