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  1. Micha

    Micha New Member

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    Gerunds and Tense, does it matter?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Micha, May 28, 2021.

    Hello,

    I'm very much a beginner to the world of "actual" writing but have been a long-time dreamer. I've dipped in and out of writing a handful of times over the last couple of decades and it seems I'm at it again. I have a question about tense as it's something I've never really looked at seriously and, while typing away last night, I had a realisation that I might be doing something very wrong with my use of tense.

    So here's an example of a line that got me thinking:

    He lurched forward, pulling each boot from the mud with a wet slurp, and headed for more solid ground.

    Now, I'm pretty sure I'm intending to write in the past tense; hence "lurched" and "headed". But I guess my question is: Should I change the line so that I'm using "pulled" instead of "pulling"? Something like:

    He lurched forward and pulled each boot from the mud with a wet slurp, then headed for more solid ground.

    This particular line isn't really important, it's more the idea of how I seem to state what happened in the past tense and then follow up with a gerund and a little more detail. Does a gerund even have any bearing on tense? Or can it be used in the way I have in the first line without worry?

    edit: I've just realised this use of "Pulling" isn't actually a gerund.
     
    Last edited: May 28, 2021
  2. madhoca

    madhoca Contributor Contributor

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    The way that's written, these actions are simultaneous: He lurched forward + pulling EACH boot (not only one boot, but two!).
    As you can see, that's impossible.
    Also, which action is first? If he was stuck in the mud, how did he lurch forward? If his feet were stuck, only the top half of his body would fall forward. He wouldn't lurch anywhere.
    "pulling each boot" is a present participle phrase here, describing the action that was going on at the same time as the main action ("he lurched forward")
    Your second example is more logical because the actions follow in sequence "lurched + and pulled + then headed" although as I said, I don't know how he was able to lurch.
    It's usually better to avoid portmanteau sentences with too many actions crammed into them.
    As to the tenses, yes, you can do the 2nd thing with every action in past tense: "He heaved his boots free, lurched out of the bog and headed for solid ground as fast as he could."
     
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  3. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    It works though, because we all know walking consists of picking up both feet, not simultaneously, but in sequence.
    I think what our mad friend is saying here (without saying it :cool:) is that it works because the phrase is set within a past tense sentence. And yes, it does work. Both sentence constructions you posted above are fine.
     
  4. madhoca

    madhoca Contributor Contributor

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    Um nope. I said the first sentence wasn't possible. You can't do all those things simultaneously....
     
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  5. Teladan

    Teladan On the outside looking in. Contributor

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    If one lurches, that's usually an entirely fluid body movement that uses both feet at the same time, essentially a jump. Or one massive stride with one foot. Either way, the following sentence fragment is that the two feet are individually pulled. I'm not sure it makes sense for this to go in sequence. The sentence suggests that the pulling of each of the feet is connected with the lurching, but those two physical actions aren't connected. I'm inclined to agree with Madhoca, but I'd loved to be enlightened. I can't see how it works.

    He tiptoed quietly, putting each foot in front of the other, slowly... Is a bad sentence, but the two actions are connected since that's what you do when you tiptoe.
     
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  6. Hammer

    Hammer Contributor Contributor

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    I agree with your edit @Micha - pulling isn't a gerund in your example - one of the proper grammarians may advise, but I think it's a contracted form of the past continuous and is entirely correct in your first sentence - in the second it would be "past past" - the sentence we are reading happened in the past according to our time-frame, and the action happened in the "further past" ie in the subject's time-frame - he tied his shoelaces and left - the leaving happened in the past from the current viewpoint, the tying also happened in the past, but, if you like, even further in the past.

    Not sure I want to fuel the fire of sidetracks, but I don't see how "each" implies simultaneously in this sentence? "Both" might, but not each.
     
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  7. Teladan

    Teladan On the outside looking in. Contributor

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    It's not a side-track since it's directly relevant to the content of the sentence he's trying to write. It's not simultaneously though, more like sequentially. One can't lurch by pulling each foot individually. The way the sentence is written suggests that this is so. The sentence is constructed as if these actions are connected but they, seemingly, have nothing to do with each other. I'm not the only one that took issue with it.
     
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  8. Hammer

    Hammer Contributor Contributor

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    I didn't interpret the original post as a request for help with the mechanics of a specific sentence, more an opening for a discussion on the use of past (and other) tense(s), therefore I would describe the mechanics of lurching very much as a side-track

    My italics, but used for illustration rather than being the thrust of the question.

    And, anyway, I disagree with your definition of lurching being "essentially a jump"

    again my italics, but "the car lurched forward" may imply a single lurch, but a person lurching implies more of a stagger than a jump


    ETA - damn it! followed up on the side-track anyway. Hoist by my own petard... or perhaps @Teladan 's mischievous petard... (c:
     
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  9. madhoca

    madhoca Contributor Contributor

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    It's not a contracted form of past continuous, it's -ing added to the base verb making the present participle. This turns it into an adverbial phrase/clause.
    We can say: He heard the phone ring while watching TV.
    OR
    We use the present participle by itself to show something happening simultaneously to the main event, e.g.
    Watching TV, he heard the phone ring.

    This is why sentence number 1 from the OP is not entirely correct because you can't do all those actions at once (or even a few seconds before or after).
     
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  10. Hammer

    Hammer Contributor Contributor

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    I agree

    I don't agree. The pulling of the boots is describing the way the subject lurches. It's an integral and constituent part of the lurch

    Sucking his thumb and bawling his eyes out, @Hammer composed his measured response. Same thing.
     
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  11. madhoca

    madhoca Contributor Contributor

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    Not sure why you are arguing. There are actually grammar rules in the English language, even if you choose to "disagree" with them--and of course, many writers choose to disregard the rules. The difference is that good writers knowingly disregard the rules.The OP is a self-declared beginner.
     
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  12. Hammer

    Hammer Contributor Contributor

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    Well perhaps I am being obtuse; I am not "arguing" with the existence of grammatical rules or advocating that anyone ignores them (unless, as you say, by informed choice), but you don't appear to making a grammatical point. The general thrust appears (to me) to revolve around whether you can pull your boots from the mud with a slurp whilst lurching, and I would conjecture that you can, in fact you couldn't lurch without doing so, you would, instead, be stuck in the mud, possibly tugging on a leg in order to free it.

    To the grammatical question "can you be [present participle]ing whilst you [past tense]", the answer is yes... said @Hammer, tearing his hair out [present participle] in clumps as he walked [past tense] away from his desk.
     
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  13. ruskaya

    ruskaya Senior Member

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    I read all the comments, but it seems to me that while you focus on being precise in the details of the sentences, you are not really telling us what you want to say. I lack in grammar knowledge, so I will tell you what the two sentences feel like to me.

    1- He lurched forward by pulling each boot from the mud with a wet slurp, and headed for more solid ground.

    2- He lurched forward. He pulled each boot from the mud with a wet slurp. Then headed for more solid ground.

    Note that "and" can both suggest two sentences are happening simultaneously or sequentially. The changes I edited help me understand better your intentions, the way I understand them to be from the posts in the thread. But that is my personal opinion and understanding. To me the "pulling" describes his action of lurching forward, which also gives the sense of simultaneity of the two actions that you are looking for. By either adding "by" to make it a means or separating the sentences, gives the reader that feeling. This is just my impression as a reader. However, I might be reading the grammar wrong . . .
     
    Last edited: May 29, 2021
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  14. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    Lurch is frequently used as a form of walking, ergo it can involve moving the feet individually.

    lurch
    /lərCH/
    Learn to pronounce

    verb
    1. make an abrupt, unsteady, uncontrolled movement or series of movements; stagger.
    Staggering is a form of walking. It doesn't mean to leap or hop necessarily (though it might). Also, it isn't necessary when a character is walking to remind readers that the feet must be lifted and then placed on the ground one after the other. This is getting insane. People are missing the forest for the trees.
     
  15. madhoca

    madhoca Contributor Contributor

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    I am merely saying that pulling your feet out of the mud is one action; lurching forward (making any kind of progress forward) is another action. You can't make a forwards movement if your feet are held in the mud.
    The sentence idicates that is what's happening, but I don't see how, given the above.
     
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  16. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    ... until you pull one foot out and take a lurching step forward.
     
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  17. madhoca

    madhoca Contributor Contributor

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    Exactly. You have to pull not just one but both your feet out BEFORE you are able to lurch forward. The actions are not simultaneously done, as I've said multiple times.
     
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  18. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    Well, I'm not going to keep engaging with this, my position on it is clear.
     
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  19. Seven Crowns

    Seven Crowns Contributor Contributor

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    Change your terms first.
    pull: verb
    pulling: present participle​

    Present participles aren't verbs anymore. They can be used many ways. One of them is a gerund. Gerunds are always nouns.
    I like skiing.
    Skiing is a gerund. It's acting like a noun and won't have tense. You can also have gerund phrases.
    I like skiing with friends. (The whole bit is like a noun phrase. It's the object/event you like.)
    What you have is a participle phrase. Those are always adjectival in nature, kind of like how your gerund phrase is a noun. The participle phrase's target is "he."
    He lurched forward, pulling each boot from the mud with a wet slurp, and headed for more solid ground. (that whole phrase describes "he")
    Adjectives have no tense. Only a verb can have that. So there is no tense issue. Your original sentence is completely past tense. Adjectives describe the state of a noun, and that state is fixed and without motion. Even if it seems high-energy, it's still not a verb. It's a quality of the noun being described. It's set and in place and never has a tense.

    The problem is whether or not your noun can have that quality while the action takes place.
    Loading my musket, I released a volley at the alien Grays. (No)
    Loading my musket, I dwelt on my hatred for the Martian invaders. (Yes)​

    I know it's called a "present" participle, but there's still no tense there. If you add some being verbs with it, then you can get tense again (fancier tenses this time), but on its own a present participle won't have tense.
    London is fighting a losing battle against the Grays. (present continuous tense, is + pres. part.)
    tldr: your original line was fine because the pulling and the lurched can happen at once

    (I guess London would call them the Greys, haha.)
     
    Last edited: May 31, 2021
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  20. madhoca

    madhoca Contributor Contributor

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    Very well said, except that a present participle is not always adjectival. Here, it's an adverbial clause. It isn't describing "he", it's describing the way he lurched forward = adverbial clause.
     
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  21. Seven Crowns

    Seven Crowns Contributor Contributor

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    There's some disconnect in the grammar world as to whether the participial phrase can act as an adverb. All of the old texts explicitly say "adjective only," but it's very easy to convince yourself it should be an adverb. It's not too hard to find online sources that list the adverb use as valid. I kind of agree with the adverb angle, but I stuck with "adjectives only" since that's what the books are saying.

    I was aware of this issue before I posted anything. I've spent a lot of time looking at this in the past. People really can't agree. It's another rule in flux, I guess.
     
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  22. Micha

    Micha New Member

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    Wow, thankyou all for the feedback. This is extremely useful for me.

    I think I've learned what I was asking for and a more subtle lesson on top. The two actions needing to make logical, sequential sense seems obvious to say but is something I've never really thought about.

    My intention for what "lurch" meant was that unpleasant feeling when you take a step but meet resistance and do a half-trip stagger and follow up with another quick step from the other foot. I think I was intending for the "lurch" to be the entire re-balancing of his centre of mass and so involve both boots to be pulled from the mud in the process, but perhaps lurch isn't the right word for this entire performance.
     
  23. Micha

    Micha New Member

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    Thanks for this breakdown, this is exactly what I was looking for but I think I didn't know the terms to even search for.
     
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  24. petra4

    petra4 Member

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    You definitely have a point about good writers and their grammar. OP, being a self-declared beginner, I would accept it critique (review &/or appreciation)
     

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