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  1. Maverick_nc

    Maverick_nc Contributor Contributor

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    Mixing Tenses

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Maverick_nc, May 19, 2019.

    Hi Folks,
    I couldn't find an acceptable answer online so I'm posting my question here instead.
    I have a very simple sentence:

    "I finished my burger, wiping the blood-red ketchup from the corners of my mouth, and smiled."

    Now, the thing that is bothering me is the word 'wiping', being in a different tense. I tried the sentence the other way:

    "I finished my burger, wiped the blood-red ketchup from the corners of my mouth, and smiled."

    I know the second sentence is grammatically correct but the first version just 'feels' better within the context of the piece I'm writing.
    Is this an area where its OK to break the rules, or will I likely be shot for doing so?
    It seems such a basic question I was initially afraid to ask, but well, here I am...

    Cheers
    NC
     
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  2. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    If you said 'wiping the blood-red ketchup from the corners of my mouth, I smiled,' then it would still be grammatically correct because the present tense indicates an action in conjunction with another action that's past tense, thereby marking them both as past.

    But, yeah, I'd go with the second one. The first one rustles my writey senses.
     
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  3. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    You're not switching tenses. Both examples are in past tense. Personally, I would go with the first one. But you're not breaking any rules. It works.
     
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  4. Maverick_nc

    Maverick_nc Contributor Contributor

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    Thanks guys. My personal preference is the first sentence, so its interesting to see the differing opinions here...
     
  5. Seven Crowns

    Seven Crowns Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Currently Reading::
    "Alas, Babylon" by Pat Frank
    Couple things . . .
    1) You can change tense, and most paragraphs will (repeatedly), but they'll come back to a baseline.
    2) You're not actually changing tense in that sentence.

    "Wipe" is a verb. When you add -ing to it, it becomes a verbal. Verbals are verbs that are recruited for new purposes. In this case, "wiping" is a participle. Participles are usually adjectives but they can be adverbs too. This one is an adverb. It's telling HOW you finished the burger. It's changing the quality of the verb. That's why it's a participle phrase acting as an adverbial.

    So there's actually no tense in the middle. (Only verbs can have tense. NOT verbals.) You have:

    I finished my burger (past tense)
    wiping the blood-red ketchup from the corners of my mouth (modifies "finished")
    and smiled (past tense)

    "Wiping" can itself, be part of a verb phrase. In that case it will have a being verb with it. That's probably what you're thinking of.

    am wiping, were wiping, is wiping, etc.
    Even beyond that, you have to understand that grammar is not absolute. It often depends on context. Sometimes the context is in the surrounding sentences and sometimes it's in the reader's head.

    What is your favorite exercise? It is jumping. (gerund, aka: noun)
    What is that dog doing? It is jumping. (verb phrase, present-continuous tense, with being verb "is")
    What do you think of this busy speakeasy? It is jumping. (participle as adjective)
    So sometimes there's more than one answer. If that sentence ("It is jumping") was all by itself then there's no one answer as to what it means. Anyway, that's a common structure and you're safe to use it. Beware though, it's one that's easily abused in repetition.
     
    Last edited: May 19, 2019
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  6. Maverick_nc

    Maverick_nc Contributor Contributor

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    Many thanks for the detailed answer! I've been using this kind of construction a fair amount but hopefully not overdoing it.
     
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  7. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I say use it as much as you want. There's really no problem. I do it all the time. It's not changing tense and it's not something that's even going to stand out to readers as long as it's impeded in prose that flow nicely. Really, you're totally fine.
     
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  8. Stormburn

    Stormburn Contributor Contributor

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    This is one of the best explanations that I have ever read. Well done!
     
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