1. kablooblab

    kablooblab New Member

    Jan 23, 2011
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    at home

    Using past tense

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by kablooblab, Feb 3, 2011.

    Can someone please give me a list of words that you can't use in past tense. Also can I use is if I am describing someone? For example would I say

    He is strong


    He was strong
  2. Manav

    Manav New Member

    Mar 26, 2010
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    Imphal, India
    I suggest you take a basic grammar book and read Parts of Speech and Tense. Under 'Tense' you'll find the various forms of verbs. Present form of verbs (walk, laugh, die, is etc) cannot be used in past tense (past forms of verbs are used in such case: walked, laughed, died, was), and vice versa.

    If you are narrating a story in the past tense, you have to use the past form ("he was strong") when describing someone.
    1 person likes this.
  3. Melzaar the Almighty

    Melzaar the Almighty Contributor Contributor

    Aug 28, 2010
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    No, that drives me absolutely mad that people think that they can do that. About the only time you can get away with it is when there's an established present tense (ie: an opening and close of the novel, perhaps with some scenes in the middle that create a present tense narrative frame while 99% of the action happens in flashback and past tense), but even then, unless the character described has already been mentioned as alive and well in the present tense, it's bad form to give a spoiler and talk about them in present tense. If you do, you're pretty much saying "they live to the end of the novel and beyond" and just shows a squeamishness at mentioning anyone in the past tense like they're dead already.

    If you WERE describing someone in the ridiculously specific narrative framework I mentioned, also you'd be best served describing only their permanent features in present tense, so, like, "While her hair is an angelic blonde, as a child she was a furious, spiteful creature who always had a scowl on below those blonde curls..." (terrible writing but I'm feeling lazy :p)

    All the rest of the time, just go with past tense for everything, whether you secretly know it'll still be around in the present time of writing the novel or not.

    Sorry... see too much of that. Had to rant. :p
  4. Spacer

    Spacer Active Member

    Jan 13, 2011
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    I asked about this on another thread a short time ago, and got an answer that past & present is all there is. But my reading indicates there are a great variety of moods and tense variations. There's a fancy name for it, but basically "was" can be used to give statement-of-being, even if the action is in the present tense. Mistaking that for simple past tense is a form of a joke, where you imply "but not anymore".
  5. RFortea

    RFortea New Member

    Feb 15, 2011
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    New York
    As a general rule, you want to keep an agreement of tense throughout your writing. Even if the object/person being described has attributes that apply to it presently, you should describe it in the past tense.


    I played with my dad as a child. He took me in his arms and threw me into the air as if I were an airplane. He is incredibly strong.


    I played with my dad as a child. He took me in his arms and threw me into the air as if I were an airplane. He was incredibly strong.

    The later version is correct even if you dad is still alive and is still strong as a bulldozer.

    I hope that helps :) You should check-out Grammar For Dummies. It's a fantastic book that's full of down to earth examples and explanations.

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