Sunday, July 6, 2008

A Pluperfect Site for Verb Tenses

Ignoring verb tense leads to sloppy writing, as you can't be consistent with your tense if you don't know which one you are using. Most people don't realize just how many tenses exist and cannot tell when they mix tenses. Purdue University's table of verb tenses explains the name, purpose, and construction of each English verb tense.

Writers care about verb tense because it guides readers through the action in their stories. If you narrate a story in the past tense, writing that your character “dances like Fred Astaire” confuses your reader, not least because so few people these days remember him.

Unless you are making asides to your readers or writing dialog between them, choose one tense and stick with it. When switching from one tense to another intentionally, clearly signal that to you readers. A simple phrase like, “That was four years ago,” indicates that you've moved from the past tense to the present, for instance. The audience can follow the action if they know in what order it occurred. Mixing tenses mixes up readers.

As an aside of my own, for those of you who recall grammar classes from decades ago, I remind you of the pluperfect tense. That excellent word is increasingly shoved aside for the name “past perfect”. I mourn its passing, as it was the pluperfect word for what it described—something completed and thus unalterable. I also like to say pluperfect. Don't let the word die an ignoble grammar death. Use it today!