Sunday, September 12, 2010

I'm not so perfect with PAST PERFECT~GRAMMAR GRIND

I'd rather iron than brush up on my grammar. I'd rather be domestic. I am not that domestic. This is how much I hate GRAMMAR. But the judge from that contest is still in the back of my mind. "Once you get a better understanding of the English language..." Whatever, so here I am, learning with you.

Apparently when you write in the third person, I do, and your character recalls something they did in the past, you need the tense of the verb in the sentence to be PAST PERFECT. As soon as I heard that I cringed. VERB TENSES. This was the part of class where I'd raised my hand to go to the ladies room and check out my hair.

I had some eye opening crits when I started this whole writing thing and realized something. Somehow I mistook being PASSIVE for PAST PERFECT. I was GRAMMATICALLY INCORRECT.

I still struggle with PAST PERFECT as I write but at least I am conscious of it now. Grr, I hate grammar!

So, what I have been doing is READING. Not for pleasure but for research. I came across an excerpt in Domestic Affairs by Eileen Goudge. A great read BTW. Here PAST PERFECT made a little more sense to me.  (Below this passage you will find a text book grammar lesson. YAWN but necessary.)

"Vaughn tried to recall how he'd felt at the time. He hadn't been just another happy horny teenaged boy looking to score, that much he knew. The truth was, he'd been in love with Abigail. He had been, secretly, for quite some time before he'd made his move."

Here is the best lesson on PAST PERFECT I found on the web. For me it was the easiest to understand. I will post other links at the end of this post. The lesson is below.
http://www.wordpower.ws/grammar/gramch06.html



The Past Perfect tense is used to refer to a non-continuous action in the past, which was already completed by the time another action in the past took place. In the following examples, the verbs in the Past Perfect tense are underlined.

e.g. She had heard the news before I saw her.

I had finished my work by the time the clock struck twelve.

In the preceding examples, the verbs had heard and had finished are in the Past Perfect tense, and the verbs saw and struck are in the Simple Past. The use of the Past Perfect tense indicates that the actions of hearing the news and finishing the work were already completed by the time the actions expressed by the verbs in the Simple Past took place.

Formation

The Past Perfect tense is formed from the Simple Past of the auxiliary to have, followed by the past participle of the verb.

The Simple Past of to have is had. In spoken English, the auxiliary had is often contracted to 'd. For example, the Past Perfect of the verb to work is conjugated as follows:

Without Contractions With Contractions:

I had worked- I'd worked
you had worked -you'd worked

he had worked -he'd worked

she had worked -she'd worked

it had worked- it'd worked

we had worked- we'd worked

they had worked- they'd worked

The contraction it'd is less frequently used than the other contractions, since it is more difficult to pronounce.

Questions and negative statements

As is the case with other English tenses, questions and negative statements in the Past Perfect tense are formed using the auxiliary.

Questions are formed by placing the auxiliary before the subject. For example:

Affirmative Statement Question

I had worked. Had I worked?

They had worked. Had they worked?

Negative statements are formed by placing the word not after the auxiliary. For example:

Affirmative Statement Negative Statement

I had worked. I had not worked.

They had worked. They had not worked.

In spoken English (erm Dialogue for us), the following contraction is often used:

Without Contraction With Contraction

had not hadn't

Negative questions are formed by placing the auxiliary before the subject, and the word not after the subject. However, when contractions are used, the contracted form of not follows immediately after the auxiliary. For example:

Without Contraction With Contraction

Had I not worked? Hadn't I worked?

Had they not worked? Hadn't they worked?

Tag questions are formed using the auxiliary. In the following examples, the negative tag questions are underlined. Contractions are usually used in negative tag questions.

Affirmative Statement Affirmative Statement with Tag Question

I had worked. I had worked, hadn't I?

They had worked. They had worked, hadn't they?

The Past Perfect Continuous tense is used to refer to a continuous, ongoing action in the past which was already completed by the time another action in the past took place. In the following examples, the verbs in the Past Perfect Continuous tense are underlined.

e.g. I had been waiting for two months by the time I received the reply.

He had been thinking about his friends shortly before they called.

In the preceding examples, the verbs had been waiting and had been thinking are in the Past Perfect Continuous tense, and the verbs received and called are in the Simple Past. The use of the Past Perfect Continuous tense indicates that the actions of waiting and thinking were continuous, and were completed by the time the actions expressed by the verbs in the Simple Past took place.

\OKAY, I am confused but no longer so lost, if that makes sense. YOU GRAMMAR GURUS OUT THERE, PLEASE CHIME IN. I NEED YOU. Eh-hem. Especially, if all this is wrong!

Other great links on PAST PERFECT:

http://eslus.com/LESSONS/GRAMMAR/POS/pos3.htm
http://www.grammar-quizzes.com/
http://www.englishpage.com/verbpage/pastperfect.html

7 comments:

  1. Okay - if it happened before, then use a past tense verb. If it happened before that happened, stick a had before the verb. If it happened before what just happened, and is still happening put a been after the had. If it's not happening, didn't happen before, or still trying not to happen - put a not in it, and you can contract the not if you wish.

    Crystal clear. :)

    Thanks Charli!

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  2. Holy shit!!!
    Brenda

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  3. Don't get me started on grammer freaks Charli..They're a little like hemroids !!

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  4. PJ, I think you just explained it even better. LOL. You are a grammar GURU. I'll post boring lessons then you break it down, OK? Deal.

    Brenda, yup. Sactly.

    Ron, get out the preparation H, buddy. As writers we're stuck with the bulging, itchy, lil feckers of grammar.

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  5. Flashbacks are tricky in third person because with the longer ones you have to start off in past perfect, then move into past tense, then back to past perfect again.

    "Why? My grammar book says that you have to stay past perfect..."

    You've got to do this in some circumstances or you'll wind up with waaaaay too many hads that can clog the narrative and ruin the mood.

    Reason #345 not to do flashbacks.

    P.S. I just had this discussion with my editor as I've got three flashbacks in book one of Guardians. One was short enough to use all past perfect, but the other two were simply too long to pull it off.

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  6. JC, Asylum, what do I call you when you comment!

    Great insight and soo true. I have struggles with flashbacks, hence part of the reason I am re-writing.

    Some of the places I was beaten up over in my MS by those Judges came from flashbacks.

    Grammar, even in fiction, is sometimes subjective. Thanks for the comment. You always make me think...dang you!

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  7. alright charli..i tried reading this but my eyes started to cross about half way through...i think this is the ONLY thing about writing that i HATE! too many rules, and confusing ones at that

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