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Verb Tenses (discussion moved from 21 Days thread)

Verb Tenses (discussion moved from 21 Days thread)

Ooh, I have a verb tense question. It's been so long since I learned this that I don't remember what the tense is called when you have an -ing at the end of the verb, and I'm wondering if it conflicts with writing in the past tense. It sounds good to me, but maybe it's not considered pure enough by those fancy writer types

Some examples from what I was working on yesterday:
1. He whispered something to Myia and then stood looking around, seeing no one looking back at him for what felt like the first time in his life.

2. Holding up his hands and seeing nothing at all, he reflected on something before beginning to walk.

3. ...he took the most direct route to exit the enormous palatial confines, passing various servants and soldiers in the process
Now those three sentences can easily be changed to "pure" past tense. For example, "He held up his hands and saw nothing at all ...." But I think I like the sentence better as is. Is this a no-no?

I think this is the same type of example, but perhaps it's subtly different:

The goddess Myia stood invisibly nearby, monitoring the Haissem carefully.
I think that's pretty much the same though. "Stood" is past tense, and "monitoring" is I-don't-remember-what-that's-called.

I learned more English grammar from my four years of Spanish than I did in English class.

GimB - the type of word ending in -ing is called a gerund. This is not a no-no, as it is an active verb, generally showing something happening at the moment, rather than done and completed. It is a way to describe an ongoing movement rather than something done once and completed. So, from examples:

"He walked to the store." By the time you finish reading the sentence, the subject (he) has already completed the action. He isn't doing the walking any more - he walked there, and now he's done. Whatever follows from there should be descriptive of what happened after he arrived.

"He was walking to the store..." This is an incomplete sentence, but notice that he was in the middle of walking - it was incomplete - when....something happened. What follows from there should indicate what happened while the subject (he) was performing the verb (walking).

"He had been walking to the store when..." It's a weak verb tense, because it's not providing any information that "He was walking to the store..." doesn't, but it uses an additional and unnecessary tense. It's useful in some other languages, but less so in English - and in any language, it's a weak tense. Training yourself to use past, present, or future tense completely will make your writing more vivid, stronger, and bring the reader into your world a little easier.

Not that I'm some huge authority on the subject, but that's what works for me, it's what I notice from the books I enjoy reading, and it's what I was taught as well.

The OWL at Perdue (an excellent resource for style, grammar, and punctuation) has a 5 part article on Verb Tenses.


Thanks Puffin and WW. A gerund! It was on the tip of my tongue, if only a decade or more ago.

What do you think about the examples I posted. It's a combination of past tense along with some gerund usage. I can't decide if it feels better and more alive to me than if it had just been strictly past-tense throughout, but maybe I'm just biased in the moment.

Going back to your example:

"He was still walking to the store when he realized he had forgotten something."

Realized is past tense, but walking is a gerund. Contrast with clear past tense usage:

"He walked half the distance to the store before he realized he had forgotten something."

Hm. Maybe the latter is stronger, or maybe it's just personal preference. I like the first example, because it does feel more active and immediate. I can submit to writing in past tense, but what I like about present tense is that it feels more alive, and while the first example is not present tense, it gives me a little bit of the same juice while remaining in past tense.


I was just googling "gerund" a bit, and it looks like the way I was using verbs with -ing were not actually examples of gerunds.

Link 1
Link 2

I like swimming.
Swimming is fun.

Those are examples of gerund usage, where the verb with -ing on the end becomes a noun, but my examples were using actual verbs.

Holding up his hands and seeing nothing at all, he reflected on something before beginning to walk.
I'm still trying to research what this is exactly, but I think it might be a combination of past tense with usage of present participle (I may be wrong about the present participle part though--I think I may be). Which sounds like it would raise no-no flags for not being in one tense, but I really like the way that works because it lets you describe things as if they are unfolding in that moment, while keeping the action in the past. Hm.

I'm still researching it ...

Can we take this discussion to the Cafe Random thread, or open a new thread in the Resources folder, please?

Eh, complicated.

It looks like what I was doing there may be an example of a kind of past tense, called "past continuous tense (also known as past progressive apparently)," or at the least it seems very similar in spirit to it. There are six varieties of past tense, apparently.

Just saw your note WW. I don't know, could we copy all of the relevant posts into whatever thread we move it to then? You would know the best place for it.

Sure. It's a great discussion, but has moved away from the specific to the more general. I'll make it a thread.

This is a good page on past continuous tense, which is a bit similar to my examples, but actually it's not a perfect fit either. The examples there generally have a form of "to be" in front of the verb ending in -ing ("he was listening to ..."), which is not exactly what I was doing.

Maybe I am just mixing a kind of present tense with past tense.

This example (which I adapted from Puffin's example) does seem like past continuous tense:

"He was still walking to the store when he realized he had forgotten something."


"Holding up his hands and seeing nothing at all, he reflected on something before beginning to walk."

Isn't quite the same, because it isn't a case of something interrupting something that was ongoing in the past, and it doesn't have a form of "to be" preceeding the verb.

"Holding up his hands and seeing nothing at all," could be followed by by either present or past tense.

Present: "he freaks out."
Past: "he freaked out."

I'm not sure how unusual my original example sentences are here, but they seem to me to work just fine, even if they are mixing tenses a bit. Thoughts?


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