Tuesday, October 16, 2012

31 Days: Day 16 — Tense. Dogs, run in fear.

I honestly think the hardest part of this series is coming up with a catchy title every day. I'm such a black-and-white linear thinker, it's almost impossible to squeeze the creativity out.

So let's get on with what I'm good at, shall we? Today we're going to talk about tense and I'm going to share a confession that will make my mother, the retired English teacher, cringe.

I don't remember learning any of this in elementary or middle school. My first memory of being taught and understanding the basic tenses was in tenth grade, German II. I was 15 years old. And when Herr Couche wrote the explanation on the board, a light bulb the size of Texas went off in my head and I suddenly got both English and German all in one fell swoop. It was the most amazing feeling! Were it not for some pretty intense peer pressure, I would have shouted right there in the third row.

Now I know some of you are already getting tense (Haha, get it? Tense?) just thinking about all the confusing jargon that's about to hit the proverbial fan here, but let me reassure you, it's pretty simple. Let's define two words that will help it all make perfect (oh, I crack myself up) sense:

Tense = time

Perfect = completed

Verb tense simply tells what time the action happened. The perfect tenses tell when the action was completed. Watch.

There are three simple tenses:

Present:     I kick the dog. (I'm doing it right now. It's happening as we speak.)

Past:          I kicked the dog. (Just got done doing it.)

Future:      I will kick the dog. (Maybe tomorrow, maybe next week, but it will happen in the future.)

Then there are three perfect tenses. And remember, perfect means complete. It tells us when an action is completed.

Present perfect:     I have kicked the dog. (I'm finished kicking him as of right now.)

Past perfect:          I had kicked the dog. (I was finished kicking him at some point in the past.)

Future perfect:      I will have kicked the dog. (I will be finished at some point in the future.)

(Please understand, I am not a dog kicker. I have never kicked dogs, nor do I advocate doing so. I like dogs, even Pete, though he tries my patience. But I've learned from experience that shock-value helps people retain the explanation. It's easy to remember that crazy teacher who kept talking about kicking dogs!)

The simple tenses are easy enough to understand. The perfect tenses are only a little more complicated. You just have to keep thinking in terms of when the action was completed.

In the present perfect, the action is complete right now. I have kicked him.

In the past perfect, you could say As of yesterday at 6 pm, I was finished kicking the dog. I had kicked him.

In the future perfect, you could say As of tomorrow at 10 am, the kicking of the dog will be completed. I will have kicked him. 


So why did I feel the need to explain about six basic tenses? Because if I read the phrase "I wish I would have . . . " one more time, I will curl up in the fetal position into a frothing, trembling mass and never recover.

I wish I would have gone to the party. (Like nails on a chalkbooooooard!)

I've actually tried to analyze the phrase "wish I would have" with regard to time (tense), and each time I attempt it, I run away with my eyes closed and my hands over my ears, taking deep breaths to lower my blood pressure.

Try it: the "wish I would" part kind of indicates a looking forward, but then you add the "have" and it's like you've run up ahead of yourself and looked back on what you were saying. I can't make it work any way I try.

LISTEN. What the speaker really means is I wish I had gone to the party, because at some point in the past, the action of going to the party would be complete, and the speaker would have happy memories of the grand fête. He wishes (right now) that he had gone (finished in the past because turn out the lights, the party's over).

So please don't ever say "I wish I would have . . ." My husband doesn't want to have to scrape me up off the floor and tuck me in bed with my blankie.

Be thankful ~

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

LOL! I don't know if I've said that or not...but I can assure you that I will be more conscious of it in the future.

Great explanation today.