Hav you ever read a story that wasn’t told in the past tense? Maybe a few here and there were in the present tense, but it’s safe to assume most short stories or novels you’ve read have been told in the past tense. I was thinking about this today while reading (specifically I think a shift from past simple to past perfect simple to talk about something that happened earlier in the story triggered it).

It’s something that’s true across many languages, and we’re so used to it we don’t really notice. But if you think about it, most stories would work just as well in the present tense. And some writers do use the present tense, for certain sections of their stories at least, to provide a sense of immediacy. So why not use that for the whole story then, and for every story? Continue reading

“I’d Been Being Watched!”

Back when I was writing about ablaut reduplication, I read this article on the BBC website, which mentions this unwritten rule, and other structures that we use unconsciously. It’s interesting and worth reading, but I was struck by one passage in particular:

There are so many tenses you can use without even thinking about it, and almost certainly without being able to name them. It depends how you count them, but there are about 20 that you deploy faultlessly. The pluperfect progressive passive for an extended state of action that happened to you prior to another action in the past is, when you put it like that, rather daunting. But then you’d happily say “I realised I’d been being watched” without breaking sweat or blinking.

Eh, not quite without breaking a sweat, I think! Certainly the sentence is grammatically correct, and an example of the passive voice. The active version would be I realised someone had been watching me. We then change that to passive by changing the verb to the past-participle form (watched) and using the appropriate form of to be (had been being – past perfect continuous). But is it really that easy for even a native speaker to say this, and how often would we really use this form?

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Yesterday, I looked at the present perfect simple tense, a tricky customer for people learning English. The progressive aspect can also of course be in the past and the future, and can be combined with the continuous (progressive) aspect. As with the present perfect simple, the perfect aspect always joins two different time periods together. The present perfect simple is the most common way you’ll use the perfect aspect, but let’s have a quick look at the other ways we use it:

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English Lessons for Experts: Present Perfect Simple

We’ve already looked at the three main tenses in English: the past, the present, and the future. Or two tenses, if you don’t consider the future a tense. But in addition to tense, there’s another element to referring to time in English, and that’s aspect. There are three different aspects in English, each of which can be combined with a tense (and sometimes another aspect), and they are: simple, continuous, and perfect.

I’ve already covered simple and continuous in writing about tenses, and they’re fairly straightforward (I go, or I’m going), but the perfect aspect is a little trickier. Before getting into the details, have a look at the following pairs of sentences:

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English Lessons for Experts: Past Simple & Continuous

I’ve decided to continue looking at some of the basic aspects of the English language, as I began before. From now on it’ll be a little different, as I won’t go into much detail about what a lesson might look like, mainly because the principles remain largely the same. If you’re a native speaker, you might find this enlightening, and if not, it might be a useful refresher of things you’ve already learned. Before looking at some of the main past tenses, let’s have a quick recap of the present simple and continuous, which I looked at before, but not in much detail:

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