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Murdering Your Darlings

Ernest Bywater
Updated:

In another thread the issue of Murdering Your Darlings came up, I think this deserves a thread of its own, mainly because the other thread has already been split too many ways. Many professional authors, editors, and printers give this advice, and I never really understood what they meant by it until 5 years ago when a friend read one of my stories then pointed out I overused the word and too much. They handed me back a proof read copy of one of my stories with the word and highlighted - the pages had a severe case of measles.

Since then I've tried to really limit the word and in my stories by keeping it to only one usage per sentence as a general rule - yes there are some odd times I have two of them. Most of the time where I had written and I found it was very easily replaced with other words like since, as, also, when, while, plus, then, because, and many others depending upon the context of the story and sentence. I also found I could often make a slight change to the sentence to delete an and or two. One thing I noticed once I got into the habit of doing this was the sentences became easier to read and more smooth flowing - thus a better reading story. Since then I've noticed a few other words and phrases I tended to overuse and have worked at keeping them under control.

Keeping favourite words and phrases under control is what they mean by killing off your darlings.

Now I'm sure some people will agree with me on this, while others will disagree. However, the other day I read a sentence in a story on Sol where the word and appeared nine times in a twenty-eight word sentence - it looked childish like that.

edit to replace an and with then in the first paragraph.

edit to add: the sentence I read the other day was along the lines of: I got my hat and coat and opened the door and went out to my car and opened the door and .... - If I were to rewrite that in my current style I'd make it an actions list with most of the ands replaced by commas to list the actions.

Crumbly Writer

In my case (and in the post which prompted this new thread) the 'murder' involved tossing out the entire first several chapters in the hopes that, once you get a feel for the story, that you can write a more powerful opening, which will ultimately attract more readers to the story.

As most authors and publishers will warn you, the opening line (as well as the story description) are the most important of the entire story, as they're what convinces readers to take a chance on the story. If you don't have a strong start, it really doesn't matter what follows if no one ever reads it.

Hemingway and many others (who started as war correspondents for various magazines and newspapers at the time) routinely would write multiple copies of their first chapters, tossing each which 'didn't quite capture the scene perfectly'. By completely ignoring what they'd written before, they explored the story in different ways, better a better feel for the story as well as refining how they structured the words themselves.

That's how I envision "murdering" you darlings. If a story doesn't work, for whatever reason, you should be willing to start over from scratch. Even if you never use the newer version, you'll at least learn enough about what works and what doesn't to improve the original when you go back and revise it. That's another reason why I believe in revising the entire story once I've finished the first draft, as I discover many story elements and themes I'd never imagined when I first started the story.

On the flip side of this, my sister made a passing critique on my The Demons Within (not yet posed on SOL) which made sense so I added an entire flashback scene as the MC considers how he responds initially. Unfortunately, that simple passage really demands I complete revise the entire story to take advantage of it—even though I've already finished the entire sequel to the story!!! :(

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Crumbly Writer

Of course, I've also gone in the other direction, literally murdering my literary darlings, as I've frequently killed my main characters in many of my final chapters (in one case, killing off every single character in the entire book, to the great chagrin of my fans). So "murdering your darlings" applies on many different levels.

Note: For those of you not familiar with the work, the book where I murdered everyone was difficult to read, but the second book did Much better than the first (both in scores and sales) than the first, because everyone who couldn't stand the second wanted to see the story continue, since the departed characters were so intriguing.

Sometimes, even if it's unpopular, it's best to murder your darling (characters) if it helps the overall story.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

As most authors and publishers will warn you, the opening line (as well as the story description) are the most important of the entire story, as they're what convinces readers to take a chance on the story. If you don't have a strong start, it really doesn't matter what follows if no one ever reads it.


Although that's good advice for picking up new readers, your established readers don't need to be enticed in that way. Mind you, I think the start does need to catch their attention, but it need not be the type often pushed of starting in the middle of a bank robbery type start.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

Of course, I've also gone in the other direction, literally murdering my literary darlings, as I've frequently killed my main characters in many of my final chapters


hey, I killed the main character in a story, and then wrote a whole bunch of short story sequels to it - so it can be done.

Crumbly Writer

Not to beat a dead horse (since I'm the only one venturing opinions here), but there's yet another take on this.

While it's important to examine your own work to eliminate 'word bloat' (individual words like "and", "that", "seem", etc.) which don't add anything to the story. There's also a cost.

Having gone through a lengthy period where I studied my weaknesses in how I constructed sentences, I've now come back around. While I got a LOT of advances in the early stages (I now use "that" and other 'passive' words much less frequently) the low-hanging fruit gets picked early, while the more difficult to reach ones offer little incentive.

I've now discovered that, ignoring most of those nit-picky items no longer negatively impact my stories. I'd still suggest that every author examine their work to discover those low-hanging fruits, it isn't necessary to make a career out of picking every nit from each of your chapters. The time lost second guessing yourself really doesn't pay for the time invested/lost in the long run.

Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

Mind you, I think the start does need to catch their attention, but it need not be the type often pushed of starting in the middle of a bank robbery type start.

I never said it was, and I've always hated the glib advice to 'always start with a flashback' as HORRID advice! As for my readers, I write a different kind of story, which typically starts slow (when the characters face a mystery they don't yet understand) and only speeds up as they begin to understand what the stakes are.

The idea isn't to always 'start with a bang', it's simply to present your best writing upfront, rather than saving your best words for the very end.

In that instance, I'd suggest (something else I've never done), writing the entire story and THEN deleting the first several chapters, so you can write the opening scenes in a style which better reflects the entire story, rather than the awkward 'getting to know the characters' most opening chapters start as.

Note: I'm brave enough to kill off my favorite characters, but not brave enough to toss flawed chapters!

Replies:   Joe Long  Switch Blayde
Ernest Bywater
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


I'd still suggest that every author examine their work to discover those low-hanging fruits, it isn't necessary to make a career out of picking every nit from each of your chapters.


As one of the most prolific revisionists on the site I'll agree with the above, but with the stipulation of: once you get used to spotting the low hanging fruit you'll find you'll tend to knock it off the tree while you move on past it. In short, since I've became aware of the words I overused I been conscious of them while writing first drafts and tend to limit their usage right up front, and that has the flow-on effect of reducing the editing time later; both for me and my editors. I get a lot less edit marks as I improve my writing.

typo edit

Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

In short, since I became aware of the words I overused I been conscious of them while writing first drafts and tend to limit their usage right up front, and that has the flow-on effect of reducing the editing time later; both for me and my editors. I get a lot less edit marks as I improve my writing.

That's true, and as useful as my Autocrit analyses are, I've given up on most of them, but I still rely on the 'repeated words' report to identify those instances when I use the same terms within a few sentences or many times in a single paragraph. I've found I can't skip that necessary step without stepping all over myself!

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

I can't skip that necessary step without stepping all over myself!


would that dance be called a two-step or a three-step or a quick-step?

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Ross at Play

Ernest,
That is not the original meaning of that quote.

The words were originally said by Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch, who wrote The Oxford Book Of English Verse 1250–1900.

The full original quote is:

Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it -- whole-heartedly -— and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.

I interpret that to mean writers should delete 'exceptionally fine writing' if it is inconsistent with the remainder of a work.

I agree entirely with the point you made - I just think of it as having another name.

But I agree it is an exceptionally hard piece of advice to follow. I have one "darling" I'm sure I'll never be able to bring myself to murder - even though real life has jumped up to bite me in the arse and undermine its entire premise. If I ever get the first story I ever finished a draft of up to a standard I consider worthy of posting, it's definitely going to include this very long sentence:

It popped up again and again ... [I'll spare you all of this bit] ... — like a groundhog, or a splendiferous phoenix arising from the ashes, or like, confounding all reason and in complete denial of the amassed evidence proving the utter futility of their very existence, the rebirth with every new season of optimism in a Cubs fan.

For those who don't know, in 2016 the Cubs won their first World Series in 108 years. I wrote this darling after seeing they were trailing 2-3 and needed to win two away games to win the series. Damn life! And its interference with fine art. :(

robberhands
Updated:

@Ernest Bywater

I find the phrase 'Murdering your Darlings' hard to connect to your example of your overuse of the word 'and'. I can't imagine 'and' had been one of your darling words, or anyone's for that matter.

Ernest Bywater

It would seem, like a lot of writing advice, different people interpret the advice in different ways. When it was first pointed out to me I did some research on the subject, and the consensus of the editors and authors I found at that time was they saw the darlings as being favourite words and phrases.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Ernest Bywater

@Ross at Play

Ernest,
That is not the original meaning of that quote.


In modern English, especially as put forward from the USA, original meanings have no bearing on how they apply them now. The quote you use is from over 100 years ago, and look what they've done to the original meanings of words like decimate, gay, and many others in just the last 40 years. - sarcasm mode is now turned off.

Switch Blayde

@Ernest Bywater

I never really understood what they meant by it until 5 years ago when a friend read one of my stories then pointed out I overused the word and too much.


I don't think overusing words is what it means.

I think sometimes an author writes something he falls in love with. He likes the words used, the rhythm, the metaphors, or whatever reason. But that sentence, paragraph, section adds nothing to the story and should be deleted. It's hard because he loves it so much (it's his darling), but it needs to be deleted (murdered) because it shouldn't be there.

Ross at Play

@Ernest Bywater

In short, since I've became aware of the words I overused I been conscious of them while writing first drafts and tend to limit their usage right up front, and that has the flow-on effect of reducing the editing time later; both for me and my editors.

I grateful to see you say that. That was precisely my experience while learning to write well making posts on these forums, and the exact thing I keep telling authors I begin working with. I regard as an investment the time I spent on learning things like grammar, punctuation, stating the same idea with less words, ensuring my words say what I mean precisely (not just close enough for readers to guess), and a range of issues that result in a smoothly read style.
I can now bang out in perhaps an hour a thousand-word email to an author explaining complex issues of writing style, then after a quick proofread it's virtually error-free technical writing with a clarity and prose style of which I can feel proud.
I am a nitpicking monster when I edit for others. But, my actual objective is that after six or twelve months of my drip-drip-drip harassment of them, they'll be getting many of the points I stress righ - the first time, and with little thought - so what they'll really be focusing on then is what ideas should be in their story and the best way to express them.

Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

I think sometimes an author writes something he falls in love with. He likes the words used, the rhythm, the metaphors, or whatever reason. But that sentence, paragraph, section adds nothing to the story and should be deleted. It's hard because he loves it so much (it's his darling), but it needs to be deleted (murdered) because it shouldn't be there.

I think that is a much better interpretation than I used above for what was meant when this phrase was originally used.
My objection to the way EB uses the term is not that the point he makes is not very important. My objection is he's purloining something which already has a different and valuable meaning. I do not want others here to miss out on hearing the valuable advice in its original intended meaning.

EB, I beg you, please stop using this expression to mean an author's personal list of words they overuse. Please call that 'overused words', or whatever. To do otherwise would be a disservice others here. The original meaning is valuable warning to authors to be cautious of retaining something in a story simply because they like how well it was written.

Ernest Bywater

@Ross at Play


EB, I beg you, please stop using this expression to mean an author's personal list of words they overuse.


Ross, when I looked into to this, over 5 years ago, the information I could find on the internet from professional publishers, editors, and authors supported the view of it being words and phrases you love using all the time. I didn't see a single reference to it being a singular piece of text you loved due to the way it was written but it didn't fit the story. There was a lot of other advice about not having anything in the story that wasn't relevant to the development of either a character or a plot (including sub-plots). Until I did that research, back then, I'd not heard of the term at all.

However, regardless of what you choose to call what in the way of fancy terms, I think we can all agree an author should:

1. Limit what's in a story to what helps develop the characters and plots (including sub-plots and side plots);

and

2. They should be very careful about over using the same word or phrase too often.

Switch Blayde

@Ernest Bywater

I could find on the internet from professional publishers, editors, and authors supported the view of it being words and phrases you love using all the time. I didn't see a single reference to it being a singular piece of text you loved due to the way it was written but it didn't fit the story.


From http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2013/10/18/_kill_your_darlings_writing_advice_what_writer_really_said_to_murder_your.html which is really talking about who was the first person to use the term.

But the earliest known example of the phrase is not from any of these writers, but rather Arthur Quiller-Couch, who spread it in his widely reprinted 1913-1914 Cambridge lectures "On the Art of Writing." In his 1914 lecture "On Style," he said, while railing against "extraneous Ornament":

If you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: 'Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.

Ross at Play
Updated:

@Ernest Bywater

1. Limit what's in a story to what helps develop the characters and plots (including sub-plots and side plots);
and
2. They should be very careful about over using the same word or phrase too often.

1. Ditto that one;
and
2. Likewise from me.

Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

would that dance be called a two-step or a three-step or a quick-step?

Ha-ha. It's called the "edit-step" or more accurately the "self-edit-step". 'D

But my point is, while I no longer include filler or most passive phrases, I can't seem to break myself of using the same words over and over. I'm just not aware of which words I use from one sentence to the next.

Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

It popped up again and again ... [I'll spare you all of this bit] ... — like a groundhog, or a splendiferous phoenix arising from the ashes, or like, confounding all reason and in complete denial of the amassed evidence proving the utter futility of their very existence, the rebirth with every new season of optimism in a Cubs fan.

Not to pile on (since you already know it has issues), not only is the sentence overly long, but it keeps switching topics and includes too many "like"s (analogies).

Rather than "like a groundhog, or a splendiferous phoenix ... , or like, confounding all reason ..." I'd simplify your darling to:

like a splendiferous phoenix arising from the ashes, in complete denial of the amassed evidence proving the utter futility of their very existence.

Tossing in four separate analogies, with multiple message for the analogies, it's difficult for the reader to keep track of what the hell you're trying to say, so it ceases being beautiful and becomes simply 'confusing'. That's especially true since you contrast a splendiferous phoenix with an ordinary groundhog (a bad choice for your prime analogy, in other words, you need to pick your analogies with case and then stick to it).

The same is true, contrasting the Cubs to a Phoenix doesn't help the analogy, it just causes the reader to question what your original point is.

As we've discussed many times, the problem with complex sentences aren't the complexity of the individual words or the complex thoughts, it's typically including multiple conflicting thoughts in the same sentence. Just like you separate each paragraph according to speaker and topic, you should also divide each sentence so it deals with a single topic at a time. This isn't 'simplifying' the sentence, as much as it divides it into bite-sized pieces so the reader can focus on each one, rather than trying to juggle a bunch of competing complex thoughts and dropping all of them.

Take that for what you will, but I'm betting it will allow you to keep more of your darlings than you would otherwise. (You should also decide whether you prefer the Cubs analogy or the Phoenix analogy. If you want both, then break them into subsequent sentences, so readers can appreciate each separate thought on it's own.)

Replies:   Ross at Play
Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

When it was first pointed out to me I did some research on the subject, and the consensus of the editors and authors I found at that time was they saw the darlings as being favourite words and phrases.

I'm not sure you can limit the phrase to it's original use, instead it stands for 'murdering' anything dear to your heart which keeps you from evaluating the writing as a whole. In that sense, killing off a favorite character for the sake of the story fits the bill, as does eliminating your favorite crutch (words like "and", "that" and/or "just"). It's precisely because you don't question their use that they blind you to just how effective they are.

Given that framework, Ross, in your previous example, it isn't the flowery language that needs to be cut, it's your inability to pick a single analogy that's blinding you to the sentence's failures.

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

I don't think overusing words is what it means.

I think sometimes an author writes something he falls in love with. He likes the words used, the rhythm, the metaphors, or whatever reason. But that sentence, paragraph, section adds nothing to the story and should be deleted. It's hard because he loves it so much (it's his darling), but it needs to be deleted (murdered) because it shouldn't be there.

Again, that applies to any aspect of your writing that you're so enamored by that you can't evaluate it objectively. Happy endings can be just (there's that pesky word again) as much a blind spot as flowery prose. If every story has a 'happy ending', then it blinds you to stronger alternative endings while might pack more power (which isn't to say that tragic endings are any safer to rely on).

Replies:   robberhands
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

EB, I beg you, please stop using this expression to mean an author's personal list of words they overuse. Please call that 'overused words', or whatever. To do otherwise would be a disservice others here. The original meaning is valuable warning to authors to be cautious of retaining something in a story simply because they like how well it was written.

We've already had this discussion and decided to call them either "filler" words. (We also used another term, but I can't recall what it was offhand.)

Replies:   Ross at Play
Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

Ross, when I looked into to this, over 5 years ago, the information I could find on the internet from professional publishers, editors, and authors supported the view of it being words and phrases you love using all the time. I didn't see a single reference to it being a singular piece of text you loved due to the way it was written but it didn't fit the story.

That's simply because you were examining the advice of editors, instead of the advice of publishers. They each focus on different items. Editors are more concerned with poor word choices, while publishers are more concerned with excessively flowery passages (over spanning pages) which readers get lost in and lose interest.

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

No, CW.
Did you not recognise the attempt at humour: intentionally making something so awful and tedious it becomes funny?
I know many Americans will hate it. So be it.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

No, CW.
Did you not recognise the attempt at humour: intentionally making something so awful and tedious it becomes funny?
I know many Americans will hate it. So be it.

Except the thing you're pillorying with your humor is the overuse of analogies, which I doubt has much impact on your basic story plot (not having read it, so I could easily be mistaken on this point).

Replies:   Ross at Play
robberhands
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


If every story has a 'happy ending', then it blinds you to stronger alternative endings while might pack more power


Blowing a raspberry at that! The reason for a happy ending is to make you feel good. Keep your strong endings, which make me feel like kicking a dog, for yourself and other heartless monsters.

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

We've already had this discussion and decided to call them either "filler" words. (We also used another term, but I can't recall what it was offhand.)

'Filler words' is fine with me, and I think the other you mean is 'filter words' - a sub-class where the action is interpreted by another instead of stated directly.
Those words are the same for everybody.

What EB is referring to the personal set of words each of us tend to overuse, although 'that' seems to be in everybody's set.
The one's I know of are 'so', 'just', and 'do/does/did'.
If EB does not know this, he should look at how often he uses the word 'as'.
For you, it's ever word ending in '-ing'.
IMHO, that is.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Ross at Play
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer

I doubt has much impact on your basic story plot

Sigh!
If you hate it that much, I might have got it just right for its intended audience.
The entire point of the joke is that it is so superfluous to anything and so excessive!

EDIT TO ADD:

Here's another example of what some British and Australians would find amusing:

First the mundane, then perhaps the most glorious example imaginable, but oh no, I'm not finished yet and you will be made to suffer for a long time, for another thirty words at least via convoluted pathways and needless detours until the pathetic little joke finally, at last, appears in the final couplet!

And yes, you'd be right that one would not advance the plot either.

Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

What EB is referring to the personal set of words each of us tend to overuse, although 'that' seems to be in everybody's set.
The one's I know of are 'so', 'just', and 'do/does/did'.

Don't forget every version of "have" and the "be" words!

Here's another example of what some British and Australians would find amusing:

Doesn't that count as 'author intrusion', where the author talks directly to the audience, rather than the narrator describing what's happening to the characters?

If that's your intent, it's fine, but you need to be aware it yanks your reader out of the story, and is often seen as a distraction, rather than an addition.

But you're right, I didn't get what you were trying to do since it's so unusual in fiction (author intrusions, that is). Ordinarily, the only time you'd do something like that would be to demonstrate a tendency of the character, not something the author likes to do to lighten the story.

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

Doesn't that count as 'author intrusion'

My second example had nothing to do with author intrusion.
I thought you'd at least spot the similarities in:
Clause 1 of (A) - like a groundhog
Clause 1 of (B) - first the mundane
Clause 2 of (A) - a splendiferous phoenix arising from the ashes
Clause 2 of (B) - then perhaps the most glorious example imaginable
Clause 3 of (A) - 30+ words of crap to get to the joke in the last two words
Clause 3 of (B) - 30+ words of crap to get to the joke in the last two words

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

When I said:
what some British and Australians would find amusing

Look up Norman Gunston and Dame Edna Everage on Youtube - two of the most loved caricatures on Australian TV.
It will take you about two minutes each to decide they're irredeemably awful and stupid. That's WHY so many Aussies love them.
Brits enjoy that style of humour too - something so bad that it becomes funny.

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


Don't forget every version of "have" and the "be" words!


There's a place for "had." Try writing a past tense story with a flashback without "had."

And "was" is used quite often.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

There's a place for "had." Try writing a past tense story with a flashback without "had."

That's true, but in most cases, in a past-tense story, I find I can avoid using most instances of "had" simply by using "did" or "was". The "had" is simply another level of distance from the reader, which makes the story feel more abstract, rather than personal and intimate. :(

When referencing an earlier time when discussing issues at the present moment in a past-tense story, then "had" IS necessary.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer

I find I can avoid using most instances of "had" simply by using "did" or "was". The "had" is simply another level of distance from the reader, which makes the story feel more abstract, rather than personal and intimate.

I have no idea what you mean. Do you have any examples?

Without considering the highly irregular be-verb and have-verb ...
You simply cannot form any Past Perfect Tense (i.e. progressive as well or not) without using 'had'.
Likewise, you cannot form the Past Progressive Tense (i.e. not perfect as well) without using 'was' or 'were'.

I concede English speakers often find ways of not using perfect and progressive tenses when those meaning can still be understood.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

I have no idea what you mean. Do you have any examples?

Not without searching for various stories/chapters for them. Give me some time, when I have more time I'll start searching for examples (I use so much dialogue, it's sometimes difficult finding descriptions involving different time periods).

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

Not without searching for various stories

I wouldn't ask you to make an effort on my account.

I suppose my point would be that verbs really are nowhere near as confusing as most people think.
Once you have decided what verb you want to use there are only four questions you can ask:
1. Is it present, past, or future?
2. Is the action complete or incomplete?
3. Is the action progressive (happening now) or a state of being?
4. Do I need the active or passive voice?

Trying to define how to construct your verb phrase is an act of futility. Been there ... I was totally futiled :(
However, for native speakers they'll just automatically know what is right if they try :)
In case you don't realise, 'was futiled' is the past, incomplete, state-of-being, passive tense of to-futile :?

The thing I have found is English speakers are often lazy in not using perfect and progressive tenses when the context allows the correct meaning to be inferred. The perfect tenses always have 'have/has/had' and progressive tenses always have something ending in '-ing'. The problem is you can't just drop them, you usually need to "massage" the remaining words in the verb phrase so it will make sense.

My guess is nobody has a clue what I'm going on about here. That's okay.

The real conclusion is CW is right that it's easy to fall into a tendency to overuse any of the '-ing', or 'have/has/had', or 'was/were' forms of verbs - BUT the solution is NOT to hunt them out and destroy them. The solution is to ask (well, first of all ask whether you have the correct tense to begin with, but then ...) could you use an incomplete or non-progressive tense without affecting readers ability to interpret it correctly?

Still confused? Tough! This is not easy because native speakers are so creative at being lazy. But what CW says can be done, but it will take practice.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
StarFleet Carl

@Crumbly Writer

Not to beat a dead horse (since I'm the only one venturing opinions here), but there's yet another take on this.


That's because some of us work (for others) for a living. And the boss tends to frown on me browsing porn sites at work.

On the main subject, I always considered the actual topic to be killing off your own characters. Heinlein had the Stones discuss that in 'The Rolling Stones', as one of his characters (Roger Stone) was an author, and when he let his mother (Hazel) take over, she started killing secondary characters off. Roger had complained about it, but Hazel said it was planned - the final show in the series was to have the main character die. Then ended up not doing it.

Does it say something about me that I haven't read that book in at least 15 years, but I read it so much when I was younger that I remember this sub-plot and the character names without thinking about it?

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Joe Long

@Crumbly Writer

n that instance, I'd suggest (something else I've never done), writing the entire story and THEN deleting the first several chapters, so you can write the opening scenes in a style which better reflects the entire story, rather than the awkward 'getting to know the characters' most opening chapters start as.


It's been nearly two years since I started my rewrite. I'm now comfortable in my 'voice' only to discover that the early chapters aren't in that voice. Editing will abound.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Joe Long

@Ross at Play

I interpret that to mean writers should delete 'exceptionally fine writing' if it is inconsistent with the remainder of a work.


This was how I learned it. You may write a perfectly lovely bit of prose, but if you find it doesn't fit with the rest of the story - off with it's head!

Joe Long

@Switch Blayde

I think sometimes an author writes something he falls in love with.


I had a prologue I still like, but decided to delete it and reword the first scene of the first chapter to establish the MC's normal world.

I hit the topics that would be explored in detail later, each paragraph logically flowing into the next. Wonderful - but all telling.

I created events for which the descriptions would be a reaction. My mentor loved the opening line - but said it was still 70% telling.

I ripped out whole (lovely) paragraphs so that it's much more showing with only a sentence or two of the MC's reaction at the end of each section, with several items dropped totally, to be woven in later on.

Each version had some good stuff, but I'm now on the 4th.

Ernest Bywater

@StarFleet Carl

Roger had complained about it, but Hazel said it was planned - the final show in the series was to have the main character die. Then ended up not doing it.


yeah, she ignored the death scene when she did the next episode because she fell victim to the same lure Roger had, they kept upping the money until she couldn't ignore it. I did love who she used for story line and plot advisors - and it's been about 25 years since I last read that story, too.

Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

I suppose my point would be that verbs really are nowhere near as confusing as most people think.
Once you have decided what verb you want to use there are only four questions you can ask:
1. Is it present, past, or future?
2. Is the action complete or incomplete?
3. Is the action progressive (happening now) or a state of being?
4. Do I need the active or passive voice?

In my case, based on multiple comments from a variety of literary/authors, I've decided that the past perfect tense (ex: "He had travelled") is counterproductive, especially in a story told entirely in 3rd person past-tense POV. Rather than saying "He had travelled", it's more straightforward to simply say "He traveled" (i.e. you drop most uses of the overly passive "have" or "be" verbs, including "had").

It's hard to avoid "have" entirely, though you can usually restructure the sentence to avoid it, but these phrases again tend to move readers further from the action in the story, telling them they're distantly removed from the action on the page. Thus most authors now frown on their usage as being non-essential and more of a distraction than an addition to a story.

In my usage, I generally avoid "had" altogether, unless it refers to the distant past (i.e. not just 'early today, of sometime last week). That keeps most references in the simple past tense, while reserving the past-perfect tense for flashbacks, or references that aren't immediately relevant to readers (basically, it's only used for 'info-dump material').

Crumbly Writer

@Joe Long

It's been nearly two years since I started my rewrite. I'm now comfortable in my 'voice' only to discover that the early chapters aren't in that voice. Editing will abound.

Again, that's not uncommon. But, since you already have a feel for the story's voice, if you rewrite those opening chapters, it'll be natural to make it sound more consistent. (That's the theory, anyway.)

You'll note that Hemingway, when he used his rewrite technique, would typically write seven or eight completely different versions of each chapter before selecting one he thought was 'the best' (makes you wonder if he simply stopped when he either tired or ran out of liquor).

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

I appreciate the value of your experience in those comments.
I would say past perfect tenses can "sound less natural" rather "distance readers" - is that the most trivial quibble ever made here? - but we both recommend the same axe as the appropriate response. :-)
What you suggest for perfect tenses in the past is what I have noticed for progressive tenses in the present - the routine lazinesses native speakers know they can get away with are:
- if it's in the past there's probably no need to be specific that it was completed;
- if it's in the present there's probably no need to be specific it is happening now.
The "evidence" I have for this tendency in the present tense is listening to cricket commentaries by former players from the Indian subcontinent. Some speak perfect English, they obviously learned it at a young age - but others are constantly using progressive, '-ing' form, verbs. What they are saying is certainly correct - it's just native speakers do not speak like that.

So, ignoring tenses which are both perfect and progressive, which are rarely ever used, These are the three present and past tenses to 'to run'.
Present Tenses
Simple ..... He runs
Perfect .... He has run
Progress ... He is running
Past Tenses
Simple ..... He ran
Perfect .... He had run
Progress ... He was running

My guess is, for present tenses, it will probably almost be okay to use 'He runs' instead of 'He is running', but if there is reason you need to be specific that the running has now stopped then you will need 'He has run'.
But for past tenses, it will probably almost be okay to use 'He ran' instead of 'He had run', but if there is reason you need to be specific that the running has taking place at that moment in the past then you will need 'He was running'.

YES! If you are writing in past tenses there may be places you have chosen 'had' but it can be removed without loss of meaning.
There will be times, when any "modal verb" is being used, when it will be a 'have' that is removed instead of a 'has'.
FYI, "modal verbs" are all of the conditional words often used in front of verbs, e.g. 'should', 'must', 'might', ...
Trust me on this one. :-) You DO NOT want to read the explanation of why that is so.

Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

writing the entire story and THEN deleting the first several chapters,


I did that with Sexual Awakening. But it had nothing to do with style. My first Beta readers found it boring. I took too long to get to the conflict (spending the time on the woman's background and what made her what she was). I ended up deleting the first 2 1/2 chapters and sprinkling the information later.

But it's pertinent to this thread. It was my first experience with showing. When I got the rejection letter I read about show don't tell. Where did I start? The beginning of the story.

I loved the showing in the first chapter. It was so hard to kill that darling.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

But it's pertinent to this thread. It was my first experience with showing. When I got the rejection letter I read about show don't tell. Where did I start? The beginning of the story.

I loved the showing in the first chapter. It was so hard to kill that darling.

Alas, you can dress up a back-story info. dump all you want, but it's still an info. dump. As I've said many times, a character's history is best dealt out a small piece at a time, so readers can absorb the impact without being overwhelmed with details. This goes double (triple?) for the opening chapters, as the first chapter is your stories biggest selling point. If you lose your readers there, they'll never stick around when the writing gets better.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


I've decided that the past perfect tense (ex: "He had travelled") is counterproductive, especially in a story told entirely in 3rd person past-tense POV. Rather than saying "He had travelled", it's more straightforward to simply say "He traveled"


That doesn't work. I have the other problem. When editing, I realize I need the "had" because it took place in an earlier time in the story than the current time.

"He travelled" means he did it at the current time in the story.

"He had travelled" means he did it some time in the past from the current time in the story.

Now in a long flashback, all those "had"s is hard to read. The trick I learned is to start the flashback in past perfect tense, switch to simple past tense, and then finish it in past perfect to inform the reader the flashback is ending.

Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

Alas, you can dress up a back-story info. dump all you want, but it's still an info. dump.


It was definitely an info dump. But back then I thought a story should start with defining the main character. Now I know it needs to start as close to the conflict as possible. I know a lot of people here say they like a slow beginning, but that's not my understanding.

In fact, not only didn't I get to the conflict quickly, I didn't even get to one of the main characters. The first paragraph of the story is now:

After stalking the minister's wife for over a month, Jeff Wateman was ready to put his plan into action. He had studied Elizabeth Hathaway, dissecting her every move, learning things about her that her friends, family, and even her husband didn't know.


btw, notice the "had studied." That tells the reader he did it at an earlier time than the current time in the story. It's required.

Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

"He travelled" means he did it at the current time in the story.
"He had travelled" means he did it some time in the past from the current time in the story.

That's not how verb tenses work.
ALL of these relate to the current time in the story.
"He travelled" means at that earlier time may still have been been continuing (Simple Past Tense)
"He had travelled" means at that earlier time the travel was already completed (Past Perfect Tense)
"He has travelled" means at the current time the travel is completed (Present Perfect Tense)

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

notice the "had studied." That tells the reader he did it at an earlier time than the current time in the story. It's required.

Something is definitely required, but there are options.
"Had studied" DOES tell the reader he did it at an earlier time AND he has finished the study.
"Has studied" DOES tell the reader he started at an earlier time AND is still doing it.

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

That doesn't work. I have the other problem. When editing, I realize I need the "had" because it took place in an earlier time in the story than the current time.

"He travelled" means he did it at the current time in the story.

"He had travelled" means he did it some time in the past from the current time in the story.

Now in a long flashback, all those "had"s is hard to read. The trick I learned is to start the flashback in past perfect tense, switch to simple past tense, and then finish it in past perfect to inform the reader the flashback is ending.

That works, or with shorter segments, simply clarify the timeframe, and then continue in simple past tense.

He remembered when he was young, only fourteen, back in Youngstown, Ohio. He'd traveled there from Cleveland, and was eager to start afresh. It wasn't long until ...

In that passage, all that's required is one initial had to establish the time frame.

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

It was definitely an info dump. But back then I thought a story should start with defining the main character. Now I know it needs to start as close to the conflict as possible. I know a lot of people here say they like a slow beginning, but that's not my understanding.

That's a general misnomer. It doesn't need to start at a conflict point, but you need to establish the central story conflict quickly. Thus you can start a story slowly, simply by establishing a mystery that hints at an impending danger. That gives you time to establish the characters before you introduce any action sequences, but you don't want to spend pages detailing the detailed history of your created universe, or the character's individual life story.

If you introduce it all initially, it's largely wasted since the readers can't absorb so much information anyway.

Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

Something is definitely required, but there are options.
"Had studied" DOES tell the reader he did it at an earlier time AND he has finished the study.
"Has studied" DOES tell the reader he started at an earlier time AND is still doing it.

Or, you could simply say: "He studied her for the past several weeks, and was now ready to act."

That establishes the time frame, doesn't specify whether his investigation is entirely done, but shifts it back into the present quickly without requiring the past perfect Be-verb, had.

Most readers are comfortable with the "He had" or "he'd" forms, but it's not strictly necessary.

Switch Blayde

@Ross at Play

"He travelled" means he did it at the current time in the story.
"He had travelled" means he did it some time in the past from the current time in the story.
That's not how verb tenses work.
ALL of these relate to the current time in the story.


They do not relate to the current time in the story.

"He traveled to the store and bought an ice cream. While he was eating it, he remembered when he had traveled to the same store with his dead wife. His missed her so much."

The "had" sets the second "traveled" in the past. The first "traveled" is in the current time of the story.

Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

Or, you could simply say: "He studied her for the past several weeks, and was now ready to act."


I don't believe that is correct.

robberhands

@Crumbly Writer

"He studied her for the past several weeks, and was now ready to act."

That sounds simply wrong to me, and I'd wager that's because it's grammatically incorrect.

Switch Blayde

@robberhands

"He studied her for the past several weeks, and was now ready to act."
That sounds simply wrong to me, and I'd wager that's because it's grammatically incorrect.


Your ear is good. It is wrong. Try converting it to present tense and you'll see it more clearly.

"He studies her for the past several weeks, and is now ready to act."

It would have to be:

"He studied her for the past several weeks, and is now ready to act."

But if it's past tense ("was now") then the "studied" has to be "had studied."

robberhands

@Switch Blayde

Your ear is good.

Yeah, I knew 'had' was missing in that sentence. Since I badly lack a formal education in English, I rely on my ears to detect mistakes, and usually avoid grammatical discussions.

Ross at Play

@robberhands

@Crumbly Writer
"He studied her for the past several weeks, and was now ready to act."
@robberhands
That sounds simply wrong to me, and I'd wager that's because it's grammatically incorrect.

I think there's a point at which what CW is suggesting as an approach may still be technically allowable but it will sound unnatural.
In the context SB used this sentence I would want to explicitly state whether or not the studies were completed. There is some loss of information if the 'had' is eliminated. Here I'd rather err on the side of being explicit in my meaning, even at the cost of an extra word in the verb phrase.

robberhands

@Ross at Play

Here I'd rather err on the side of being explicit in my meaning, even at the cost of an extra word in the verb phrase.

And here I thought someone like you could simply tell me if it's gramatically wrong, or not. I guess my policy of staying away from grammatical discussions served me better.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

Your ear is good.

I think what is happening in this thread is some confusion is arising simply because it's so hard to describe what we actually do.
I support what CW says he does as a principle, but I'm sure his ear in good enough that in practice there are times he decides it sounds better to leave the extra word there.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Ross at Play

@robberhands

And here I thought someone like you could simply tell me if it's gramatically wrong, or not.

My assessment was is it's grammatical allowable, but I'm not certain of that.
You could gain the impression from my posts that I make choices based on whether something is grammatically correct. That is definitely NOT TRUE. At most, that only becomes my default choice if there is no good reason for doing something different.
I'm not a moron; I use my judgement; I credit you lot with the ability to use your judgement too.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
awnlee jawking

@Ross at Play

"Has studied" DOES tell the reader he started at an earlier time AND is still doing it.


Does 'I have bought a car' tell the reader he started buying a car at an earlier time and is still buying it?

Presumably to have completed buying the car would require 'I had bought a car'.

AJ

Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

I support what CW says he does as a principle, but I'm sure his ear in good enough that in practice there are times he decides it sounds better to leave the extra word there.

You're right of course. And, as usual, it's hard to come up with an example, on the fly, which holds up to close examination by those looking for flaws. In fact, in a flash-back receptive passage I just wrote (four long paragraphs of 440 words), I used "had" twice (much less than I suspected I had (see, I just used it twice there, as well)).

The idea isn't to eliminate the necessary parts of speech, just to lesson their impact so the the words don't get between the reader and the story (under the pretense that 'past perfect' verbs make it more difficult to get into and feel like you're a part of the story).

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

I'm not a moron; I use my judgement; I credit you lot with the ability to use your judgement too.

Like a new mechanic, Ross like's to know how the bits operate and what goes where, so he's more of a stickler when discussing grammar rules than he is in implementing them. As we've all noted, there are guidelines, but authors break them all the time. Sometimes it doesn't work, but when it does, breaking rules can make the difference between an average story and a phenomenal one. The key is knowing the rules, and the reasons behind them, so that when you break them, you'll understand the potential costs and what you're facing if it doesn't work out.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Crumbly Writer
Updated:

@awnlee jawking

Does 'I have bought a car' tell the reader he started buying a car at an earlier time and is still buying it?

Presumably to have completed buying the car would require 'I had bought a car'.

Nope! If you tire of the negotiations, jump in and speed away, stealing the car instead of buying it, you most definitely aren't buying it any longer.

- "Was buying" means you were in the process of buying a car.
- "Bought" a car means you physically purchased the car (i.e. the paperwork is signed and you are already in possession of the car).
- "Had bought" the car means you bought the car in the past, but there's no telling whether you still possess it at this point or not.
- "He's in jail" means your attempt to steal the car didn't quite go according to play, and you won't be driving anything for some time!

Ross at Play

@awnlee jawking

Presumably to have completed buying the car would require 'I had bought a car'.

You've taken one sentence I wrote out of context, and then constructed a ridiculous scenario completely at odds with what I've been discussing here.
Please do not waste my time by directing rubbish like this at me.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

Like a new mechanic, Ross like's to know how the bits operate and what goes where, so he's more of a stickler when discussing grammar rules than he is in implementing them. As we've all noted, there are guidelines, but authors break them all the time. Sometimes it doesn't work, but when it does, breaking rules can make the difference between an average story and a phenomenal one. The key is knowing the rules, and the reasons behind them, so that when you break them, you'll understand the potential costs and what you're facing if it doesn't work out.

THANK YOU.

Switch Blayde

@Ross at Play

In the context SB used this sentence I would want to explicitly state whether or not the studies were completed. T


If you say "studied" it's completed. "I was studying her all day." That's not completed.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Switch Blayde

@awnlee jawking

Does 'I have bought a car' tell the reader he started buying a car at an earlier time and is still buying it?

Presumably to have completed buying the car would require 'I had bought a car'.


Both are completed (the car is bought). One is present tense while the other is past tense.

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


just to lesson their impact so the the words don't get between the reader and the story


I disagree. When it occurs in a previous time to the current time in a past tense story, the "had" isn't optional. It doesn't get between the reader and the story. It tells the reader when it happened.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Switch Blayde

@Ross at Play

Please do not waste my time by directing rubbish like this at me.


That is uncalled for. It was a valid question.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

That is uncalled for. It was a valid question.

NO, IT WAS NOT!
It was FALSE for AJ to suggest what I have been saying in this thread suggests I might advocate, 'I had bought a car'. What I have been saying, as anyone who cares to read this thread will clearly see, is the exact OPPOSITE of that.
I have gone to some lengths to explain here how native speakers find ways to be lazy, and the natural thing to say when that was their meaning would be, 'I bought a car'.

Replies:   Joe Long
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

If you say "studied" it's completed. "I was studying her all day." That's not completed.

It's completed once the day ends, so given the context (when the statement appears), it's self-contained. (i.e. if two guys are drinking beers in their room late at night, after all the bars have closed, chances are they're not going out to do any more 'studying'.

There are self-limiting rules on Ross's verb completion calculations.

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

When it occurs in a previous time to the current time in a past tense story, the "had" isn't optional. It doesn't get between the reader and the story. It tells the reader when it happened.

Still, even in those cases, you minimize it's use, so you're implicitly conceding that there's a drawback in using "had" verbs once the time frame has already been established. But I concur, you need to firmly establish WHEN occurs, but once you do, you don't need to beat the reader over the head with it.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Joe Long

@Switch Blayde

It was definitely an info dump. But back then I thought a story should start with defining the main character. Now I know it needs to start as close to the conflict as possible.


I've learned to start with the protagonist's 'normal world' and the lie that he believes in, then rather quickly introduce something which shakes up that world.

My current opening starts with showing a day in the life of my MC, as he considers his hometown and family relationships, showing how he's on the verge of but afraid to go out into the world on his own. Also, how his shyness and anxieties have him masturbating instead of actually talking to girls. Then along comes his younger cousin whom he hadn't seen in years. Immediately overwhelmed by her, he struggles with that attraction but continues in his same habitual manners - although he does better in hanging with her because he's not overtly trying to court her. Soon he has to confront his demons and then make the point of no return decision.

Joe Long

@Ross at Play

the natural thing to say when that was their meaning would be, 'I bought a car'.


That's what I thought when I read the original posts. I often believe I've written 'had' too often and look for ways to remove them.

Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

If you say "studied" it's completed. "I was studying her all day." That's not completed.
It's completed once the day ends,


The assumption is he's still studying her. It's just that he's been doing it all day. Otherwise it would be "studied her all day."

Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

but once you do, you don't need to beat the reader over the head with it.


Agreed. That was the trick I mentioned. But it's only for other than a short reference to a time in the (relative) past.

Switch Blayde

@Joe Long

then rather quickly introduce something which shakes up that world.


That sounds like an inciting incident to me.

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

There are self-limiting rules on Ross's verb completion calculations.

What??? There are no calculations ... mine or anybody else's.
'Completed' AKA "Perfect Tense". That's all I meant.

Ross at Play

CW sometimes describes here the be-verb as being 'passive'.
Technically, the be-verb can never have the "Passive Voice". Only transitive verbs can have the passive voice and the be-verb is intransitive.

BUT, there is a situation when it effectively is passive. The explanation is simple.
Consider the sentence, 'He is scared.'
The verb is 'is' and it's in the active voice. 'Scared' is the past participle of 'to scare' and is functioning as an adjective.

But what if the sentence was, 'He is scared by it.'?
Now the verb phrase is 'is scared' which is using the passive voice of the transitive verb 'to scare', which has the object 'it'.
That sentence means the same as, 'It scares him.' That sentence uses the active voice of 'to scare'.

Here are steps that would be required for those wanting to review whether their writing contains uses of the passive voice that would be better changed into the active voice.
- The candidates to look for are anything with a past participle, the '-ed' form of a verb if it is regular coming after any form of the be-verb. Those are 'am', 'are', 'is', 'was', 'were', 'be', 'been', and 'being'.
- There must be a subject and object of the verb, although the object may not be explicitly stated as in the example above. Those must be reversed with the old object becoming the subject and the old subject becoming the object.
- The form of the be-verb before the past participle is eliminated, and it's "sense" is transferred to the main verb. I cannot describe that other than by giving some example, 'being stated' becomes 'stating', 'was/been stated' becomes 'stated', 'am/is stated' becomes 'state/states'.
- Other changes may be needed, especially changing the case of any personal pronouns and adjustments to choices of prepositions.

DO NOT ATTEMPT THAT! :(
Learning what needs to be changed and why is too complex to be practical. I list those here merely so you have a sense of the kinds of things that happen to a sentence when you detect a passive voice and decide to change it.
Some practical steps for those who've never swallowed a text book on English grammar are:
- Candidates are anything with any form of be verb followed by anything that's obviously a past form of the verb. Note that adverbs may appear between these, e.g. 'I was really scared'.
- If the verb has an object, decide whether that is more important and should be the focus of attention for this sentence.
- Don't panic! Just rewrite the sentence starting with the old object as the subject and trust you'll figure out what is needed easily enough.

Crumbly Writer

@Joe Long

I've learned to start with the protagonist's 'normal world' and the lie that he believes in, then rather quickly introduce something which shakes up that world.

In one story, where I discovered a wonderful trick of having the various 'good guys' all having competing motivation which caused a continual 'give and take' among the protagonists, I did something similar. The first chapter introduces a spaceship crashing on a ranch and the family discovering a sick alien who they rescue. The next several chapters feature the oldest son seeking out help from other people, delving into their backgrounds and establishing the inter-personal conflicts.

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands

@Crumbly Writer

...where I discovered a wonderful trick of having the various 'good guys' all having competing motivation which caused a continual 'give and take' among the protagonists,...

That's not a trick, that's called life.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Switch Blayde

This is from an article I just read:

found that the city has sunk more than $60 million over the last three decades in subsidizing renovations and maintenance.


I guess the "has sunk" could be "sank," but "has sunk" sounds better to my ear. So what's wrong with "has" here?

Ross at Play
Updated:

@Switch Blayde

I guess the "has sunk" could be "sank," but "has sunk" sounds better to my ear. So what's wrong with "has" here?

To me those two are different.
'Sank' suggests the spending is definitely not continuing any longer.
'Has sunk' does not say, but leaves open the possibility that more spending is still taking place.

'Sank' is the Past Simple Tense, a state of being. When a specific period of time is mentioned it suggests to be that state existed during that time - but not at other times.
'Has sunk' is the Past Perfect Tense. The thing that was completed was the amount of money spend, and the period mentions specifies when that was completed. It is not specific about the possibility of other money being spent at other times.

robberhands

@Ross at Play

I cannot explain why the Past Simple and Past Perfect Tenses suggest those tings to me.

I'm happy you can't, because my very sensitive ears don't tell me anything like that. In that context 'sank' and 'has sunk' convey the same meaning to me. Although I'd agree with Switch, 'has sunk' sounds better.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@robberhands

I'm happy you can't (explain why the Past Simple and Past Perfect Tenses suggest those tings to me.)

I was editing out the words you quoted by me. I'm not sure I like my attempt to explain.

I agree 'has sunk' would sound better, in most circumstances.
To me, 'sank' would mean something like, 'has sunk, but no more'. I would not use 'sank' unless I wanted to make clear that was the end of it.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Ross at Play

It is not specific about the possibility of other money being spent at other times.


Good point.

And that's why there's a place for has/had

Replies:   Ross at Play
Switch Blayde

@Ross at Play

I would not use 'sank'


Hmmm, if the past perfect of "sank" is "sunk"
would "skank" be "skunk"?

@richardshagrin, I would have expected that from you. *says smiling* I may be the only one who gets your sense of humor.

Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

And that's why there's a place for has/had

And I have been cautioning it is needed in some places.
But CW is correct, IMHO, in suggesting that for past tense stories 'has/had' may be one of the most likely words that can be cut without affecting meaning.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Ross at Play

But CW is correct, IMHO, in suggesting that for past tense stories 'has/had' may be one of the most likely words that can be cut without affecting meaning.


I don't see how. If you don't use "had." you're using simple past tense. And then there's no difference in time from the current point in the story and what happened before that time.

The exception is a flashback with many "had"s. I agree with the technique to have the "had"s in the beginning and end only.

Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

I don't see how. If you don't use "had." you're using simple past tense.

All I am saying is there are many situations when the past perfect is technically correct, but native speakers will always prefer the past simple tense. One example is, 'I bought a car.'
If you're writing a past tense story it may be worth the effort to look specifically for those.

Crumbly Writer

@robberhands

That's not a trick, that's called life.

Like flashbacks, it's difficult to apply to the majority of stories. It worked well with the one story, and I've never been able to replicate it with the same success since. It's not a 'trick' as it was a 'one-time opportunity'. While it makes sense, it isn't as straightforward as it sounds.

Crumbly Writer
Updated:

@Switch Blayde

I guess the "has sunk" could be "sank," but "has sunk" sounds better to my ear. So what's wrong with "has" here?

First of all, you wouldn't replace "has sunk" with "sank" anymore than you'd replace "has sung" with "playing basketball". You've got your tenses confused.

As far as using "has", if it feels natural to you, then go for it. These are not universal rules. But, like many things, "has", "had" and the other be verbs tend to be overused. They're useful for establishing timeframes, but when you use them for EVERY past tense reference, it gets tiring.

Many authors (the classically bestseller authors among them) have long lamented the use of be-verbs and recommend avoiding them. It just takes most of us time to figure out the mechanisms to properly replace them on the fly.

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

I don't see how. If you don't use "had." you're using simple past tense. And then there's no difference in time from the current point in the story and what happened before that time.

The exception is a flashback with many "had"s. I agree with the technique to have the "had"s in the beginning and end only.

I'm not talking about one-time references. I'm talking about scenes or passages that take place in the distant past. Once you establish the time frame (ex: "back when I was in college") you can then switch to simple past tense without needing to continually repeat "had" for every single verb.

When we were first dating, we had an intense affair. We had shared adventures, had shared meals, had took vacations together. We had done everything together.

Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

First of all, you wouldn't replace "has sunk" with "sank" anymore than you'd replace "has sung" with "playing basketball". You've got your tenses confused.


sink - present
sank - past
sunk - past perfect

Those are the tenses.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

Many authors (the classically bestseller authors among them) have long lamented the use of be-verbs and recommend avoiding them.


Has/had is not a "to be" verb (be, am, is, are, was, were, being, been).

It has been raining all day (the "been" is the "to be" verb).

They say to avoid "was" because it could be passive voice (but not always). Also, sometimes you write "was running" when it's better to use "ran."

Replies:   Ross at Play
Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

Once you establish the time frame (ex: "back when I was in college") you can then switch to simple past tense without needing to continually repeat "had" for every single verb.


I agree

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

First of all, you wouldn't replace "has sunk" with "sank" ... You've got your tenses confused.

No, those tenses are correct.
The verb 'to sink' has alternative past participles and simple past tenses.
The past participle may be 'sunk' or 'sunken'.
The simple past tense may be 'sank' or 'sunk'.
I guess there are regional variations in which tends to be used, and in which circumstances.
'Sank' may well sound wrong to your ear, but many would feel the same if 'sunk' was used instead.

Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

sink - present
sank - past
sunk - past perfect
Those are the tenses.

To be a little more precise, because 'sink' is one of the more irregular of the irregular verbs ...
'Sunk' is an acceptable alternative to 'sank' for the simple past tense of 'sink', probably used less often.
'Sunken' is an alternative to 'sunk' for the past participle of 'sink'. My guess is many would choose 'sunken' when using the passive voice, but it would rarely be used in perfect tenses or as an adjective.

Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

Has/had is not a "to be" verb (be, am, is, are, was, were, being, been).
It has been raining all day (the "been" is the "to be" verb).
They say to avoid "was" because it could be passive voice (but not always). Also, sometimes you write "was running" when it's better to use "ran."

I agree with all those comments. Some related extra details are:
* * *
"To be" and "to have" are different verbs.
You list above is complete for the various forms for the be-verb. As a verb in its own right (meaning a state of existence) - it is extremely irregular.
* * *
The have-verb - as a verb in its own right (meaning to possess) - it is not very irregular. It has only these forms: 'have', 'has', 'having', 'had'.
Both the past participle and simple past tense is 'had'. 'Had' always indicates some past tense.
It also has an irregular third-person singular present tense, 'has' instead of 'haves'.
* * *
The main reason these two verbs confuse people is one or both are also required to form tenses that are formed with a multi-word verb phrase. I think the term is 'auxiliary verb', as opposed to the 'main or root verb' which is always the last word of a mulyi-word verb phrase.
* * *
How all the various tenses are formed is too complex to describe, but I can list some common facts that all verbs, except the be-verb:
- The presence of any form of the have-verb ('have', 'has', 'having', 'had') indicates a Perfect Tense, and its absence indicates it is not a Perfect Tense
- Likewise the presence/absence of any '-ing' ending indicates whether the verb phrase is/isn't a Progressive Tense
- With one exception, the presence/absence of any of these words - 'was', 'were', 'had', 'been' - indicates whether the verb phrase is/isn't a Past Tense. The exception is the Simple Past Tense which just has a single word ending in '-ed' if the verb is regular, and often '-en' or 't' when irregular.

Ross at Play
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer

Many authors (the classically bestseller authors among them) have long lamented the use of be-verbs and recommend avoiding them. It just takes most of us time to figure out the mechanisms to properly replace them on the fly.

I've heard that suggestion often enough and I'm sure I'm not the only one wondering 'Why?' and 'How?'
Is this something like the advice to avoid adverbs. I understand the real meaning of that to be avoid using an adverb to make a dull verb more interesting; look for a interesting verb to achieve the same thing instead.
Does the advice about avoiding be-verbs really mean this? Avoid using the be-verb and an interesting adjective or adverb; look for a interesting verb to achieve the same thing instead.

There are, damn!, the dreaded 'There is/was' sentences too. They can often be cut out as easily as a superfluous 'that'.

robberhands
Updated:

@Ross at Play


Is this something like the advice to avoid adverbs. I understand the real meaning of that to be avoid using an adverb to make a dull verb more interesting; look for a interesting verb to achieve the same thing instead.

Does the advice about avoiding be-verbs really mean this? Avoid using the be-verb and an interesting adjective or adverb; look for a interesting verb to achieve the same thing instead.


No, it's the same venue as the proposition to prevent the use of 'filler' and 'filter words', whenever possible. The goal is to tighten your writing by disposing of every superfluous word in a sentence. It's a matter of style, and suposedly the taste of time.

CW' example was a good one:


When we were first dating, we had an intense affair. We had shared adventures, had shared meals, had took vacations together. We had done everything together.


Grammatically correct but of abysmal quality as a piece of writing art.

ETA: The transformation of the example. Sounds still pretty shitty.

When we first dated, we had an intense affair. We shared adventures and meals, took vacations together. We did everything together.

Ross at Play

@robberhands

ETA: The transformation of the example. Sounds still pretty shitty.
When we first dated, we had an intense affair. We shared adventures and meals, took vacations together. We did everything together.

Is that really all?
If so, I don't see why be-verbs needs be mentioned. That's just the routine idea of using as few words as possible, provided you don't compromise clarity or ease of reading.
My version of the above would be:

ETA: My transformed example sounds less shitty.
When we first dated, it was intense. We shared adventures, meals, and even vacations; we did everything together.

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands
Updated:

@Ross at Play

The problem is the part in the middle.

When we first dated, it was intense. We shared adventures, meals, and even vacations; we did everything together.


It can't be solved by shortening the sentence. I'll show what I mean, instead of telling it:

In the past I was helpless. Nowadays, armed with my nail clipper and a bazooka, I was always ready to strike. I took them with me wherever I went.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@robberhands

In the past I was helpless. Nowadays, armed with my nail clipper and a bazooka, I was always ready to strike. I took them with me wherever I went.

I suspect you mean to continue your post, but the first thing to do with this one is:

In the past I was helpless. Nowadays, I take my nail clippers and bazooka wherever I go. I'm always ready to strike.

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands

@Ross at Play

I suspect you mean to continue your post

Nope, it's a riddle.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@robberhands

Nope, it's a riddle.

Okay. I'm going to test the theory about not be able to fire a bazooka through a computer screen.

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands

@Ross at Play

Ha! You focus too much on the tenses.

When we first dated, it was intense. We shared adventures, meals, and even vacations; we did everything together.

Adventures - meals - vacations. One of these words falls way short to describe an intense relationship.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play
Updated:

@robberhands

Ha! You focus too much on the tenses.

Often an editor feels obligated to allow the author's crappy ideas through - and just make the most of what they've been given - no matter how tasteless the food may be.
This was one such occasion.

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands
Updated:

@Ross at Play


This was one such occasion.


And you should pardon my 'nail clipper and bazooka' analogy.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@robberhands

And you should pardon my 'nail clipper and bazooka' analogy.

Now that I get the joke - that bazooka was pointed at me - Ha! Ha! Ha!
But I actually did ponder how to best hide the word 'meals'.

awnlee jawking

@robberhands

When we first dated, we had an intense affair. We shared adventures and meals, took vacations together. We did everything together.


It's almost impossible to suggest 'improvements' based on such a tiny fragment because of the lack of context. The author seems to be trying for a sense of wistful poignancy and longing but in a constricted wordcount.

In a scenario where there are no restrictions, I think the author should try to slow down the tempo even more and perhaps add more examples of regretfully-lost shared activities eg holding hands on the beach, to allow time for the emotions to soak through to the reader.

I approve of your rewrite of the last sentence. The original sounded wrong to my ear.

AJ

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
helmut_meukel

@Crumbly Writer

When we were first dating, we had an intense affair. We had shared adventures, had shared meals, had took vacations together. We had done everything together.


First, English isn't my native language and my grades in school were really bad. Later in college we had technical English (translating technical texts from English to German) and I got 'A's.
This said, for me in the example above 'took' is plain wrong. It should read 'had taken vacations together', shouldn't it?

HM.

robberhands

@helmut_meukel

This said, for me in the example above 'took' is plain wrong. It should read 'had taken vacations together', shouldn't it?

Germans... How goes the saying? 'A day late and a dollar short.'

Ross at Play

@helmut_meukel

This said, for me in the example above 'took' is plain wrong. It should read 'had taken vacations together', shouldn't it?

No.
Your English is quite impressive, I suggest you make the table in this Wiki your new BFF.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_English_irregular_verbs
You new 2BFF could be:
http://www.the-conjugation.com/english/verb/take.php
This lists all tenses for a verb you enter, although I do not trust it for whether the spelling may require a consonant should be doubled.
This lists all the basic active tenses. I suspect there are a number of tenses missing when conditional auxiliary verbs are required. It certainly does not list anything with the passive voice, which would, exactly I think, double the length required for all intransitive verbs.

The entry for 'take' in this list is:

take -- took/*taked -- taken

All compound words ending in 'take', e.g. betake, intake, ..., have identical conjugations.

The listing of 'taked' was such a shock to me I looked for the explanation of the asterisk which was:

The table includes selected archaic forms, marked * (some of these forms may survive in dialectal or specialist uses).

The entry for each verb lists three forms:
- the infinitive form (aka main, base, root)
- the simple past tense
- the past participle
Note the past participle is used in forming all perfect tenses with the active voice, every tense with the passive voice, and when there is a need to have a verb, usng its past sense, as an ajective or noun.

All verbs, except the be-verb, have only five forms. The other two forms are so regular that there is no reason to list them. They are:
- the third-person singular present tense, with the 's' ending
- the progressive form, with the 'ing' ending
The ONLY irregularity in those is the 'has' form, instead of 'haves', for the have-verb.

There are, however, some unusual patterns in spelling depending on the ending of the infinitive form. These include whether an 'e' is added before an 's' ending, an 'e' is deleted before adding an 'ing' ending, a ending 'y' is changed to 'i', an ending consonant is doubled. I think (?) that's it.

I know the others instinctively, but I must look up dictionaries to check when a final consonant must be doubled. It's based on the number of syllables and which is emphasised in the pronunciation - and there are differences between British and American English. I'll never learn.

So to answer your question. These are all correct:
I took it. (the simple past tense)
... but ...
I had taken it. (using the past perfect tense)
It was taken by me. (using the passive voice of the simple past tense)
It was taken. (with 'taken' functioning as an adjective)
I was among the taken. (with 'taken' functioning as a noun)

Be careful what you ask for!

Switch Blayde

@Ross at Play

Is this something like the advice to avoid adverbs.


Actually, sort of. "Don't use adverbs" does not mean never use adverbs. It means when you see one, especially an "ly" adverb, it could be a red flag. You may be able to write the sentence better (Kevin Spacey in the movie "Outbreak" says to Dustin Hoffman when he was writing a report something like, "Get rid of the adverb. It's lazy writing."

So like an adverb, "was" is also a red flag which means the sentence should be evaluated. It may be fine, or it may indicate some things you don't want, like passive voice.

Ross at Play
Updated:

@Switch Blayde

it may indicate some things you don't want, like passive voice.

Thanks, I can see that.
In fact, I'd suggest the presence of a be-verb should be a red flag prompting the question, 'Have I chosen the right subject for this sentence?'
If you answer that correctly you will find all inappropriate passive voice sentences, and all needless 'There is/was' sentences. YEAH.

I just had a Eureka! moment which will interest everybody else about as much as StarFleet Carl's discovery that some readers don't start reading stories until they're complete. Sorry Carl. :-)

I noticed another yes-or-no pattern in the formation of verb tenses.
There are ONLY two conditions for which the be-verb can appear within a verb phrase - excluding the be-verb itself.
1. For all progressive tenses, but only progressive tenses, there is some form of the be-verb immediately before the root verb which then has the '-ing' ending.
2. For tenses using the passive voice, but only the passive voice, there is some form of the be-verb immediately before the past participle of the verb.
[And if both there will be some form of the 'be-verb', then 'being', the the past participle.]
This little ex-IT worker is very excited by this revelation.

I'll wait a moment until you all stop yawning, frowning, or scratching your head. I'm about to tell you something that may be helpful to you if you take notice of it.

What SB said is spot on, with one exception.
- (Almost) every time you see any form of the be-verb being used you should ask whether you have chosen the right subject for your sentence.
- The exception is when it's followed by any verb with an '-ing' ending. If you've written one of those I can guarantee you had a good reason for wanting to be specific the action was happening at that moment.

THAT'S IT. Checking for that will improve your writing, and I don't care whether anyone believes me or not.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Ross at Play

There are ONLY two conditions for which the be-verb can appear within a verb phrase.
1. For all progressive tenses, but only progressive tenses, there is some form of the be-verb immediately before the root verb which then has the '-ing' ending.
2. For tenses using the passive voice,


What about, "Joe is black"?

That's not passive or progressive.

Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

What about, "Joe is black"?
That's not passive or progressive.

Yes, that is the be-verb itself.
I was thinking 'excluding the be-verb itself' when writing that, and included 'within a verb phrase'.

The next pat of my post, what authors should check for, does include the be-verb itself.
For example, when I write, "I am being an arsehole," I would have a specific reason for wanting to indicate the action was limited to that moment. :-)
I have corrected my post.

Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

I've heard that suggestion often enough and I'm sure I'm not the only one wondering 'Why?' and 'How?'
Is this something like the advice to avoid adverbs. I understand the real meaning of that to be avoid using an adverb to make a dull verb more interesting; look for a interesting verb to achieve the same thing instead.

Yes. Obviously you can't eliminate ALL the be-verbs, just as you can't eliminate all adverbs. However, it pays to watch how and when you choose to apply them. It's more a cautionary note, applied heavy-handed as a way of warning people whenever they accidentally insert one. However, some work harder than others to limit them.

Rep & Awnlee, this is NOT a global rule, so if you want to use them, feel free to sprinkle them in your text as much as you want. This is NOT on the Ten Commandants, so you won't go to hell for using it. They're guidelines only, not dictates.

Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

I approve of your rewrite of the last sentence. The original sounded wrong to my ear.

The original sounded wrong, because it didn't cut out the assumed subject (as well as adding the unnecessary "had"s). Once you drop off the words that native English speakers assume, it reads a little better. The point was that dropping the extra "had"s (after the first which set the basic timeframe for the entire passage) is equivalent to dropping the assumed subject (repeated uses of "we had shared").

Crumbly Writer

@helmut_meukel

This said, for me in the example above 'took' is plain wrong. It should read 'had taken vacations together', shouldn't it?

That's the whole point (and the source of the entire discussion). We're not discussing formal English, but rather the more common English phrasings most native speakers naturally fall into, and which many of us try to exemplify so the writing sounds more natural rather than sounding forced for overly formal. None of these comments are recommended for anyone not comfortable with casual English, and none of it qualifies as 'technically correct'.

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

So like an adverb, "was" is also a red flag which means the sentence should be evaluated. It may be fine, or it may indicate some things you don't want, like passive voice.

A wonderful summation. Much clearer than my belabored explanations.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

What about, "Joe is black"?

That's not passive or progressive.

How about: "Joe is being blackly?" That fits most of Ross's qualifications. 'D

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde
So like an adverb, "was" is also a red flag which means the sentence should be evaluated. It may be fine, or it may indicate some things you don't want, like passive voice.

@Crumbly Writer
A wonderful summation. Much clearer than my belabored explanations.

Yes it was, and much clearer than mine too.

The end result of my detailed analysis came out as precisely what SB stately so simply. The only note I could add is it would be worthwhile specifically asking whether you have used the correct subject in sentences you find containing a be-verb. If you torture the language to write the same meaning with a different subject it's almost inevitable some form of the be-verb will end up in there somewhere.

I made one observation along the way which may be useful for others to be aware of. It was there are only two ways be-verbs can be used inside a multi-word verb phrase.
- One is whenever any progressive tense is used. They require the be-verb before a main verb ending with '-ing'. They will usually be okay because writers rarely use progressive tenses unless they have a specific need to use one.
- The other is whenever the passive voice has been used. They require the be-verb before the past participle of the main verb. They are always worth examining to check whether the best subject for the sentence is being used.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer
Updated:

@Ross at Play

I made one observation along the way which may be useful for others to be aware of. It was there are only two ways be-verbs can be used inside a multi-word verb phrase.

- One is whenever any progressive tense is used. They require the be-verb before a main verb ending with '-ing'.

I've never gotten this point of yours. Which is striking, since you accused me of using -ing verbs obsessively, yet I rarely apply be verbs to them, so your supposed rule seems to be (there it is again) null and void.

Could you kindly expand on how one use of an -ing verb is wrong (leading to a be verb addition) and the others aren't (leaving them free of the passive or indirect-phrasing)?

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

Okay, I will do my best to answer your question but I would admit to never really understanding what functions 'gerunds' serve within sentences.

There are (at least) three ways the '-ing' forms of verbs can be used and the most common are:
1. In progressive tenses of verbs, i.e. when used as the action performed by the subject of a sentence (or clause)
2. As 'present participles' commonly used as adjectives, but I think also as adverbs and even nouns
3. As a 'gerund' commonly used as adverbial phrases.

Examples of these three are:
1. I am walking to the shops.
2. The shops are within walking distance.
3. While walking to the shops, I stopped for an ice cream.

I think the first two are self-explanatory, but for the third the best I can do is quote https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerund#Gerunds_in_English

An -ing form is termed gerund when it behaves as a verb within a clause (so that it may be modified by an adverb or have an object); but the resulting clause as a whole (sometimes consisting of only one word, the gerund itself) functions as a noun within the larger sentence.

The point I was making above is that when writers use an '-ing' ending as a verb they have usually made a conscious decision that the progressive tense was needed. As all verbs using progressive tenses require some form of be-verb, and no verbs using non-progressive tenses, and in the active voice, can include the be-verb, I suggested it should be okay when you find that type of be-verb.

The thing I notice in your writing is how frequently you use gerunds. You use them correctly but too often for my tastes. I would write a proportion of your sentences containing a gerund and a verb with ones containing two verbs and a common subject. The result would have less commas but would certainly also have a few extra words. That compromise sounds better to me, but I could not argue it "is better".

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer
Updated:

@Ross at Play

The thing I notice in your writing is how frequently you use gerunds. You use them correctly but too often for my tastes. I would write a proportion of your sentences containing a gerund and a verb with ones containing two verbs and a common subject. The result would have less commas but would certainly also have a few extra words. That compromise sounds better to me, but I could not argue it "is better".

The times I most use -ing verb forms (and the one's my editors almost always highlight) is when I switch tense, and thus I include commas to separate the differing tenses. (Note: the entire sentence is past tense, but the tense of the verbs vary depending on the context). As such, I'm not sure whether they're gerunds or not.

For example (the first thing I found in my most current chapter, which definitely IS a gerund):

"I wouldn't count on it," Ethan cautioned, following.

The next example (in the same chapter) isn't as clear:

The physician led them to a central location, with hospital staff busy working around a prone figure.

In this case, there is a clear subject in the second (present tense) segment, potentially making it a non-gerund, even though I use both the same say to alternate the tenses within a larger past-tense story.

Note: Nope. Reexamining it, the subject in the second segment, "the central location", isn't stipulated, making them both gerunds. However, you claim that gerunds tend to force the use of be-verbs, which I rarely use (although I sometimes struggle to avoid), which implies your example only applies some of the time. So I'm still no clearer when it applies and when it doesn't.

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

you claim that gerunds tend to force the use of be-verbs

NO.
I said progressive tenses force the use of a be-verb, not that gerunds do.
If your example sentence you could write:

The physician is/was leading them to a central location, with hospital staff busy working around a prone figure.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

The physician led them to a central location, with hospital staff busy working around a prone figure.

In your sample sentence, I think, and I cannot really get my head around this either:
'working' functions as a verb within the second phrase. It's subject is 'hospital staff', and both 'busy' and 'around a prone figure' are adverbs describing 'working'.

BUT within the entire sentence:
Everything after the comma is an adverbial phrase describing 'led'. That consists of the preposition 'with' and the rest serving the function of a noun. It blows my mind, but that sentence makes sense if all of that was replaced by 'with' and a simple noun, for example 'style'.

Please don't shoot me. I'm only the messenger.

Replies:   Joe Long
Crumbly Writer
Updated:

@Ross at Play

NO.

I said progressive tenses force the use of a be-verb, not that gerunds do.

If your example sentence you could write:

The physician is/was leading them to a central location ...

Oh, in that case I'm still confused. I'm not at all clear what a progressive tense is, or why one progressive tense produces "is", while another produces "led" (the past tense of the verb).

Maybe I'm avoiding be-verbs simply because I unintentionally revert to switching tenses as a way of heading off the problem (though that sounds like it's giving me WAY too much credit!).

Either way, all three forms you provided are way above my English Comp pay grade, yet don't seem to impact how I employ the literary techniques.

In short, are the distinctions really that essential to understand? Or are you just explaining what we're already intuitively coping with?

Joe Long
Updated:

@Ross at Play

The physician led them to a central location, with hospital staff busy working around a prone figure.


Sounds off to my native ear. I find myself asking where, and would say or write

The physician led them to a central location, where hospital staff were busy working around a prone figure.

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

I'm not at all clear what a progressive tense is ...
In short, are the distinctions really that essential to understand? Or are you just explaining what we're already intuitively coping with?

Q. Am I just explaining what we're already intuitively coping with?
A. Yes and No. (Sorry, but that is my honest answer)

Yes, because it is extremely rare for a native speaker (excluding colloquial expressions) to say something that is not both (a) a valid verb tense, and (b) an acceptable tense for their intended meaning.

No, because some of us here are happy to make extra efforts so that we are using the best tense for our intended meaning.

As for what are progressive (aka continuous) tenses and what are not, here are some examples:

Present & Incomplete
- I eat
- I am eating

Past & Incomplete
- I ate
- I was eating

Future & Incomplete
- I will eat
- I will be eating

Present & Incomplete
- I have eaten
- I have been eating

Past & Incomplete
- I had eaten
- I had been eating

Present & Incomplete
- I will have eaten
- I will have been eating

It is my contention that any writer who chose the second instead of the first from any one of those pairs will have a good reason for doing so.
Assuming that is so, and you are one of those authors who wants to examine whether they have chosen the best verb tenses - then you should examine every other type of be-verb you find - the exception being anything with any form of the be-verb followed by a main verb with an '-ing' ending. I suggest the right question to ask when examining be-verbs is whether you have chosen the best subject for the sentence.

If you can't get your head around this, then check every be-verb you find.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


Could you kindly expand on how one use of an -ing verb is wrong (leading to a be verb addition)


He was running to the store.

That could be what the author had in mind, but often what he meant was:

He ran to the store.

The difference is, in the first, he's not at the store yet. In the second, he is.

This is a common error I make that I correct during editing. When I see the "was" I check out the sentence. When I see the "ing" I fix it. Usually when it's the "ing" version, there are words like "when" or "while" in the sentence.

I was running to the store when it started to rain.

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


The physician led them to a central location, with hospital staff busy working around a prone figure.

In this case, there is a clear subject in the second (present tense) segment,


Again I will reiterate that I suck at grammar, but I don't believe your sentence is correct. You did not switch tense.

"busy" is an adverb of "working" and should be "busily." And you did not switch to present tense with "working."

But the sentence doesn't make sense to me. I would rewrite it as:

The physician led them to a central location where hospital staff were busily working around a prone figure.

Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

I'm not at all clear what a progressive tense is


This is how Grammar Girl defines progressive tense:

progressive tense, which you use to indicate that something is happening at the moment and is continuing around the time to which you refer. In fact, progressive tense is also sometimes called continuous tense. The most common progressive tenses are

Present progressive: "I am running some errands" (It's present progressive because it's happening right now.)

Past progressive: "They were jumping for joy" (It's past progressive because it happened in the past.)

Future progressive: "I will be writing my essay all day tomorrow." (It's future progressive because it will happen in the future)

Note how all of these activities are progressive because they continued; they happened for more than an instant.

Ross at Play
Updated:

@Switch Blayde

He was running to the store.

That could be what the author had in mind, but often what he meant was:

He ran to the store.
The difference is, in the first, he's not at the store yet. In the second, he is.

I agree with you those two are different, and what the difference is.
In my experience it is extremely rare for anyone to write the first if the meaning of the second would be suitable for their sentence.
If you find a lot in your writing, I would conclude you are one of the few who ever put them there.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Ross at Play


In my experience it is extremely rare for anyone to write the first if the meaning of the second would be suitable for their sentence.


I spot them all the time. "Started" is another example.

I started to rub her clit until she came.

They usually mean "I rubbed her clit."

Ernest Bywater

all this arguing about be verbs and you miss the most dangerous one - bzzzzz.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Ernest Bywater

you miss the most dangerous one - bzzzzz.

Buzz off! :-)

Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

"Started" is another example.
I started to rub her clit until she came.
They usually mean "I rubbed her clit."

Another one I look out for is the to-form of verbs. I try to reserve those for when there is an intended consequence and often replace them with the '-ing' form - meaning the present participle being used as a gerund, not as a verb using a progressive tense.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

As for what are progressive (aka continuous) tenses and what are not, here are some examples:

Present & Incomplete
- I eat
- I am eating

Okay. Now I've got a better idea. I'd never heard the term "progressive tenses" before. I've always heard those referred to as other terms (like "passive" writing, or "non-action verbs").

If you can't get your head around this, then check every be-verb you find.

As we've discussed, I'm already doing that. But as you've also observed, one of my alternate techniques is using the the gerund -ing verbs.

I'll see whether I can focus more on my subjects, but as I'm still unclear on the distinction between the various things you've pointed out, I'm not sure I'll pick up on the correct things. As many of us have noted, none of us every studied grammar and English composition in school, never intending to become authors in the first place. Instead, we all came to it from other occupations, only after collecting a lifetime of experiences to give us enough material to write about.

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

I was running to the store when it started to rain.

Again, forgive me for asking stupid questions (since I don't get most of this stuff), what's the difference between "I was running to the story when it started to rain" and "I ran to the story when it started to rain"?

I'm already avoiding the passive verbs and examining my uses of be verbs, so I'm still missing what the extra -ing verbs signify (other than missing a distinct subject, instead relying on a previous mentioned 'implied' subject).

Replies:   Switch Blayde  Joe Long
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

Again I will reiterate that I suck at grammar, but I don't believe your sentence is correct. You did not switch tense.

"busy" is an adverb of "working" and should be "busily." And you did not switch to present tense with "working."

Again (we've discussed this many times in the past), I understand that the -ing verb is past tense in the sentence, but I describe it as 'changing tense' because I don't know the proper grammatical term for it.

As for using "busily", I already have issues with using way too many -ily adverbs, so I think I'll skip that one and leave it as "busy working" simply because it's not required.

Otherwise, I've already changed the sentence as Ross suggested.

This is how Grammar Girl defines progressive tense:

Grammar Girl always explains complex situations in very straightforward and easy to understand terms. I should have checked there first.

Now I understand, but again, I was already avoiding those situations. That was partially because 'I'm a native speaker', as Ross suggests, but also because I've already identified my problems and have already selected techniques to avoid them.

I may not catch all of them, but I've done a pretty decent job ridding my work of excessive be -verbs, passive phrasing and using mostly active verbs.

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

I spot them all the time. "Started" is another example.

I started to rub her clit until she came.

They usually mean "I rubbed her clit."

I've always identified those as "passive" phrases, since it essentially removed the reader from the action (putting extra words between the reader and the action you're describing).

Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

Another one I look out for is the to-form of verbs. I try to reserve those for when there is an intended consequence and often replace them with the '-ing' form - meaning the present participle being used as a gerund, not as a verb using a progressive tense.

Sigh! Which is what I'm already doing, which was why I was asking what I was missing. If I'm already doing what you're suggesting, then why are we still discussing it? I'm really NOT interested in knowing these little-used grammar terms, since few authors I talk to ever use phrases like "progressive tenses".

I can see where I might overuse -ing verbs, but if it resolves the problems you're highlighting, then what's the penalty for doing so (other than a somewhat repetitive writing style)?

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


I was running to the store when it started to rain.

Again, forgive me for asking stupid questions (since I don't get most of this stuff), what's the difference between "I was running to the story when it started to rain" and "I ran to the story when it started to rain"?

I'm already avoiding the passive verbs


Passive has to do with the subject, not the "to be" verb. It's just that the "to be" verb is used in passive voice, but it's used in active voice too.

"The rock was thrown by Joe" is passive, not because of the "was" but because of the subject "rock." If it were not passive, it would be "Joe threw the rock" with "Joe" the subject.

Grammar Girl explains it this way:

In passive voice, the target of the action gets promoted to the subject position

"I was running to the store when it started to rain" means you got rained on while running to the store.

"I ran to the store when it started to rain" is awkward, but it would mean he ran to the store and then it started to rain.

Joe Long

@Crumbly Writer

Again, forgive me for asking stupid questions (since I don't get most of this stuff), what's the difference between "I was running to the story when it started to rain" and "I ran to the story when it started to rain"?


1. While you were running to the store it started to rain (rain happened while running was in progress)
2. It started to rain at which time you ran to the store (running started when it started to rain)

Ross at Play
Updated:

CW,

We are having problems with our terminology here. You use a number of terms incorrectly. Part of your problem is you, like most, get things correct instinctively so you've never needed to understand the meanings of the various terms. But we are searching for "best", not merely "correct", here.

Many problems are caused by the fact most terms have alternative names.

My explanations often don't get through to their intended audience. I can explain principles well, but I often don't provide examples so others can understand the points I make.

I'd like to have a series of exchanges covering the basics of verbs. I'll try to cover one topic at a time, and include examples, and not move on until you say you understand my last point. Do you want to give that a try?

Ultimately, we both want your writing to be better. It is already grammatically correct and precise in its meaning, but I think it could be more smooth and free-flowing.

This is one paragraph of your writing which uses gerunds too often for my taste. The phrases which use them are in italics.

Reaching his car, he discovered it unticketed by the local traffic cops. Unlocking it and climbing in, he breathed a sigh of relief and considered his next actions. Remembering what he was doing before the attack, he pulled his phone out again.


It is not always appropriate, but sentences including introductory clauses using gerunds can usually be changed to simple sentences with a common subject and a sequence of verbs. That could be done with all three sentences in your example. You could have written that paragraph like this:

He reached his car and discovered it unticketed by the local traffic cops. He unlocked it and climbed in, breathed a sigh of relief, and considered his next actions. He remembered what he'd been doing before the attack and pulled his phone out again.

I have said before I tend to prefer a few extra words but less commas than you. That version uses three more words but only one of the three sentences requires a comma. I am not arguing it is better, but IMHO, you push too much towards one extreme – although you don't want to end up at the other extreme either.

helmut_meukel

@Switch Blayde


@Crumbly Writer

The physician led them to a central location, with hospital staff busy working around a prone figure.



"busy" is an adverb of "working" and should be "busily." And you did not switch to present tense with "working."


Hmm,
as already stated in other posts Englisch isn't native to me. I reread the sentence a few times and to me 'busy' is ambiguous. It could be used as adjective of 'hospital staff' like in 'with busy hospital staff working around a prone figure'. Or as you said as adverb of 'working'.
Am I wrong? Must the adjective inevitably come before the noun?

HM.

Ernest Bywater

@helmut_meukel

Am I wrong? Must the adjective inevitably come before the noun?


In English an adjective must become before the noun and an adverb must come before the verb it's modifying. However, many words in English can be used as adjectives and as verbs and as adverbs - as is the case in the first quote in your post. In the sentence: The physician led them to a central location, with hospital staff busy working around a prone figure. The word busy is a verb / adverb type usage to modify the word working.

English is a hell of a language due to the past influences of the many invaders in shaping the language. It includes, but not limited to: Latin, French, Anglic, Norse, Saxon, Celtic, Pict, Brit, and Welsh. All mixed in together over many hundreds of years. Since a lot of the root languages have a similar syntax I've never understood why English ended up with such a different syntax to so many of it's parent languages.

robberhands
Updated:

@Ernest Bywater


...an adverb must come before the verb it's modifying...


"Admittedly, I'm no expert either, but I doubt the accuracy of this statement," he voiced his opinion guardedly.

Edited to amuse myself.

Ernest Bywater

@robberhands

"Admittedly, I'm no expert either, but I doubt the accuracy of this statement," he voiced his opinion guardedly.


to be proper formal English the adverb must come before the verb it's modifying. Mind you, that doesn't stop people from messing the language up, and the most common way of doing that is by trying to modify the adverb with an -ly ending, which is why so many advice against using them. The proper formal English way of saying the the above quote is:

"Admittedly, I'm no expert either, but I doubt the accuracy of this statement," is his guarded opinion.

Mind you, in your original post the guardedly is more a misplaced adjective to modify the noun opinion but you're moving off into the murky field of misused English.

I much prefer vernacular English because it has so much more freedom than formal English, but there are limits to what's acceptable in that, as well.

robberhands
Updated:

@Ernest Bywater


Mind you, in your original post the guardedly is more a misplaced adjective to modify the noun opinion but you're moving off into the murky field of misused English.


With all due respect, I formulated my response properly. You simply changed a part of it but that didn't make it more proper. Your dislike of '-ly' adverbs doesn't equal a grammatical mistake.

ETA.

That aside,

to be proper formal English the adverb must come before the verb it's modifying

is simply wrong.

She sang very well. Change that sentence into proper English.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@robberhands


With all due respect, I formulated my response properly.


I don't dislike -ly words, I simply said they're often misused and there is a lot of advice against using them. Both points are true.

Adjectives and adverbs are meant to be right beside the nouns and verbs they're qualifying, and they are supposed to precede them. When you place them after the word being modified you introduce confusion as to what they relate to, and the further you shift them from where they belong the more confusion you add.

Sticking the word guardedly at the end of the sentence puts it close to the noun opinion and makes it look like that's what you're qualifying in a bad way. If you meant to qualify the verb voiced, then moving it so far from the word voice totally disassociated the two words. If you had meant it to be an adverb tied to the verb voice it should have been:

"Admittedly, I'm no expert either, but I doubt the accuracy of this statement," he guardedly voiced his opinion.

regardless of if you mean the guardedly to be modifying the noun or the verb, it's wrong to stick it on the end of the sentence after them. Sure, you often hear people messing up the language like that in verbal speech, but it's not good English and it's grammatically wrong - especially so in formal English.

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands
Updated:

@Ernest Bywater


Adjectives and adverbs are meant to be right beside the nouns and verbs they're qualifying, and they are supposed to precede them.


So it should be: She very well sang?

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@robberhands

EB:
...an adverb must come before the verb it's modifying...

You:
"Admittedly, I'm no expert either, but I doubt the accuracy of this statement," he voiced his opinion guardedly.

That one you may shout out loud. You may shout out loudly too. Note that 'Loud' is usually an adjective, but here you may use either 'loud' or 'loudly' as an adverb modifying the phrasal verb 'to shout out', and the adverb comes after the verb it modifies.

I think that 'busy' in 'hospital staff busy working' is similar to that. I consider it is functioning as an adverb to modify 'working', but I'm not certain of that.

With adverbs, they may boldly go anywhere, go boldly anywhere, or go anywhere boldly.

I'm not willing to comment on EB's other statement that adjectives can only go before a noun. My guess is that if you manage to place an adjective after a noun the result will function as a noun phrase (of the noun + adjective type). That would make EB's statement correct that anything functioning as an adjective to modify a noun must be placed before the noun.
[There is an irrelevant and different type of situation where an adjective is separated from its noun by a verb, e.g. I am happy]

But this all becomes very messy if you rely on dictionaries to tell something is a noun, verb, adjective, or adverb. You can use most of those as pretty much any of the others - the thing to be careful of is not to press one part of speech into service as another if there is already as accepted word with the part of speech you want and the same root word.

Replies:   robberhands
Ernest Bywater
Updated:

RH, go back and read my post you started having an issue with, and then tell me how that applies to your last post? To help, I've copied the important line below and put the critical word in bold.

In English an adjective must become before the noun and an adverb must come before the verb it's modifying .

In you sentence - She sang very well. - only one word is being modified, that word is well and the modifier is the word very just before it. Neither of those words are modifying sang.

In both my posts I talk about when you use them as modifiers. In your first example you used guardedly as a modifier which appears, at first glance, to be linked to opinion, but from your response I wondered if you meant it to be applied to voiced, despite you disassociating it in the sentence.

If a word is being used as a straight verb or descriptor and not as a modifier it comes under different rules, but modifiers must always precede what they're modifying. Mind you, it's often possible to change the word from being a modifier type adjective or adverb into being part of an expansive phrase and placed between two commas after the relevant word - but it then ceases to be a modifier.

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands

@Ernest Bywater

In you sentence - She sang very well. - only one word is being modified, that word is well and the modifier is the word very just before it. Neither of those words are modifying sang.

Wrong again. 'Very' modifies 'well', but 'well' is fuctioning as adverb to 'sang'.

Ross at Play

@robberhands

So it should be: She very well sang?

No ... but there's a baby in that bath water (EB's over-simplification) you may be about to throw out.

There is immense freedom in where you may place adverbs to create different nuances of meaning. Adverbs most commonly are placed before the verbs they modify, but there are times where they only sound natural after the noun.

There is a valuable warning contained in what EB has said. You can totally change the meaning of a sentence by putting an adverb in the wrong position. Consider this example:

He placed one down. He dropped the next picking it up.

Suppose you want to use the adverb 'carefully' to modify placed. You could use either, 'He placed one down carefully' or 'He carefully placed one down'.
But look what happens if you want to join those two sentences using the conjunction 'but'.
You can have, 'He placed one down carefully but dropped the next picking it up'.
You cannot have, 'He carefully placed one down but dropped the next picking it up'.
The second one means he was careful when dropping the next one.

Once you start building complex sentences where words in earlier clauses are implied in later ones you need to be cautious that the position of adverbs ensures they only modify the verbs you intend them to modify.

Replies:   robberhands
Ross at Play

@robberhands

Wrong again. 'Very' modifies 'well', but 'well' is fuctioning as adverb to 'sang'.

You are right again. 'Very' modifies 'well', and 'very well' modifies 'sang'.

robberhands

@Ross at Play

Once you start building complex sentences where words in earlier clauses are implied in later ones you need to be cautious that the position of adverbs ensures they only modify the verbs you intend them to modify.

Shrugs - Caution is always advised when creating long sentences, if you even feel the need for a long, complex sentence. That doesn't make 'adverbs must come before the modified verb' a correct statement.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ernest Bywater

@robberhands

'Very' modifies 'well', but 'well' is fuctioning as adverb to 'sang'.


well is not modifying sang at all. It describes it.

Ross at Play

@robberhands

That doesn't make 'adverbs must come before the modified verb' a correct statement.

Agreed. That statement is on the opposite side of the planet to "correct".

Ross at Play

@Ernest Bywater

well is not modifying sang at all. It describes it.

NOPE.
When it comes to adverbs and adjectives, 'describe' means precisely the same thing as 'modify'.

robberhands

@Ernest Bywater

well is not modifying sang at all. It describes it.

A word describing a noun is called an adjective. A word describing a verb is called adverb. If you call their influence modifying or describing is insignificant in this context.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play
Updated:

@robberhands

A word describing a noun is called an adjective. A word describing a verb is called adverb. If you call their influence modifying or describing is insignificant in this context.

May I make a suggestion
- TO SOMEONE who tries to remain polite at all times
- FROM SOMEONE with has many battle scars accumulated on this site.

This has all the hallmarks of those times when EB enters the Twilight Zone and will not stop stating the same thing over and over again.
It does matter what you say when he gets like that.
I suggest, for your peace of mind, you ignore him if he continues on like this.
I, OTOH, might get quite rude over my next few posts, before then giving up.

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands

@Ross at Play

This has all the hallmarks of those times when EB enters the Twilight Zone and will not stop stating the same thing over and over again.
It does matter what you say when he gets like that.
I suggest, for your peace of mind, you ignore him if he continues on like this.
I, OTOH, might get quite rude over my next few posts, before then giving up.

I live and learn. EB just started the 'bold letter' phase, so I personally doubt he already reached the obstinacy realm. Most importantly, I also doubt becoming impolite in a discussion serves any purpose at all. I just often wonder why some people can't admit a simple mistake.

Ross at Play

@robberhands

I just often wonder why some people can't admit a simple mistake.

You attitude seems healthy to me.
EB's actually been quite good ever since The-Incident-that-Shall-NEVER-be-Mentioned-Again.
I am hopeful a bazooka across the bow will be enough to end this one here.

Ross at Play

@robberhands

I also doubt becoming impolite in a discussion serves any purpose at all.

As an editor I suggest replacing (a) the words 'also doubt' with 'know', and the words 'any purpose' with 'no constructive'.
Some find their fun in different places. :-)

-

robberhands
Updated:

@Ross at Play


As an editor I suggest replacing (a) the words 'also doubt' with 'know', and the words 'any purpose' with 'no constructive'.

Some find their fun in different places. :-)


Let's see:

I know becoming impolite in a discussion serves no constructive at all.

That sounds weird to me.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@robberhands

That sounds weird to me.

Yep. It was meant to come out
I know becoming impolite in a discussion serves no constructive purpose at all.

Replies:   Joe Long
Joe Long

@Ross at Play

'Know' conveys 100% certainty whereas 'doubt' has uncertainty (but perhaps you are spot on.)

awnlee jawking

@Ross at Play

Balderdash! :)

How can you contribute to the 'curses wanted' thread without being impolite?

'How dare you, you not very nice person!'

AJ

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

How can you contribute to the 'curses wanted' thread without being impolite?

'How dare you, you not very nice person!'

You're such a polite Mama's boy, you shame her every time he tries to let her hair down.

or

You quote scriptures in the toilet, when all everyone wants it to shit and get the hell out!

Neither one is as much fun as "You're Mama wears army boots!"

robberhands
Updated:

@Ross at Play


I'm not willing to comment on EB's other statement that adjectives can only go before a noun.


I thought about it some more. I even read some...woe is me. It's interesting how easy it is to forget so many examples one should've been able to remember when this question occurred:

He is the devil incarnate.
Her baby is ten months old.
Let's use the time available.
I'd like to speak to all the people involved.

I guess that answers this question.

Switch Blayde

@Ernest Bywater

to be proper formal English the adverb must come before the verb it's modifying.


That's not true. How about:

"Get out," he said, angrily.

"Said" is the verb. "Angrily" is the adverb modifying it. Of course if you don't use adverbs you don't have this problem. :P

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@helmut_meukel


Am I wrong?


Yes. But I can't give you the reason why.

"with hospital staff busy working " is not the same as "with the busy hospital staff working."

ETA: Actually, "busy" in the sentence should be "busily" because it's an adverb modifying the verb "working."

Maybe the confusion is caused by that error.

Switch Blayde

@Ernest Bywater

In English an adjective must become before the noun


I looked this one up. An adjective doesn't have to come before the noun when it's in the predicative position like:

'Her smile is beautiful."

"Beautiful" is an adjective modifying the noun "smile."

Joe Long

@Switch Blayde

Actually, "busy" in the sentence should be "busily" because it's an adverb modifying the verb "working."

Maybe the confusion is caused by that error.


While we talk about minimizing 'be' verbs and adverbs, people are doing it in everyday speech.

"The lawn needs mowed bad."

robberhands

@Joe Long

"The lawn needs mowed bad."

The sad reality is, if you write such a sentence, even as a part of a dialogue, you get a dozen reader comments telling you what an idiot you are.

Replies:   Joe Long
Joe Long

@robberhands

The sad reality is, if you write such a sentence, even as a part of a dialogue, you get a dozen reader comments telling you what an idiot you are.


True, but that's speech I hear every day. I will put it in dialogue, and vary it by character. The college educated dad in my story speaks much better than his parents or brother back on the farm, but there's still a base level of idioms that everyone uses.

Ross at Play
Updated:

@robberhands

He is the devil incarnate.
Her baby is ten months old.
Let's use the time available.
I'd like to speak to all the people involved.

I guess that answers this question.

Three out of four, incarnate, available, and involved, are without doubt adjectives modifying the noun they follow.

But ten months old is a three word adjectival phrase. The noun months is modified by ten, but the noun phrase ten months is then functioning as an adjective to modify the adjective old.

The assertion above is incorrect. There are certainly occasions when (words functioning as) adjectives are placed after the (word functioning as a) noun which they are modifying.

WELL DONE!

Switch Blayde

@Joe Long

While we talk about minimizing 'be' verbs and adverbs,


We're not talking about minimizing "be" verbs and adverbs.

We are talking about bad writing where these are used. We aren't talking about the good writing where they're used.

Ross at Play

@robberhands

I guess that answers this question.

CMOS has an answer for that too. In a section titled 'Position of Adjectives' it has a not-so-basic paragraph 5.78 titled 'Basic Rules'.

An adjective that modifies a noun, noun phrase, or pronoun usually precedes it [perfect storm, spectacular view, a good bowl of soup].
An adjective may follow the noun if
(1) special emphasis is needed [reasons innumerable, captains courageous];
(2) it occurs in this position in standard usage [court-martial, notary public];
(3) it is a predicate adjective following a linking verb [I am ready]; or
(4) the pronoun is of a type usually followed by the adjective [anything good, everything yellow, nothing important, something wicked].
Some adjectives are always in the predicate and never appear before what they modify [the city is asleep, the door was ajar].
Others appear uniformly before the nouns they modify [utter nonsense, a mere child].
Phrasal adjectives may precede or follow what they modify.
See 5.91.

Trust me, you do not want to "see 5.91"!

Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

ETA: Actually, "busy" in the sentence should be "busily" because it's an adverb modifying the verb "working."

YES AND NO!

The general question is: What restrictions exist on taking words defined by dictionaries as nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs, and using them as any of those other parts of speech?

The short answer is:

There is only one restriction. Thou shalt not use an adjective as an adverb. Thou shalt add a '-ly' ending to it instead.
But there are exceptions. :(

This is how I understand things, but I'm willing to do some research if anyone provides examples or references contradicting me.

The general principle is while it is permissible to use all these parts of speech almost interchangeably, you should not use anything else as, for example, an adjective if another word already exists using the same root word which is specifically an adjective.
Also, some adjectives sound silly if a '-ly' ending is added, e.g. sillily.
Also, native speakers are sweeping aside dictionary definitions of what may only be considered an adjective, e.g. 'drive slow', 'keep busy'.

Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

Actually, "busy" in the sentence should be "busily" because it's an adverb modifying the verb "working."

Actually, I think 'busy' is a rare exception to that. Although technically it is an adjective and 'busily' the adverb, I think native speakers are sweeping that distinction away. In 'Keep busy!', the 'busy' is functioning as an adverb and 'Keep busily' sounds unnatural.
I think busy sounds just as natural in our example sentence.

But you're right about the general principle of (almost) always add a '-ly' ending to anything defined as an adjective before using it as an adverb.

Replies:   Joe Long
Joe Long

@Ross at Play

In 'Keep busy!', the 'busy' is functioning as an adverb and 'Keep busily' sounds unnatural.
I think busy sounds just as natural in our example sentence.


Right. It depends on the sentence construction. "The staff was busy with the project" or "the staff worked busily on the project" are both acceptable.

I see now the difference in my examples is the use of 'be' before busy.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ernest Bywater

@Switch Blayde

"Get out," he said, angrily.


Which, in proper formal English would be written as below. The fact some people screw around with it doesn't mean it's correct. The use of the comma highlights the words aren't set out correctly.

"Get out," he angrily said

Ross at Play
Updated:

@Joe Long

"The staff was busy with the project" or "the staff worked busily on the project" are both acceptable.
I see now the difference in my examples is the use of 'be' before busy.

Yes. I'm fairly sure the be-verb cannot be modified by an adverb. 'Is' just ... is! So what follows it must be an adjective, in what is called the "predicate position".

I suspect that also applies to all linking verbs, which include feel, seem, think, ...
I'd be happy to be convinced otherwise, but don't want to look it up myself in CMOS. You've seen how "simply" it manages to explain some "basic rules".

Switch Blayde

@Switch Blayde

I spot them all the time. "Started" is another example.


Just read the following in an SOL story:

I smiled, then got up and started to follow the younger girl.


He didn't start to follow her. He followed her.

Replies:   awnlee jawking  Joe Long
awnlee jawking

@Switch Blayde

I smiled, then got up and started to follow the younger girl.


Presumably the protagonist continued to follow the younger girl and nothing of note happened for the duration of the following. Otherwise the 'started' would have a logical reason for being there other than serving as a pace-adjuster.

AJ

Joe Long

@Switch Blayde

He didn't start to follow her. He followed her.


It is poor writing that I try to avoid, but the action did indeed start at a certain point in time, which is when he got up - but that makes it redundant.

awnlee jawking

@robberhands

Another category - imports

entente cordiale
chaise longue

AJ

Joe Long

Hello? Anybody home?

More than 24 hours with no forum posts at all.

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands

@Joe Long

Maybe it's the calm before the storm.

Replies:   Joe Long
Joe Long

@robberhands

I know Ross is off writing, something which I should bring myself to do as well.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
awnlee jawking

@Joe Long

I know Ross is off writing


I find that curiously ambiguous. Does that mean he's lost his patience with the whole idea of writing and editing and is devoting his attentions to cracking the lottery? Or does it mean he is elsewhere, but actually manipulating bits and pixels via a word processor?

I've just started making inroads into Chapter 8 of 'Gay!', so Chapter 5 is clunking its way past the moderators.

AJ

Switch Blayde

@awnlee jawking

I've just started making inroads into Chapter 8


I'm stuck on Chapter 21 on my WIP. Everything I write at the place I'm at sucks. I know what I want to write; it's just not working.

Replies:   Joe Long
Geek of Ages

I'm significantly ahead on The Runaway, though I'm trying to stay on a schedule with it in case my writers block attacks for more than a day or two, like it has been recently.

Ross at Play
Updated:

@awnlee jawking

@jplong
I know Ross is off writing

@Awnlee
I find that curiously ambiguous.

Yes, AJ, my muse is paying me a visit and I am writing fiction.
The conclusion to the scene I managed today is:

"And those …" gasped Ginnie, who for once in her life was at a complete loss finding suitable words to convey her horror, "… on his face!"
"Run for hills, everybody. Krakatoa is about to blow," giggled Chas, who did manage to find suitable words.
"Dis–- gust–- ing," agreed Ginnie. "But you'd still …? Wouldn't you?"
"Duh. Does Donald Trump still eat children for breakfast?"
"And he has big hands."

Replies:   awnlee jawking
robberhands
Updated:

My editor just returned two chapters of my new story and I'm still busy picking up the shards of my smashed ego.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ross at Play

My editorI just returned two chapters of my new story and I'm still busy picking up the shards of my smashed ego.

This editor suggests replacing 'smashed ego' with 'shattered ego'. That is the more natural expression for people to use. :-)

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands

@Ross at Play

This editor suggests replacing 'smashed ego' with 'shattered ego'.

My ego feels smashed but of course an editor knows much better how I feel.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
awnlee jawking

@robberhands

My ego feels smashed but of course an editor knows much better how I feel.


Really? It's quite common to savage an author for bad writing, but how often does an editor get savaged for bad editing?

I would have thought editors have little idea how it feels to have their egos squelched. ;)

AJ

Joe Long

@awnlee jawking

Really? It's quite common to savage an author for bad writing, but how often does an editor get savaged for bad editing?


Ever try two editors at once? They may start bickering over effective phrasings.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
Joe Long

@Switch Blayde

I'm stuck on Chapter 21 on my WIP. Everything I write at the place I'm at sucks. I know what I want to write; it's just not working.


Same thing happened to me. Not that it sucked, but nothing came to mind. The characters didn't dance in my head.

So I did some more detailed outlining, making a list of all remaining scenes along with a brief description. Then a first draft of the last few scenes of the book. Then a rewrite of the opening scene of the first chapter.

I haven't progressed in my current chapter, but I've done constructive things.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Joe Long

So I did some more detailed outlining,


It's not that I don't know what to write. It's an important scene. It's the first time my Jack Reacher-type guy, who always wins, comes out on the short end to prove he's fallible. But whatever I write sounds crumby.

robberhands

@awnlee jawking

Really?

No, of course not 'really'. You just have to be indulgent with editors. Once their fragile little egos get hurt, they never fully recover and become pretty much useless.

Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

But whatever I write sounds crumby.

Switch off you inner Vincent, Switch. :-)

robberhands

@Switch Blayde

But whatever I write sounds crumby.

What's the meaning of 'crumby'. I think I read it once before but it isn't in my dictionary. Is it the same as 'crumbly' or closer to 'crummy', or naybe a mix of both?

Ross at Play

@robberhands

What's the meaning of 'crumby'. I think I read it once before but it isn't in my dictionary. Is it the same as 'crumbly' or closer to 'crummy', or naybe a mix of both?

'crummy' is the correct spelling for the word meaning of poor quality.
'crumbly' means inclined to fall apart into crumbs.

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands
Updated:

@Ross at Play


'crummy' is the correct spelling for the word meaning of poor quality.

'crumbly' means inclined to fall apart into crumbs.


Again, I'm not nitpicking. I read 'crumby' before and wanted to know its meaning.

ETA: nevermind, I googled it. It's quite famous because the term is used by Salinger in 'The catcher in the rye'. It's a variant of "crummy". When talking about a living space, it means shabby, cheap, dirty, unpleasant, etc.

Replies:   Ross at Play  Joe Long
Ross at Play
Updated:

@robberhands

'Crumby' exists in dictionary.com as an adjective meaning full or crumbs.
My Oxford dictionary only listed 'crumb' and 'crumbly', but the adjectival form certainly exists too.

Anyone want a piece of crummy, crumby cake?

Joe Long

@Switch Blayde

It's not that I don't know what to write.


Oh, I understand. I know just what I want to write in my scene. But it isn't flowing yet.

Joe Long
Updated:

@robberhands


I read 'crumby' before and wanted to know its meaning.


Nothing that I know of. I agree with Ross that SB and perhaps others simply misspelled 'crummy.'

Joe Long

I'm glad I was able to get you guys typing again. In your absence I was reduced to arguing politics on Twitter.

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands

@Joe Long

I'm glad I was able to get you guys typing again. In your absence I was reduced to arguing politics on Twitter.

A pleasure to be at your service.

Ross at Play
Updated:

@Joe Long

I agree with Ross that SB and perhaps others simply misspelled 'crummy.'

I just edited an earlier post to add this:

Anyone want a piece of crummy, crumby cake?

EDIT TO ADD:
Possible story idea ending with a pastry chef murdering a food critic.

robberhands

@Joe Long

Nothing that I know of. I agree with Ross that SB and perhaps others simply misspelled 'crummy.'


crummy adj (crummier, crummiest) colloq, derog shoddy, dingy, dirty or generally inferior. crumminess noun.
ETYMOLOGY: 19c: variant of crumby.

Replies:   Joe Long
Joe Long

@robberhands

ETYMOLOGY: 19c: variant of crumby.


If you write a story based in London the 19th century, it may be crumby.

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands

@Joe Long

If you write a story based in London the 19th century, it may be crumby.

'The Catcher in the Rye' isn't quite that old.

Replies:   Joe Long
Joe Long

@robberhands

'The Catcher in the Rye' isn't quite that old.


Early 1950's, set in New York. Did it is crumby? I read it recently, but don't recall. The author did make use of double contractions, such as wouldn't've.

Switch Blayde

@robberhands

or closer to 'crummy',


Guess I should have said shitty. :)

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands

@Joe Long

Early 1950's, set in New York. Did it use crumby? I read it recently, but don't recall.

'The catcher in the rye' by J. D. Salinger: "That isn't too far from this crumby place, and he comes over and visits me."

Replies:   Joe Long  awnlee jawking
Joe Long

@robberhands

"That isn't too far from this crumby place, and he comes over and visits me."


Good catch.

robberhands

@Switch Blayde

Guess I should have said shitty. :)

Even if it isn't true, could you please pretend 'crumby' wasn't just a spelling mistake.

Ross at Play

@Joe Long

'The Catcher in the Rye' isn't quite that old.
Early 1950's, set in New York. Did it is crumby?

Yep. In the opening paragraph he uses 'crumby' to mean 'shitty'. :(

Switch Blayde

@robberhands

Even if it isn't true, could you please pretend 'crumby' wasn't just a spelling mistake.


I didn't think "crumby" was a spelling error.

Ross at Play

@robberhands

could you please pretend 'crumby' wasn't just a spelling mistake.

Perhaps we can use this to our advantage going the other way. Maybe we could sometimes use 'crummly' here and claim it was just a spelling mistake. :-)

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands

@Switch Blayde

I didn't think "crumby" was a spelling error.

Thank you!

Joe Long

@Switch Blayde

I didn't think "crumby" was a spelling error.


You don't have to know it's an error for it to be one.

robberhands

@Ross at Play

Perhaps we can use this to our advantage going the other way.

Far be it from me to address someone as crumby writer.

Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

I didn't think "crumby" was a spelling error.

dictionary.com lists 'crumby' as an alternative spelling of 'crummy'.
So, I'm not going to declare I think it's a pretty crummy novel because of its spelling.

Replies:   Joe Long
Joe Long

@Ross at Play

So, I'm not going to declare I think it's a pretty crummy novel because of its spelling.


It was interesting.

I'm still convinced that he ended up in the mental hospital because his sister fell off the merry-go-round and died, haunting him just as his brother's death earlier did.

Ernest Bywater

@robberhands

My editor just returned two chapters of my new story and I'm still busy picking up the shards of my smashed ego.


that is supposed to be mashed ego. Because it's fully smashed and mixed about.

Replies:   robberhands
Ernest Bywater

@awnlee jawking

Really? It's quite common to savage an author for bad writing, but how often does an editor get savaged for bad editing?


often, just ask Jim about that.

robberhands

@Ernest Bywater

that is supposed to be mashed ego. Because it's fully smashed and mixed about.

And very yucky to pick up.

awnlee jawking

@Ross at Play

"And those …" gasped Ginnie, who for once in her life was at a complete loss finding suitable words to convey her horror, "… on his face!"
"Run for hills, everybody. Krakatoa is about to blow," giggled Chas, who did manage to find suitable words.
"Dis–- gust–- ing," agreed Ginnie. "But you'd still …? Wouldn't you?"
"Duh. Does Donald Trump still eat children for breakfast?"
"And he has big hands."


If you think that is truly great writing then, by some accounts, it is a darling and you should murder it :(

AJ

Replies:   Ross at Play
awnlee jawking

@Joe Long

Ever try two editors at once? They may start bickering over effective phrasings.


I get the impression that there's an inverse correlation between the number of editors an author uses and the quality of the result :(

AJ

awnlee jawking

@robberhands

"That isn't too far from this crumby place, and he comes over and visits me."


He didn't write 'visits with me'! How Unamerican.

AJ

Ross at Play

@awnlee jawking

by some accounts, it is a darling and you should murder it :(

It's only a 'darling' if the rest is not in a similar style.
It will be, mercifully, short.

Joe Long
Updated:

While we're all sharing, here what I wrote today. Going back to redo the beginning, this brief scene is the end of the opening of the first chapter, the last of three establishing shots to get to know the protagonist.


At least I had baseball. The Pirates were on at seven-thirty and were only two and a half games out of first, having won four straight and eight of nine - but I'd miss some of it as I had to be down at the stadium at six to see if the coach would let me play in my summer league game.

By just past six I was in my usual spot on the bench in the bullpen, my back against the fence that ran the length of the walkway in front of the stands. It offered a good view of the young ladies making their way from their seats to the restrooms and concession stands, then back again.

In the third inning I tapped my teammate Randy on the arm. "Whoa dude, look at this one coming."

"Oh my. That's Patty."

"Yeah?" I asked.

"I know her from school. Why don't you ask her out, instead of just gawking?"

I looked down and kicked at the dirt. "I don't know."

"Hell, I'll introduce you."

"It's just..."

"Bullshit. Are you just going to do the five knuckle shuffle every night or..."

"Up yours."

"Don't you mean 'up hers'?" He leaned in closer, slowly pistoning his fist in front of his chest. "Just look me in the eye and tell me you don't do it."

I drew in a deep breath but without a word let the air slide back out over my lips. Turning my eyes to the middle of the diamond, I yelled, "C'mon Jim - strike him out!"

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