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Grammar tip: Be careful with tenses

Posted by Maria Murnane | January 11, 2016

Today I’d like to talk about tenses, specifically when to use the preterit (past) tense versus the pluperfect (past perfect) tense.

While both past tenses refer to things that have already happened, the pluperfect reference point is earlier than the preterit reference point.

Here are two examples:

Preterit tense: I wrote a book
Pluperfect tense: I had written a book
Both together: He wrote to me yesterday to tell me that he had read my book (he read my book before he wrote to me about it)

Past tense: Last year was hard for me
Pluperfect tense: Things had been hard for a while
Both together: It was hard to open the window because someone had nailed it shut (the window was nailed shut before I tried to open it)

I recently read a book that was written in the preterit tense. The problem was that the author kept using preterit and pluperfect tenses as if they were interchangeable. This resulted in a bunch of sentences that sounded really strange and didn’t make much sense together.

For example:

WHAT THE AUTHOR WROTE:
Things were now much more difficult. Over the last six months my disease progressed to the point where I was in constant pain.

WHAT THE AUTHOR SHOULD HAVE WRITTEN:
Things were now much more difficult. Over the last six months my disease HAD progressed to the point where I was in constant pain.

WHAT THE AUTHOR WROTE:
He knew what he needed to do. He fell in love with her, and it was time to tell her.

WHAT THE AUTHOR SHOULD HAVE WRITTEN:
He knew what he needed to do. He HAD FALLEN in love with her, and it was time to tell her.

Do you see the difference between the tenses? If you confuse your point of reference, you will confuse your readers. And you want your readers to be entertained, not confused!

-Maria

 

Maria Murnane is the best-selling author of the Waverly Bryson series, Cassidy Lane, Katwalk, and Wait for the Rain. She also provides consulting services to aspiring and published authors. Have questions? You can find her at www.mariamurnane.com.

 

This blog post originally appeared on CreateSpace.com. Reprinted with permission. © 2016 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.

 

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