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Volunteer : Need Help : English language : Past and Present tenses

Hi !

The use of English past and present tenses are not that intuitive ......... and I find them quite limiting and rigid ........

Let's say I need to write a story.

Traditionally, that's the past tense that is used :

Bob entered the office of Mister P, his boss.
The old man was looking seriously angry. He was red like a tomato.
"Sit down Bob ! We have to talk !", he yelled, moving nervously some files on his desk.
Bob sat down and was smiling politely, with the hope that his boss was going to calm down a little.
But showing his beautiful teeth did not had the expected effect :
"Why are you smiling at me like that ?!, yelled the old man.
Bob jumped on his seat. Like by magics, the fear changed his smile into a giant contracture.
etc ..."

Is the use of past tense correct ?

Now, let's say I need to tell the same story, but using Present tense, like if it was happening in real time :

Bob enters the office of Mister P, his boss.
The old man is looking seriously angry. He is red like a tomato.
"Sit down Bob ! We have to talk !", he yells, moving nervously some files on his desk.
Bob sits down and smiles politely, with the hope that his boss is going to calm down a little.
But showing his beautiful teeth don't have the expected effect :
"Why are you smiling at me like that ?!, yells the old man.
Bob jumps on his seat. Like by magics, the fear changed his smile into a giant contracture.
etc ..."

My natural reflex is to use present simple (like I'd do in my language). But present simple is described as a tense for generalities .......
How do you tell a story in present tense ? Do you make heavy use of present continuous (which is not really beautiful) ???

Thanks for your help =o)


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NachoMahma9 years ago
. Well, I have to say that your use of English is better than a lot of ppl who's first language is English. ;) Yes, you get the tense wrong sometimes and your syntax can be a bit awkward at times, but I can't remember ever having a problem understanding you. . Keep in mind that English (at least the American variety) is very "irregular" and there are all sorts of exceptions to the rules.
chooseausername (author)  NachoMahma9 years ago
.Well, I have to say that your use of English is better than a lot of ppl who's first language is English. ;)

I've noticed that I've started to do the same common mistakes than most (young) natural English speakers do :
- they're and there
- where and were
etc

So I don't know how it could be interpreted : does it mean that I did progresses, or does it mean they have a bad influence on me ? ;oP

About 'then' and 'than', seems my french accent immunize me so far.

Yes, you get the tense wrong sometimes and your syntax can be a bit awkward at times, but I can't remember ever having a problem understanding you.

Let's imagine that I write few chapters of a very interesting and catching story in my "almost-English language", how boring and irritating do you think it would be for a reader whose first language is English (including the American variety) ?
> they're and there ... where and were ... 'then' and 'than' . It's usually pretty easy to tell what you mean from the context. As you say, these are very common mistakes. Nothing that better proof-reading skills wouldn't fix. . > how boring and irritating do you think it would be . A good story will not be boring, even with less than perfect grammar. Can it be irritating? Yes - I had trouble with "Clockwork Orange" and "The Color Purple" even though they were interesting stories and made pretty good movies.
- they're and there
- where and were
etc

Oh I see a lot of this everywhere:

they're, there, their ( they are, over there {indicating place}, and their - possessive).

hour, and our (time and possessive plural)

your, you're, yore (second person possessive), you are, and "time long past" as in "days of yore"

We have loads of homonyms in our language: words with the same pronunciation but having different meanings
Patrik9 years ago
Just a few corrections:

Bob entered the office of Mister P, his boss.
The old man looked seriously angry. He was red like a tomato.
"Sit down Bob ! We have to talk !", he yelled, moving nervously some files on his desk.
Bob sat down and smiled politely, hoping that his boss would calm down a little.
But showing his beautiful teeth did not have the expected effect :
"Why are you smiling at me like that ?!, yelled the old man.
Bob jumped on his seat. Like by magic, the fear changed his smile into a giant contraction.
etc ..."

There's some great examples of creative use of alternative past and present tenses in English literature, but I'm sure there's some English majors here who can speak about that more eloquently than a non-English scientist/engineer. ;-)
chooseausername (author)  Patrik9 years ago
Thanks for your help Patrik =o)

... but I'm sure there's some English majors here who can speak about that more eloquently than a non-English scientist/engineer. ;-)

Do you mean English is not your first language ??
It's my third language, actually, after Dutch and French. Having another Germanic language as my mother tongue probably helped a little (although it seems to be of little use in my pitiful attempt to learn German, which is supposed to be much closer to Dutch), as did having the BBC on TV while I was growing up. :-)
Kiteman9 years ago
I'm not skilled in writing stories, but I'll happily have a go at the tenses.

Here is my version of your text:

Bob enters the office of his boss, Mister P.
The old man is looking seriously angry, tomato-faced.
"Sit down Bob ! We have to talk !", he yells, nervously moving some files on his desk.
If somebody is yelling, would they act nervously, or would a more violent word be better - shoving or throwing?

Bob sits down and smiles politely, in the hope that his boss is going to calm down a little.
But showing his beautiful teeth doesn't have the expected effect :
"Why are you smiling at me like that?!", yells the old man.
Bob jumps to his seat, his grin transforming into a rictus of fear.
chooseausername (author)  Kiteman9 years ago
Thanks Kiteman =o)

So, this means that the present simple can also be used to describe actions that are happening in real time ?
It's not required to use continuous present everywhere to give the idea the story you're telling is like happening in real time, right ?
Bob is entering the office of his boss ...
Bob is sitting down and smiling politely ...
But showing his teeth is not having the expected effect ...
Bob is jumping to is seat ...

And about the past tense version, did I used them correctly ?
Good enough for me (adding similar changes, such as "like magic" becoming "transformed").

The present continuous is probably more useful as a narrative tool within the story (such as somebody on a stakeout describing events to somebody else over the radio). If the whole story was in the present continuous, it would probably get boring, even irritating to a reader with English as a first language.
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