Mechanical Monday – The Perfect Tenses

You know this little cutie because it’s form is: have + past participle.

Its function is to tell you about something occurring before a second time/event.

“He has already slept.” (the present moment is the second event…he’s slept before now).

“I had already showered before my muddy nephew hugged me.”

“She will already have a new boyfriend by the time the concert is done.”

Mechanical Monday: Verb Tenses

In the spirit that the best way to learn something is to teach it, and in dire need of a grammar refresher, I’ve decided to make Mondays “Grammar Day.”  I’m hoping blogging will remind me about punctuation, etc., and help tighten my drafts.

Today, we take on the tenses. (which seems only fitting since it’s voting day and I’m definitely tense about that).

There are four tenses: simple, progressive, perfect, and perfect progressive, and they apply to the past, present, and future.

PRESENT

  1. Simple Present: I walk.
  2. Present Progressive: I  am walking.
  3. Present Perfect: I have already walked.
  4. Present Perfect Progressive: I have already been walking for two hours.

PAST

  1. Simple Past: I walked last night.
  2. Past Progressive: I was walking last night…
  3. Past Perfect: I had already walked…
  4. Past Perfect Progressive: I had been walking for two hours…

FUTURE

  1. Simple Future: I will walk tomorrow.
  2. Future Progressive: I will be walking tomorrow.
  3. Future Perfect: I will have walked for two miles before I come to the bridge.
  4. Future Perfect Progressive: I will have been walking for two hours before I come to the bridge.

Okay, near as I can figure it, the Simple & Perfect are all about stuff that’s completed. It’s happened and it’s done. I walked. I had already walked. I will have walked.

The Progressives are about stuff that’s still going on. I am walking.  I was walking.  I will have been walking.

Clues about which tense you’re in:

  1. The verb “to have” (I have, she has, he had) – it comes up in both the Perfect and Perfect Progressives.  So how do you know which is which?
    • Perfect Progressive also has “to be” (i.e., been) in it: I have been walking, I had already been walking, I will have been walking.
    • Also, the Perfect Progressive has a bit extra—like a time reference, and extra information. Compare:
      • I had already walked for two miles. (Perfect)
      • I have already been walking for two miles BEFORE MY ANKLE BROKE. (Perfect Progressive).

How does this help with your writing.  By knowing which tense you’re in, you can create tighter scenes/more immediacy within your description.  If your character had already walked forty miles and then her ankle broke, that’s one thing. But if she’s still walking and then her ankle breaks, well crud, now what? She’s injured but there’s a giant Cyclops coming up behind her. She can’t stop.  So, how is she going to get to her place of safety with a broken ankle?

Now, you’re creating a question for the reader and encouraging them to read on.

Plus, the more precise you are in space and time, the more you ground your reader in the reality of your story.