Wednesday, February 25, 2009

a million English verb tenses and moods, illustrated!

I guessed right that comparing different languages would be a popular topic!! Last week's post on Which languages are easy to learn, and why isn't my #1 post in total hits (that would be topless on the beach), but it has led to some exceptionally interesting and varied discussion in the comments.

That discussion inspired me to think about the astonishing number of tenses and moods in English. I made a big chart of them, and I composed a short dialog that uses every one of them! Strongly. I tried to make sure that for each sentence in the dialog, it wouldn't be improved by using a different tense and/or mood. And now I will share my amazing tense/mood illustrating dialog with you! And prizes for anyone who can find a sense/mood construction that I missed! (It's possible I missed some of the subjunctive ones...)

Apologies in advance for the subject of the dialog -- I just came up with sentences for some of the more obscure tenses and then just fit the rest of the dialog around them. My first attempt was a dispute between two programmers over the status of a database application project, but it was too esoteric and too negative.

A Tense Party

Wendy: Don't waste your time on throwing that post-game party for Bob. It will be a flaming disaster, and you'll have spent all that effort for nothing.
Janice: But I want to do it -- I like throwing parties! Why would it be a disaster?
Wendy: For one thing, the way you've scheduled it, the guys will have been playing football for three hours, so they'll be dirty and hardly interested in staying to sample your subtle delicacies.
Janice: Not even to taste my blue-ribbon soufflé? I'm about to unveil an exciting new version, with an even better secret ingredient! Better than that last one....
Wendy: That's the other thing. You don't know how to make soufflé.
Janice: I do know how to make a souffle, or at least I did know how while taking that course last year. I used to make the most amazing desserts, and I'd still be practicing my skills regularly if I weren't so busy with my calling.
Wendy: Be that as it may, Bob doesn't like your soufflé.
Janice: But he was raving about it at church last week!
Wendy: He wouldn't have been saying all those nice things about it if you hadn't been standing right there. In fact, he'd told me earlier that very day that your fallen soufflé had made him gag.
Janice: What?
Wendy: I would have told you, but he has said so many mean things behind your back that I hardly bother anymore. I asked that he leave me out of it, but let's just say he seems to think ladies find his antics charming. I should have told him off.
Janice: I had been waiting for a prince at one point, but I guess I've lowered my expectations.
Wendy: I used to be waiting for my prince to come, too, but choosing to have more realistic expectations doesn't mean being a doormat.
Janice: I know I've got to be less of a doormat with him, and I've made some progress. I'm going to have a talk with him.
Wendy: I was about to agree with you until that last bit -- unless your talk will be about kicking his sorry butt to the curb. You'd be happier if you were to somehow stop loving him. I guess I should give up on that posibility.


What do you think? Did I succeed? :D


And for more liguistics fun, don't forget my earlier post Grammar Police: Rules are meant to be, like, broken.


Aerin said...

I still say I "had had" is difficult to use in a sentence (if even grammatically correct).

B. Alan Robinson said...

Actually I think people use "had had" more than they think. Usually in speech they shorten it to "I'd had" or something. Actually, I was trying to find out what to call structures like: "Slowly walked the old man, past the braying mule." Also, I may have missed it, but you should include negative inversion in this dialog, too: "Move not your feet from the heat of a fire, but burn them thoroughly and well." I am an EFL teacher right now and my coworker and I were trying to string as many verbs/participles as possible together: "I hope I will not have forgotten to decide to think on working to be more active in my construction of sentences by tomorrow evening."