Results 1 to 6 of 6

    • Join Date: Jul 2009
    • Posts: 6
    #1

    Tense Switch

    I've noticed when native speakers tell a story about something that happened in the past, they often switch tenses in their stories. The following lines are taken from the movie "May":

    A couple of weeks ago, this old man comes in. He says his dog is dying. He begs us to save it.
    We take him in and run some tests and we find that he has a twisted bowel and he needs to be operated on immediately. We shave Seymour's tummy. We cut him open and we take out his intestines about the size of a hot dog.
    Everything went smooth. But when we went to sew Seymour back up, we realized we were out of heavy sutures that were supposed to use for large dogs.So the doctor decided that if we tripled up the cat sutures, that should do the trick.
    A few days go by, and this old man calls up, histerical, the cat sutures had burst when he was at work. By the time he got home, Seymore was sprawled out on the back porch with his guts spilled on the concrete. The fence was soaked in blood all the way around the yard. It was a mess.

    As you can see, at first, simple present is used and then switched to simple past and then back to the simple present. I'm really confused. Why do they use the simple present as opposed to the simple past? Is it to make the story sound like it is happening now or something? If so, are there any specific rules? Why the certain verbs are used in simple past? I'm really confused.

    Thank you.
    Last edited by hepster72; 10-Mar-2010 at 01:35.

    • Member Info
      • Native Language:
      • English
      • Home Country:
      • United States
      • Current Location:
      • United States

    • Join Date: Mar 2009
    • Posts: 3,505
    #2

    Re: Tense Switch

    It is not uncommon although grammatically incorrect when "storytelling" or describing a past event in American English to switch between tenses and, in the second paragraph, the speaker could have just as easily continued with present tense as, "Everything goes smooth and when we go to sew Seymour back up, we realize.........."


    • Join Date: Jul 2009
    • Posts: 6
    #3

    Re: Tense Switch

    Quote Originally Posted by billmcd View Post
    in the second paragraph, the speaker could have just as easily continued with present tense as, "Everything goes smooth and when we go to sew Seymour back up, we realize.........."
    It seems like they don't just stick to simple present. Often times, they switch back and forth between simple present and simple past. So, I'm curious. Why do they do this in the first place? Does use of simple present have any specific effect? And why do they not just stick to one tense all the way through? Does this also have any specific effect?

    • Member Info
      • Native Language:
      • English
      • Home Country:
      • United States
      • Current Location:
      • United States

    • Join Date: Mar 2009
    • Posts: 3,505
    #4

    Re: Tense Switch

    Hepster72: Actually, I don't know how, when or where this "method" of relating past events originated, but as I said it is not uncommon and an American listener would not think of it as unusual. I'll try to do some research.

  1. Raymott's Avatar
    • Member Info
      • Native Language:
      • English
      • Home Country:
      • Australia
      • Current Location:
      • Australia

    • Join Date: Jun 2008
    • Posts: 24,091
    #5

    Re: Tense Switch

    Quote Originally Posted by hepster72 View Post
    I've noticed when native speakers tell a story about something that happened in the past, they often switch tenses in their stories. The following lines are taken from the movie "May":

    A couple of weeks ago, this old man comes in. He says his dog is dying. He begs us to save it.
    We take him in and run some tests and we find that he has a twisted bowel and he needs to be operated on immediately. We shave Seymour's tummy. We cut him open and we take out his intestines about the size of a hot dog.
    Everything went smooth. But when we went to sew Seymour back up, we realized we were out of heavy sutures that were supposed to use for large dogs.So the doctor decided that if we tripled up the cat sutures, that should do the trick.
    A few days go by, and this old man calls up, histerical, the cat sutures had burst when he was at work. By the time he got home, Seymore was sprawled out on the back porch with his guts spilled on the concrete. The fence was soaked in blood all the way around the yard. It was a mess.

    As you can see, at first, simple present is used and then switched to simple past and then back to the simple present. I'm really confused. Why do they use the simple present as opposed to the simple past? Is it to make the story sound like it is happening now or something? If so, are there any specific rules? Why the certain verbs are used in simple past? I'm really confused.

    Thank you.
    You say this is from a movie. Is it a monologue voice over, or is this one character talking to another? If it's a dialog, there might be some discontinuity in the action leading this character to change.
    Also remember that it's a character speaking this way, not an author writing good English. A transient change in mood, or lack of concentration can lead to a tense change like this in a casual conversation.


    • Join Date: Jul 2009
    • Posts: 6
    #6

    Re: Tense Switch

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymott View Post
    You say this is from a movie. Is it a monologue voice over, or is this one character talking to another? If it's a dialog, there might be some discontinuity in the action leading this character to change.
    Also remember that it's a character speaking this way, not an author writing good English. A transient change in mood, or lack of concentration can lead to a tense change like this in a casual conversation.
    It is the main character named May talking to this guy who she has a crush on.

    I, too, think it's the character speaking that way, and a lot of characters in movies or TV dramas do seem to speak that way, too according to my careful observation.

Similar Threads

  1. [Grammar] Present tense form, the past tense form and the past participle
    By foggyfield in forum Ask a Teacher
    Replies: 2
    Last Post: 25-Aug-2009, 04:13
  2. [Grammar] Perfect tense, continuous tense, perfect continuous
    By foggyfield in forum Ask a Teacher
    Replies: 2
    Last Post: 28-Jul-2009, 14:00
  3. Future perfect tense VS future tense
    By redgiant in forum Ask a Teacher
    Replies: 1
    Last Post: 21-Oct-2008, 14:26
  4. IF
    By Anonymous in forum Ask a Teacher
    Replies: 7
    Last Post: 04-Mar-2004, 01:49

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •