Tenses in summarizing a story

Status
Not open for further replies.
R

Ryan

Guest
Dear all,

I came across the following explanation in 'The Elements of Style':

In summarizing the action of a drama, use the present tense. In summarizing a poem, story, or novel, also use the present, though you may use the past if it seems more natural to do so.... But whichever tense is used in the summary, a past tense in indirect discourse or in indirect question remains unchanged.

The Friar confesses that it was he who married them. (Example given in the book)

Could anyone explain
1. when is it 'seems more natural' to use the past form of verbs when summarizing a story?
2. what does the last sentence of the paragraph mean?

Cheers
Ryan

:D :D
 

RonBee

Moderator
Joined
Feb 9, 2003
Member Type
Other
Native Language
American English
Home Country
United States
Current Location
United States
Re: Thanks

Ryan said:
Thank you.

You're welcome. Have you seen the responses? Were they helpful?

:)
 

Tdol

Editor, UsingEnglish.com
Staff member
Joined
Nov 13, 2002
Member Type
English Teacher
Native Language
British English
Home Country
UK
Current Location
Japan
The present makes the story more alive, so the past is used to create a sense of distance between the stroy and the person describing it. It also depends on the universality of the story- your eample is, I believe, from 'Romeo and Juliet', a play still performed regularly, so I'd be much more likely to use the present. If the play, etc, were old and obscure, I might use the past. ;-)
 

RonBee

Moderator
Joined
Feb 9, 2003
Member Type
Other
Native Language
American English
Home Country
United States
Current Location
United States
Fictional characters, unlike real people, never really die, so the present tense is always appropriate.

:wink:
 
R

Ryan

Guest
Re: Thanks

A bit overwhelmed by all the information, actually. (Every time I come to the word 'discourse' my head spins. I need some time to read and digest them.

I will continue to follow the discussion.

Thanks again.
 
R

Ryan

Guest
What I have understood is this:
When summarizing a story, we usually use the present tense. But when we report the words of a character, we change the tense to the relevant one, e.g. present to past, past to past perfect.

Am I right?
 

RonBee

Moderator
Joined
Feb 9, 2003
Member Type
Other
Native Language
American English
Home Country
United States
Current Location
United States
Ryan said:
What I have understood is this:
When summarizing a story, we usually use the present tense. But when we report the words of a character, we change the tense to the relevant one, e.g. present to past, past to past perfect.

Am I right?

That looks good to me.

:)
 
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top