English tenses: a poem

You have words - now what do you do with them?
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English tenses: a poem

Postby Audiendus » Fri Oct 04, 2013 8:56 am

Further to my earlier poem about English plurals, here is one about verb tenses:

We'll open with the simple present tense,
Which basically follows common sense;
It's used for current states (I am, I know)
And customary actions like I go,
Declaratory statements (I resign!)
And sequenced items (First I draw this line...)
It stands for future time in When I die
And If they go to Russia next July.
Some tales are told entirely in the present
(Their brisk, no-nonsense tone I find unpleasant),
While stand-up comics use this same device
To give their threadbare monologues more spice.

The simple tense has its progressive sibling,
Displayed in phrases such as I am nibbling,
And used where present action is ongoing
Like You are shivering or It is snowing.
Some foreign students tend to use this form
In ways that flout the native English norm –
'I am not knowing what you mean', they cry;
'That's wrong', we say, though we may not know why.

The past tense is not normally a mystery;
It covers things that now belong to history
(Rome conquered Gaul) or feature in a story
(The dragon's death was sickeningly gory).
It's used in the subjunctive mood to show
What could be factual, but is not so:
If I were king, If children had the vote
(The 'was' form's solecistic here, please note).
Sometimes the past is harder to explain –
Why do we say 'It's time we had some rain'?

'They were attacking' is the past progressive;
Further remarks thereon would be excessive.

The future tense is formed with shall or will;
The use of these two verbs requires some skill.
In practice, though, the 'will' form is enough,
So you can skip the complicated stuff.
The 'going to' alternative is good;
The past auxiliary verb is 'would'.
The latter form can show a supposition
Dependent on some specified condition
(If she attacked a bull, she would be killed),
Which, in 'I knew she would be', is fulfilled.

The perfect tense (The storm has now abated)
Applies where past and present are related.
'I've had a message that my aunt has died'
May indicate that I've not yet replied
(Whereas 'I heard about her death' would show
It should have been acknowledged long ago).

We have a range of other compound tenses –
Past perfect (They had not repaired the fences)
And future perfect (I'll have reached the station),
Together with the 'would have' variation.
Each one has a progressive version too;
The task of listing these I'll leave to you.

These verb forms, learned by nurture or by course,
Comprise a rich and flexible resource
For good expression, from ecstatic bliss
To plain didactic doggerel like this.

Perry Lassiter
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Re: English tenses: a poem

Postby Perry Lassiter » Fri Oct 04, 2013 11:35 am

Here, here!

Perry Lassiter
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Re: English tenses: a poem

Postby Perry Lassiter » Fri Oct 04, 2013 11:36 am

Or hear, hear! Weird expression either way.

Philip Hudson
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Re: English tenses: a poem

Postby Philip Hudson » Tue Oct 15, 2013 12:27 am

Textbooks on grammar for ESL major on verb conjugations in English. They go on and on forever, (but no trees on either hand – see R. L. Stevenson). What must those furriners think of our language?
It is dark at night, but the Sun will come up and then we can see.

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Re: English tenses: a poem

Postby Slava » Tue Oct 15, 2013 12:25 pm

Or hear, hear! Weird expression either way.
According to The Phrase Finder it began life as "hear him, hear him!" I'd say it is quite like saying, "Amen to that, Brother."
Life is like playing chess with chessmen who each have thoughts and feelings and motives of their own.

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