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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Criminal Sentence 520: I Feel Tense

From a book:

"Something truly horrible was taking place now as it did back then."

When you have two things that happened in the past and one happened earlier than the other, then you put the first item in the past perfect (e.g., "I had eaten). However, doing only that still isn't enough for this sentence:

"Something truly horrible was taking place now as it had back then."

It still sounds weird. Let's fix it a bit more:

"Something truly horrible was taking place now, just as it had back then."

Still not perfect but we can't scrap the sentence completely.


Anonymous said...

There is another problem in this sentence which should be addressed.

The sentence with the verb completely filled in should read "Something truly horrible was taking place now as it had taken place (= had happened) back then."

If you employ ellipsis here as you have, you do not account for the verb change from a present participle (taking) to a past participle (taken) form.

Obviously the sentence is understandable and one can infer the proper verb form, but, I believe, you might have to either re-write the sentence or fill in the correct verb change.

Dawa said...

I'm not comfortable with the marriage between ''now'' and ''was'', so please help me out. Can't we recast the sentence like this:

Something truly horrible took place then just as it had earlier.

The Sentence Sleuth said...

Anon, what ellipses are you referring to?
Dawa, I like your rewrite!

Anonymous said...

Your fix:

"Something truly horrible was taking place now, just as it had [taken place] back then."

And you give the example of a past participle "I had eaten" as required for the tenses to be in sequence.

In your example there is no past participle form. You need "taken place" or "happened" after "had."

From my understanding, you can use ellipsis as long as the verb form doesn't change. Since the verb does change in this case, it should be written in.

Anonymous said...

Fowler gives these examples for parts of be and have:

The ringleader was hanged and his followers imprisoned.

He is dead, and I alive.

The years have past and the appointed time come.

These verb changes are considered acceptable.

If the verbs are separated by too much intervening material, Fowler suggests writing the verb change out in full. If there is a change in voice again the verb phrase needs to be completed.

The verb phrases we are concerned with here are "was taking place" and "had taken place." The verb change, I think, is too significant to leave it to the understanding of the reader. I read this grammar point somewhere in the distant past and can't support it with any authority.

Anonymous said...

I didn't mean to send that last post before adding that many grammar "don'ts" in the past are now considered acceptable, and it would be good to know what is and is not considered so with regard to parallel verb phrase ellipsis.

Anonymous said...

In the fixed sentence the two clauses are not parallel. There is obviously an independent clause and a dependent. The dependent clause has an understood verb phrase following "had," "taken place." Since the verb form changes from "was taking place" to "had taken place," does the verb phrase have to be written out in full?

In parallel constructions auxiliary verbs can be understood as can main verbs with "s" changes; however, if the verb changes in tense or voice, the verb phrase needs to be completed.

Again my question here is, Does the verb in your example need to be completed? You see this kind of expression often, but is it acceptable in formal writing? And does it matter that they are not parallel?