The Copious Configurations of the Future Tense

headless_horseman_by_adamguzowski-d30oq2oWelcome, dear readers, to the fourth and final installment of my posts about verb tenses. I know I’ve been slacking off lately, but things have been a bit hectic, what with setting up Grammar Ghoul Press and dealing with a variety of other real world commitments. Continue reading

The Many Manifestations of the Present Tense

bride_of_frankenstein_by_abigaillarson-d5mm0b5Goodness! September is proving to be a very busy month, brimming with change.

Before I get to the topic of today’s post, I’d like to let you know that I have a new ultra-secret project in the works. I can’t say too much, but I can tell you that it will be a unique space for writers—and for readers too. Sometime in the next couple of weeks, I will unveil my secret project here, as well as announcing it to my email list. Keep your eye on this space for some exciting news!

Okay, moving on to today’s topic. Recently, I gave you an overview of verb tenses. And I promised to delve into each one in more detail. Today, we’re going to look at the Present Tense and its different forms.

Simple Present I ooze.
Present Progressive I am oozing.
Present Perfect I have oozed.
Present Perfect Progressive I have been oozing.

Simple Present

The simple present tense is typically used to express one of the following things:

  1. Regular or repeated actions in the present.
  2. Facts and general truths.
  3. Habitual actions.
  4. Scheduled events.

However, you’ll notice that we also used the simple present to express actions that happened in the past when we talk to each other (Amy says you snuck out last night; Franz tells us you howled at the moon).

Present Progressive

The present progressive tense is used to express an ongoing action that is happening right now. It is formed by combining the helping verb “be” (am, is, are) with the present participle (verb ending in –ing) of the action verb.

  • Steve! Your ghoul is oozing all over my clean floors!

Note: Typically, only action verbs (and not stative verbs) use the present progressive form.

Present Perfect

The present perfect tense is used to express an action that finished (or was perfected) at an unspecified time in the past, or an action that started in the past and continued to the present.

  • The zombies have eaten six brains.

It’s confusing, right? The tense is present perfect, but sometimes the action it describes takes place only in the past. Well, I didn’t name the tenses. But, for the record, we generally use present perfect to express past actions that have happened more recently (George has transmogrified at every full moon this year.), while we use simple past for events that happened in the more distant past (George’s father transmogrified one hundred years ago.).

Present Perfect Progressive

The present perfect progressive tense is used to express an ongoing action that started in the past, continues in the present, and may continue into the future. It is formed by combining has been/have been with the present participle (verb ending in –ing) of the action verb.

  • Frankenstein’s bride has been primping for hours.

As with present perfect, the present perfect progressive form is often used to express past actions that happened more recently—and this use is often indicated by adding just (Igor has just been cleaning cobwebs from the bridal suite.).

Note: Typically, only action verbs (and not stative verbs) use the present perfect progressive form.

Okay, so that is the present tense and all its forms. We’ll look at past tense in the not-too-distant future.

Image credit: AbigailLarson @ deviantART

Does Your Writing Need a Mechanic?

mechanic_by_mr__jack-d5czm56Can you believe we’re more than halfway through the summer? I’m not sure what happened to July, but here we are in August. Today, we’re going to talk about some of the mechanics of writing, which includes things like spelling, capitalization, and formatting. It might sound boring, but getting the mechanics right shows that you know and care about your craft.

Okay, so let’s look at some easy ways to tune-up your writing.

Paragraphs are your friends.

They are also your reader’s friends. Here’s what you need to know about writing paragraphs:

  • A paragraph should contain one idea only.
  • All the sentences in a paragraph should support that idea, or provide more information about it.
  • A paragraph can be long or short, but remember that long paragraphs can be overwhelming to your reader—and sometimes, a one-word paragraph can pack a real punch.

Italics, bold, underline.

These are often used interchangeably, but they shouldn’t be. First of all, unless you’re talking about a hyperlink, you should avoid underlining altogether. Underlining was used in the typewriter age, when there was no other way to emphasize text. We have computers now, so there’s no excuse for underlines.

What about bold and italics? Well, while both can be used for emphasis, italics are the standard in the world of publishing. Along with emphasizing a particular word (Dave couldn’t believe she was here), italics can also be used to indicate inner thoughts, dreams, and memories (what a jerk, she thought); foreign words (he was a real bête noire); and some titles, like books, movies, names of boats, and so on. (Titles are tricky though—some go in quotation marks instead, so it’s a good idea to check if you aren’t sure.)

Bold is sometimes used for emphasis in online publishing, because italics are not always easy to distinguish in certain fonts. However, you should try to stick with italics for emphasis and use bold for titles and headings.

Oh, and for the love of all the writers who have come before you, do not mix bold and italics in the body of your writing. Pick one. Consistency is also your friend.

Formatting dialogue.

Okay, so this is one of my biggest pet peeves. Dialogue can be a fabulous way to move your story forward and tell us something about your characters. However, you absolutely have to get the formatting right. Here are the rules:

1. Each speaker gets his or her (or its) own line, like so:

  • “It’s raining cats and dogs,” he said.
  • “I’m pretty sure those are bobcats,” she said.
  • “Actually, I’m a civet,” said the civet.

2. Punctuation goes inside the quotation marks.

  • “Ouch!” he yelled.
  • “Are you serious?” she asked.

3. Don’t go crazy with your dialogue tags, which are the words that tell the reader who said what (said, asked, yelled, etc.). It can be tempting to slap on a bunch of adverbs or adjectives (“I wish it would stop raining,” she pouted petulantly.), but it’s generally better to stick with something simple and then describe the action in a separate sentence, like so:

  • “I wish it would stop raining.” She pouted as she stared out the window, a petulant look on her face.

Parallel structure.

This refers to using balanced grammatical forms when talking about two things (or two sets of things) that have the same importance. Parallel constructions increase clarity through the use of logical word patterns. Here are two examples:

Not parallel:  Civets survive by eating mangoes and coffee beans, and they hunt frogs.
Parallel:  Civets survive by eating mangoes and coffee beans, and hunting frogs.

Not parallel:  Bobcats not only love to hunt, but also fish.
Parallel:  Bobcats not only love to hunt, but also love to fish.

Sentences that aren’t parallel sound awkward and can sometimes cause confusion.

Be Your Own Mechanic

When it comes to the mechanics of writing, it’s all about the details. With that in mind, the most important thing you can do is proofread. Seriously. Don’t hit that publish button without proofreading. You’ll be amazed by how far your writing can go when you get your mechanics right.

Image credit:  Mr–Jack @ deviantART