Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

December 21, 2009

Using narrative tenses

This morning I woke up bright and early. The ground was covered in a thick blanket of snow and everything looked so beautiful outside. I pulled on warm clothes and boots and took my two dogs Duffy and Maguire for a  snowy walk.

At the end of our walk I let them off their respective leads and into a small paddock at the side of our house where they could run freely. As I stood looking at the scenery I thought how marvelous it would be to have more students come to stay and study with us in 2010.  In any season the scenery is wonderful, the place welcoming and the opportunity for making excellent improvement in English language skills assured.

As I was thus looking and contemplating, I heard a loud meow and there, atop the gate was our little black cat, Nip (her brother, Tuck,  has gone walkabout again). I called to her and she came bouncing over the snow towards me. All of a sudden Maguire spotted her and leapt across to join us followed, in a flash, by Duffy.  All three animals began gambolling in the snow – it was a lovely scene and I hadn’t a camera!

Leaving the cat and dogs I flew into the house to get the camera. It hadn’t been put back in its usual place so took a while to track down. After a frantic hunt, I rushed back to the paddock camera in hand to find the animals scattered!

The perfect picture of animals having fun in the snow had gone! I did manage a few shots which you can see here but sadly the original masterpiece will remain forever in my head only!!

OK,  let’s get down to the topic. I’ve highlighted my use of tenses in the piece.

Can you identify them all and consider why each one was used?

I wrote the piece ‘off the cuff’ and completely spontaneously so the tense usage is random.

  • Past simple – you will see that this tense is used far more than any other. This makes sense, the incident is in the past and the ‘story’ mostly relates the events that happened in a sequential way.
  • Present perfect – there is only one use here – in a reference to the missing cat. The cat is missing , we only know this – no other information is provided.  He may return. This is a classic Present perfect use. (see posts on Present perfect  and choosing simple or continuous )
  • Present simple –  again one use when describing the scenery. This is a state and unchanging.
  • Past perfect – two occurences; when referring to the whereabouts of the camera – clearly the camera was used by someone else before the events of this story took place and on returning to the paddock – the frolicking of the animals in the snow is now relegated to the past.
  • Future tense – this is the final tense used referring to a missed chance to capture the scene and preserve it for the future.

When relating stories and events we tend to use mostly the past simple,  present perfect and past perfect tenses as a frame work and hang on the other tenses where required. It is important to sequence the events in order to choose the correct tense.

Try this Gapfillers exercise on narrative tense use.

This post is the second of six on English verbs and tenses.

More information on English courses at Fleetham Lodge  and see here on the blog Fleetham Life

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