I don’t like this tense.

When reading news articles and other sources of Web journalism, the tense is nearly always the past. The past makes sense because the stories describe events that have already taken place.

I hopped over to People.com after a night at Johnny D’s to grab the last news of the night, and I came across the following story. It describes Usher’s appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Here is a clip:

Dad-to-Be Usher: ‘I Want a Boy’

“Last time you were here, you were single,” DeGeneres also tells him. “You said you wanted a lady that you could take from the Waffle House to the White House. You found her.”

“I did. I found someone that I’m very, very happy to call my wife,” he tells her. “Tameka Raymond. She’s beautiful.”

Only DeGeneres also wants to know why she wasn’t invited to the wedding, which was originally scheduled for July 28 in the Hamptons but ended up taking place in a civil ceremony in Atlanta.

One thing that complicates the issue is that this show already taped, but it’s set to broadcast this Tuesday. The conversation already happened, obviously, but it hasn’t shown on TV. In a strange way, it’s almost as if it doesn’t exist yet.

I particularly find the third paragraph awkward-sounding. The tenses are all over the place.

I’m trying to imagine why this seems so familiar, and I think I recognize the usage of the present tense from reviews of children’s books and movies. “Mary Anne realizes that it’s true — she, in fact, misses Logan and wants him back.” “Kristy wants to start a softball team, but a little boy named Jackie Rodowsky is completely accident-prone!”

But, now that I think about it, why would that be restricted to children’s works? It shouldn’t be. All reviews are in the present tense.

I’m thinking more, and after reading through the story again, I think it’s more a stylistic issue than anything else. The writer, describing what each person says, seems to do something that is extraneous. We don’t need to be told every line in advance. Doing so makes it seem like we don’t understand it, which is paradoxical, because as celebrity gossip fans, we want to hear every line!

I’m having a hard time explaining this, and I wish I could do it better.

What do you think? Does using the present tense and describing each line each person says make it sound juvenile?

In other news, while having pizza at Mike’s in Davis Square tonight, I noticed a grammatical error on the cocktail menu.

“Do you have a pen?” I asked my sister.

She stared at me coldly. “DON’T.”

I am no longer permitted to vandalize grammar in front of her because it embarrasses her.

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2 responses to “I don’t like this tense.

  1. Spoken dialogue is, increasingly, in the present tense.

    Walking down the street I hear people say, “We’re going to the club.”
    Except they’re not. In the here and now they’re standing around chatting. What they mean is in the future, this evening, “We shall be going to the club.” Future tenses are oft times ignored.

    The past historic is conspicuously absent, too.

    Maybe it’s a lack of understanding of different tenses. Or maybe, just maybe it’s a rather healthy, Zen, living in the here and now, seizing the moment. Methinks not :-)

  2. “no longer”? When did you do it in the first place?

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