Past Habit Would in complex clause-the bizarre things old...

Discussion in 'English Only' started by EnglishABC, Nov 13, 2012.

  1. EnglishABC Senior Member

    NZ English
    I want to say that the bizarre things old age did to Andrew's dad occurred regularly in the past. However, the bizarre things still occur at the time this was written.

    Considering the above, which is the correct verb form?

    Andrew would always laugh about the bizarre things old age had done/has done/would do to his dad.


     
  2. papakapp Senior Member

    English - NW US
    I think what you are going for is the imperfect. To achieve that, you have to combine past tense and progressive. We don't actually have an imperfective conjugation in English. I think you just have to build it yourself from the tenses that we do have. For example:

    Andrew had always laughed at the bizarre things old age would do to his dad.

    Note that the verb tenses don't agree in this sentence. That's what I mean by "build it yourself".
     
  3. Bevj

    Bevj Allegra Moderata

    Girona, Spain
    English (U.K.)
    I think that 'Andrew would always laugh ....' is in itself an imperfect tense, as in 'Andrew always used to laugh...'.
    Does Andrew still laugh about them, or is it only the bizarre things that are also in the present? If he does, then 'Andrew has always laughed...' seems correct to me.
     
  4. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    Hi, EnglishABC.

    None of your choices expresses what you want unambiguously, but of the three I would pick has done. I wonder if the following might suit you:

    Andrew always used to laugh at the bizarre things old age does to his dad.
     
  5. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    But you don't tell us when Andrew laughed. If he used to laugh and still laughs at things which used to happen, and still happen, then I think it's:

    Andrew has always laughed at the things which old age has done to his dad.

    If you wish to say that Andrew is still laughing at these things, then you can't start your sentence Andrew would always laugh. If the things are still happening, I assume that Andrew is still laughing. If not, why did you say that the things are still happening when the piece was written? That was quite a strange juxtaposition of tenses in itself.

    I think we need a clear statement of what you wish to say, EnglishABC, before we can answer your 'question'.
     
  6. papakapp Senior Member

    English - NW US
    I think the OP (original poster) was quite clear. They are looking for the imperfect tense. No such tense exists in English. But we can get by, as in this example form Little Red Riding Hood:
    [FONT=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]"That's nothing," said Baby Bear, "Someone's been sleeping in my bed, and they're still there."[/FONT]
     
  7. EnglishABC Senior Member

    NZ English
    Hi Tom, thanks for your reply. For me to explain my unclear post further, could you please explain what you mean by the above in bold... What exactly is strange about these tenses... Then hopefully I can clear things up. Cheers (my question mark key isn`t working sorry - hence the ellipsis)
     
  8. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Hello ABC,
    (1) you're a native English speaker, so you should be able to tell us which option you would prefer.
    (2) if you opt for a past tense "would" you're not going to be able to imply that the bizarre things still continue, unless you explain that with additional words.

    Can you tell us why you're asking the question?
     
  9. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    I would go one stage further than papakapp -

    "Andrew had always laughed at the bizarre things old age did to his dad."

    I say this as the bizarre thing has to happen to the father before Andrew can laugh - thus the bizarre thing always occurs in the past.
     
  10. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    How do you think something can occur (now) at the time that something else was written (in the past)?

    What's your answer to Loob's question?.

     
  11. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    I expect EnglishABC intends 'continue to occur'.
     
  12. EnglishABC Senior Member

    NZ English


    I believe Paul Q answered your question.
     
  13. EnglishABC Senior Member

    NZ English
    The bizarre things old age regularly did to Andrew's father, such as making him on occasions forget his own name, continue to occur at the time this was written. However, Andrew no longer finds this funny; it upsets him if anything seeing his dad be so forgetful and affected by old age.

    Andrew would always laugh about the bizarre things old age had done/has done/would do to his dad. Old age still affects his father, but Andrew no longer finds it funny.

    I hope that makes it clearer.

    I feel that 'would do' and 'had done' both work.


     
  14. EnglishABC Senior Member

    NZ English
    The reason I am asking is that I was curious about the relationship between 'would as a past habit' in a main clause and dependent one:

    When I would scream, I would go red in the face.
    When I would scream, I went red in the face.
    When I screamed, I would go red in the face.

    I struggle to determine which are correct by reading them aloud.
     
  15. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Yes, that's a lot clearer, ABC:thumbsup:.

    As I said before, you're going to have to tell people separately about the fact that the bizarre things still continue: you can't do it in your first sentence by choosing one of had done/has done/would do.

    For me, has done is simply not possible: you're talking about a period in the past, whereas has done would refer to a period which started in the past but continues up to the present.

    As regards the choice between had done and would do, then it depends whether you're trying to say that, in the period in question, old age had done bizarre things to your father or that old age habitually did bizarre things to your father. The second of these seems rather strange to me, so I would opt for had done.

    Just on a point of detail, we use "would" for past habits when there is an explicit time reference: When my brother and I were young, we would go for long bicycle rides in the countryside. I'm assuming that there is an explicit time reference somewhere in your text, perhaps in the preceding sentence.
    I think this is a separate question, ABC: you need to ask it in a separate thread.
     
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2012
  16. EnglishABC Senior Member

    NZ English
    Thanks a lot
     
  17. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    Look carefully EnglishABC. My 'question' was in fact an 'answer' to a question you put to me, asking me to explain what I meant by a strange juxtaposition of tenses.

    The point is that you were saying that things occur (ie. now) at the time that something was written (ie. then).

    You must surely see that changing occur to another present tense (continue to occur) in no way solves the problem.

    Maybe you've switched to the historic present, but the strange juxtaposition of tenses remains and causes problems for anyone reading you.

    I'm not sure I agree with Loob about an explicit time reference being necessary to justify use of would for a habit in the past.

    I think that Andrew would always laugh at the things old age was doing to his father would be a possible opening of a chapter. I have a hunch that Loob and I have disagreed about this before, maybe a few years ago.
     
  18. EnglishABC Senior Member

    NZ English
    That's interesting what you've said about 'would' not requiring an explicit time reference. I remember reading something that agreed with Loob; however, sometimes I feel the explicit time reference is not essential.

    And I don't know what's wrong with me, but I still don't understand what you're saying regarding my tense issue! :( If you have the patience, I would much appreciate if you could explain yourself again...
     
  19. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    I'll try again. Things happen at a time: maybe in the past (we use a past tense), maybe now (we use the present tense).

    If you say that things happen at some time in the past, you confuse the reader who doesn't know if you mean that they happen now, or happened then.

    You can get round the problem by say that things happened at some time in the past, or that things happen now.

    Your sentence mixed tenses: you said the bizarre things still occur at the time this was written, which is clearly not possible, because something cannot occur (now) at a time in the past (when this was written).

    I think people took you to mean the bizarre things were still occurring at the time this was written - which is fine, of course, because both tenses are past.

    This is a language forum, so we need to be fussy about such things.
     
  20. EnglishABC Senior Member

    NZ English
    OK - I get you now.

    So you don't think the prepositional phrase (functioning adverbially) 'at the time this was written' shows that the 'still occurring' was in the past, correct?
     
  21. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    For me, if you want to say that some things occurred at some time in the past, you should use a past tense, and not say that they occur.
     
  22. TanyaMti Junior Member

    Shanghai
    Chinese
    How about "Andrew would always laugh about the bizarre things old age has been doing to his dad."
    "Have been doing" means an action that started in the past and still goes on now. I learned that in my grammar class. :)
     
  23. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    That creates another terrible clash of tenses, Tanya.
     
  24. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    I really don't see any clash between tenses here. We are not looking at a clause subordinated with before, after, etc., or even when. What we have is a restrictive relative clause. Why should the tenses have to match?

    The relative clause serves to identify the bizarre things Andrew used to laugh at in the past, but the identification is for us here today and does not have to be entirely in the past.

    I can laugh today about something that happened in the past, and Andrew could laugh yesterday about things that are still going on today. They can even be the same things.
     
  25. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    I'm not entirely clear which sentence you are talking about, Forero.

    If it's "Andrew would always laugh about the bizarre things old age has been doing to his dad.", I'd think the sentence pretty odd because I don't really see how he can have habitually laughed in the past about things which have happened recently, which is what the sentence suggests to me. I'd see nothing against "Andrew would always laugh about the bizarre things old age was doing (or had been doing) to his dad".

    If it's "the bizarre things still occur at the time this was written", I think we have to be dealing with a historic present, and that sits ill alongside the real past tense of 'was written'.

    I wouldn't dream of trying to get either past any moderately alert editor.
     
  26. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    This may be a "severe" BrE-AmE difference, but it really does not seem odd to me with has been doing, or even with has done, with the same meaning.

    For years (perhaps, or perhaps recently) "old age" (Alzheimer's?) has done/has been doing bizarre things to Andrew's dad. Andrew always used to laugh about these things (but he does not laugh about them now).
     
  27. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Your version
    is impeccable, Forero:).

    But that still doesn't mean (to me) that "has done" is possible in ABC's original sentence:(: Andrew would always laugh about the bizarre things old age had done/has done/would do to his dad.
     
  28. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    What problem do you have with it? The use of would to mean "used to", or the present tense subordinate clause in a past tense main clause?
     
  29. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    I don't have a problem with "would" meaning "used to".

    I do have a problem with the present perfect "has done" in Andrew would always laugh about the bizarre things old age has done to his dad.
     
  30. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    How about:

    For years old age has done bizarre things to Andrew's dad that Andrew always used to laugh about.

    ?

    In other words, does it matter which clause is subordinate to the other?
     
  31. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Ah, I think I may have missed your point, Forero:eek:

    "Would" and "used to" are different in their implications: "would" looks back at the past, while "used to" looks back at the past and compares it with the present. If you replace "would" with "used to", then you can certainly have a present perfect in the original sentence: Andrew always used to laugh about the bizarre things old age has done to his dad.
     
  32. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    That's a good point, Loob.

    I'm happy with the sentence with Andrew always used to... instead of Andrew would always...etc.

    After Andrew always used to laugh about the bizarre things old age has done to his dad one might add but now he sees the tragedy unfolding in them.

    That wouldn't be natural with a sentence starting Andrew would always...etc.

    You've pointed a difference between the habitual-the-past would and the habitual-in-the-past used to which I can't remember seeing made before.
     
  33. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    Does it help to add a time reference? For example:

    Years ago Andrew would always laugh about the bizarre things old age has been doing to his dad.
     
  34. Thomas1

    Thomas1 Senior Member

    polszczyzna warszawska
    Hi Loob,

    While reading the thread I also wanted to replace 'would' with 'used to'. I understand the sentence:
    "Andrew would always laugh about the bizarre things old age was doing (or had been doing) to his dad".
    offered by Thomas in one of his previous posts in the following way (just the past continuous option):

    .......would laugh...............................
    ****************
    .....................................................my description NOW


    The sentence with 'used to' and 'present perfect' infroms me about Andrew's past behaviour that doesn't occur anymore:
    Andrew always used to laugh about the bizarre things old age has done to his dad.
    Andrew always used to laugh about the bizarre things old age has been doing to his dad.

    ........used to laugh...................[He doesn't laugh anymore. (implicit information from 'used to')]
    ********************************************
    .....................................................my description NOW




    However, I've been wondering about the possibility of using 'would' in this sentence. How about the following scenario:


    1. Now, I am decribing to my firend Andrew's usual behaviour in the past, but I don't want to compare it to his present behaviour.
    2. I know he would laugh at the bizarre things done to his father.
    3. I haven't seen Andrew for a while, and I don't know whether he still laughs at all the bizarre things old age has done/been doing to his dad.
    4. I do know, however, that old age is still doing bizarre things to this dad, and that it has been so for a long time (e.g. since the moment before Andrew started to laugh at that [this piece of information is known by me and my friend who I'm talking to now]).
    Andrew always would laugh about the bizarre things old age has done to his dad.
    Andrew always would laugh about the bizarre things old age has been doing to his dad.

    ........would laugh........................,,,,,.[Does he still laugh? (implicit information from 'would')]
    ********************************************
    .....................................................my description NOW

    Would then the sentence with 'would' be acceptable?


    PS: The question is, of course, to everyone who's interested. :)
     

Share This Page