can one word change verb tense? "yesterday" does not count

Discussion in 'English Only' started by yme, Jul 29, 2013.

  1. yme

    yme Member

    English - USA
    Is one word ever enough information to change a verb tense?
    I am disregarding "I play golf." ---> "I played golf yesterday." because in my interpretation there is an unspoken preposition before "yesterday".

    thank you.
  2. heypresto

    heypresto Senior Member

    South East England
    English - England
    You don't need one word, you can do it with just two letters. 'I play golf' . . . 'I played golf'.

    What is the unspoken preposition before 'yesterday'?
  3. yme

    yme Member

    English - USA
    "I played golf on Friday."
    "I played golf on yesterday."
    "I played golf yesterday."
  4. bennymix

    bennymix Senior Member

    Ontario, Canada. I grew up in US.
    English (American).
    One word will do--leaving aside issues of days. "I played golf earlier." (It's said in response to "Do you wish to play golf now?")

    ADDED: 'beforehand' would also work, as would 'previously,' or 'formerly.'
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2013
  5. heypresto

    heypresto Senior Member

    South East England
    English - England
    To me, "I played golf on yesterday." is wrong. The preposition is not unspoken, it's simply not, or shouldn't be, there. It doesn't exist. It's the same with 'last week', 'last April', 'last Wednesday' and so on.

  6. yme

    yme Member

    English - USA
    darn it... that's a good one. thanks.
  7. yme

    yme Member

    English - USA
    Nouns cannot modify verbs.
    And, I did not cross-post anywhere.

    Anyway, someone mentioned "earlier" as an exception, and that is all I needed. thank you.
  8. heypresto

    heypresto Senior Member

    South East England
    English - England
    You didn't cross-post. I did. :)
  9. bennymix

    bennymix Senior Member

    Ontario, Canada. I grew up in US.
    English (American).
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2013
  10. Egmont Senior Member

    Massachusetts, U.S.
    English - U.S.
    Present: You go.

    Past: You did go.

    Future: You will go.

    One word changes the tense from the present to each of the others. "You did go" is seldom colloquial, though it is in a few contexts. Still, it is often taught to English learners as a simpler way to form the past tense without learning lots of irregular verbs. And "you will go" is the only way to form the future tense; it is always correct.

    Or did I misunderstand the question?
  11. yme

    yme Member

    English - USA
    Changing auxiliary verbs is the tense shift. But, what one word could force a tense shift? What word has enough power to force tense shifting?

    Tense is (mostly / always?) controlled by specifying points in time in other parts of the sentence, and I had trouble thinking of how to do that with one word. (1) You can do this with adverbs that are relative to implied points in time. (2) There are things called "adverbial objects" which I'd never heard of. And, I don't want to learn about them. And, I truly hate English grammar. And, I am going to go do something else for a long while.
  12. lucas-sp Senior Member

    English - Californian
    No word is needed to "force" a tense shift. A simple change in intended meaning (referent) will suffice.

    In other words, examine the sentence:
    Both the "-ed" ending and the adverb "yesterday" are there for the same reason - the speaker/writer of the sentence intends to refer to an action that took place one day in the past. In other words, there is no two-step process by which "yesterday" is first added to the sentence and then the verb is conjugated in the past tense. Those are both effects of choosing to describe an event which took place yesterday.

    So basically, your premise is wrong:
    Tense is a decision that is made in all parts of the sentence simultaneously.
  13. se16teddy

    se16teddy Senior Member

    London but from Yorkshire
    English - England
    No word forces a tense shift. The thing that determines tense is the speaker or writer's decision about what event or time he or she would like to discuss.
  14. yme

    yme Member

    English - USA

    Make a sentence with "recently" or "nowadays" modifying the main verb and does force you to use the present perfect, or present perfect continuous tense?
  15. cyberpedant

    cyberpedant Senior Member

    North Adams, MA
    English USA, Northeast, NYC
    Google "deep structure and surface structure." It seems that you are viewing "surface structure" as determinative, rather than "deep structure"—the speaker's intended meaning.
  16. lucas-sp Senior Member

    English - Californian
    A. Obviously, there are more options. "Nowadays" can fit with a lot more verb tenses and aspects than just the present perfect simple and continuous.

    B. Based on what you're saying here, you could just as reasonably say that the verb tense forces you to use certain adverbs. I can say "I will go to the pool tomorrow"; if I change that to "I went to the pool..." I would have to change "tomorrow" to an adverb compatible with the past tense ("yesterday," "last week," "once").

    C. And that answer would be just as unsatisfactory. Both the past tense verb and the different adverb are in the new sentence for a single reason - because it is a different sentence that refers to a different action in a different way. Both the verb tense and the adverb choice are surface expressions of this change in reference. The change in reference changes the entire sentence, all at once - not one piece at a time.
  17. yme

    yme Member

    English - USA
    I don't agree.

    Given the dictionary definition of "recently" or "nowadays": (1) pivot point "now". (2) relative point is "near past". And, any action that spans from the near past until now (or near future) is present perfect (or present perfect continuous). That's just how the grammar works, and that defines what is correct and incorrect.

    If the standard is "whatever sounds natural to a native speaker is correct", then there is no way to learn English as a second language. If someone modifies a verb that is not in the present perfect tense with "recently", I say that is wrong. But, someone else can say it is correct. I can make a case using facts. The counter argue is the "sounds natural to me" logic (which is not very useful).

    Anyway, this thread has been very helpful to me. Based on bennymix's excellent suggestions, I also thought of "recently" and "nowadays" during my walk this morning. And so, that's all I wanted out of this thread. Chomsky's concept of "deep structure vs. surface structure" looks really cool.

    Thank you very much.
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2013
  18. lucas-sp Senior Member

    English - Californian
    "Nowadays" can easily fit with the present simple. (And "recently" can fit with the simple past.) You can find many examples in reputable sources on Google Books, for instance.

    The whole "whatever sounds natural..." thing is a red herring.

    The point is that the choice of adverb does not "force" the verb change. The choice of verb tense, and the choice of adverb, both depend on the choice of meaning.

    Do I want to say that... I am playing tennis now? I say "I'm playing tennis."
    Do I want to say that... I play tennis regularly? I say "I play tennis."
    Do I want to say that... I played tennis in the past at an unspecified time? I say "I [once] played tennis."
    Do I want to say that... I played tennis yesterday? I say "I played tennis yesterday."
    Do I want to say that... I played tennis two days ago? I say "I played tennis two days ago."

    Each of the blue sections refers to one complete idea that I am trying to express, one overall action that I am trying to describe. This is not to say that there are no rules. It's to say that the rules come into play everywhere in the sentence at the same time, i.e. once I shift my gaze from the tennis game I'm playing now to the tennis game I played yesterday. Since that tennis game is in the past, I use the past tense; since that tennis game took place yesterday, I use the adverb "yesterday." Both of those choices depend on my intention to describe yesterday's tennis game.
  19. Giorgio Spizzi Senior Member

    Hullo, yme.

    I just picked one of your statements: "Nouns cannot modify verbs."
    Pray, what is that supposed to mean?

    GS :)
  20. lucas-sp Senior Member

    English - Californian
    Maybe another example will help.

    Yes, "yesterday" will tend to stick mainly with past-tense verbs. This is because "yesterday" always refers to "the day before today, when I am speaking" - i.e., to a past action. But that is only a general rule, and from there you cannot extrapolate that including "yesterday" in a sentence will always shift the verb to the past tense.

    Instead, the verb tense (and the choice of adverb) will depend on the intended meaning of the sentence equally. This is why we can imagine a sentence like: "I didn't play tennis yesterday, because I spent all day building this time machine. Now, once I go through the time machine, I will have played tennis yesterday!" There, "yesterday" (correctly) modifies a future tense verb. Obviously both the verb tense and the adverb depend on the situation I'm attempting to describe.

    Besides this, there are other, more common, uses of "yesterday" that do not require past tense verbs: "I need this report done yesterday!" is one example.
  21. lapdwicks Senior Member


    Instead of "recently" or "nowadays" you just try to use the word "now".

    When I went to meet her, she had been crying.
    After seeing me, she smiled.
    She was OK now.

    Is she crying yet?
    She is OK now.

    She will surely go mad having heard this news.
    You don't know about her. You just show her your gift and see.
    She will be OK now.

    What is your idea about this.
  22. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    You can't use the past tense with now, so "She was OK now" isn't possible (or if it is, I can't think of a place where it works). Now always represents the present.
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2013
  23. lapdwicks Senior Member

    As far as I know, the word "now" doesn't represent only the present. It has the meaning of "by that time" and " at that time" in addition to the meaning "at the moment".

    Dear native speakers, am I not correct?
  24. bennymix

    bennymix Senior Member

    Ontario, Canada. I grew up in US.
    English (American).
    Depending on context, you may be correct.
  25. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    I am a native speaker, and no, you aren't correct. :) Now means "now" - right now or right at this particular period in history. It doesn't always refer to this exact second, but it refers to a time that the speaker considers to be the present. Maybe you'll find the dictionary definition helpful as a refresher: now.
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2013
  26. lapdwicks Senior Member


    I can't think of a possible example for a future situation.

    But, I am quite sure this.

    I am referring grammar materials of Mr. Raymond Murphy. He has used the word "now" in past situations. It's certain. I'll provide some references soon.
  27. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    I would be interested to see them because I can't think of any way to use now in reference to the past - except in reported speech.
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2013
  28. london calling Senior Member

    See this thread, which discusses the use of now and the past tense. There are some examples of it, in both BE and AE.;)
  29. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    Yes, but that's not really past tense, not in the conventional sense. That's closer to historical present or even indirect speech. If a week ago, I said "I have to get this done now," at the time I said "now," I meant the present, so someone could, quite correctly say, "She said she had to do it now." It was "now" - then.

    You can get by with all kinds of oddities if you use the historical present (or reported speech), but the thing is, there aren't really that many circumstances in which you ought to use the historical present. Lapdwicks needs to know that, for example, "She was OK now" is almost always going to be considered incorrect.
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2013
  30. london calling Senior Member

    The historical present uses the present tense, not the past tense, JK.;) I agree however that in speech we would not use now with the past tense if not in reported speech.

    What is wrong with these sentences (which I have made up) , in your opinion?

    She threw a vase full of flowers at him and began to scream incoherently. He now believed her to be completely mad.
    He left the building in a big hurry. He was now out on the street, wondering which way he should go
  31. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    Both of those sound darned odd to me - in each one of those sentences, I'd use then, unless I was reporting someone's speech, or I'd write the whole thing in historical present. But I don't want to get into the same argument that's in that earlier thread, so I'll just say that in those sentences, now is being used in some sort of quasi-historical present, because it doesn't mean "now" - it means "then," or "at the time referred to."
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2013
  32. lucas-sp Senior Member

    English - Californian
    The use of "now" with the past tense is an example of free indirect style, a style of literary narration. It's like indirect (reported) speech, except without the marker of "he thought that..." or "he said that..." (that's what makes it "free").

    It doesn't bother me, since I spend massive amounts of time in 19th-century-novel-land. But in other threads here it has caused a lot of controversy. It's best avoided in non-literary writing, because it clearly annoys some people. But it is correct (in a specific context), and it is another example of how a lot more than adverbs determines the form of a verb in any given sentence.
  33. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    Believe it or not, that's more or less what I was trying to describe with my "quasi-historical present" and "indirect speech," but I just didn't know the vocabulary. So thanks, Lucas!
  34. lapdwicks Senior Member


    Following parts are from Sherlock Holmes' stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

    A Study In Scarlet
    Mr. Sherlock Holmes
    Paragraph 5
    3rd sentence

    The sight of a friendly face in the great wilderness of London is a pleasant thing indeed to a lonely man. In old days Stamford had never been a particular crony of mine, but now I hailed him with enthusiasm, and he, in his turn, appeared to be delighted to see me.

    A Study In Scarlet
    What John Rance Had To Tell
    Paragraph 5
    6th sentence

    When a man writes on a wall, his instinct leads him to write about the level of his own eyes. Now that writing was just over six feet from the ground. It was child’s play.”

    I couldn't find such parts of Mr. Raymond Murphy yet. As soon as such a part is found, I will send.
  35. Giorgio Spizzi Senior Member

    Hullo, all.
    I agree with London Calling (Hi, Lon :))and I believe now is often used when talking of the past.

    Webster's Third New International Dictionary gives us [...] 6: at the time under consideration: at the time referred to <the people now proceeded to give him almost every important honor within their gift — E.M Coulter>.

    I think the following are crucial:

    1. the time under consideration
    2. the time referred to

    I'll add that substituting then for now would change the meaning of the sentence.

    GS :)
  36. london calling Senior Member

    Lucas, were those speakers who were 'annoyed' by this usgaeAmericans, Brits, Aussies....just out of interest? Not that that is particularly relevant: if we were all to avoid using words or expressions because they might annoy someone we would become totally paranoid.:)

    The fact of the matter is that now can be used with the past tense. It is a literary usage, but it is nevertheless perfectly acceptable. Sweeping statements like this (JustKate, post 22)

    "You can't use the past tense with now, so "She was OK now" isn't possible (or if it is, I can't think of a place where it works). Now always represents the present."

    are misleading, although I agree that you would not use say "She was ok now" in speech.;)
  37. lapdwicks Senior Member


    Please refer to my post (post 34)
  38. london calling Senior Member

    I was merely saying you are right.;)
  39. lucas-sp Senior Member

    English - Californian
    Both British and American speakers, but that's a peripheral issue. (I don't want to point fingers, but with a little clever googling you can certainly find some old threads where "yesterday," for instance, was considered problematic in a novel narrated in the past tense.) It just seems like sentences like this one are very hard to identify/follow if taken individually.

    I didn't at all mean to say that we should give up free indirect style, just that we shouldn't use it in our emails and business reports. I actually think we should avoid expressions or turns of phrase that raise the hackles of our listeners, because doing so distracts them, suspends their interest, and frustrates them - all of which makes them likely to stop listening to us.

    This discussion of free indirect style is itself a distraction. Suffice to say, "now" can be and is used with present, past, and future tenses in English. This shows that it is not determinant of verb tense, even though it seems like it really should be. This shows that the verb tense and the choice of adverb are both the effects of causes that lurk at a deeper structural level.
  40. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    Your point about "hard to identify/follow if taken individually" is an excellent one. What makes perfect sense in an entire paragraph of past tense will look wrong if taken out of context - and if the rest of the context isn't past tense, it probably will be wrong.

    And it belongs in a narrative - not in standard business reports or other ordinary pieces of writing. The historical present is another perfectly valid tense that has a very specific place in our writing, and that place isn't a resume/CV nor is it a report to one's board of directors. In fact, there are far more places where the historical present and the free indirect style (I am so happy to have a term to describe it, by the way) are inappropriate than there are places that they are appropriate. So by all means, learn to read them, but use them very sparingly and with care.
  41. lucas-sp Senior Member

    English - Californian
    I don't want to drag us even further off-track, but...
    This is probably true about most words/turns of phrase. There are far fewer situations in which "synergy," "fist-bump," "deltoid," extended metaphor, dactylic meter, anaphora, the passive voice for scientific writing, the legal style of contract-writing, slogans, headline style, etc. are appropriate than situations in which those words/styles are appropriate! That's not at all unique to free indirect style or the historic present. Almost everything in English is an aberration...
  42. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    English - British
    Regarding the quotations from Conan Doyle in post 34, the first is an example of temporal 'now' used in reference to the past (meaning: 'on the occasion mentioned').

    However, the second is not an example of temporal 'now'. It is not a reference to time at all.
    It is the logical or syllogistic 'now' (meaning: 'the next step in the chain of reasoning is ...').
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2013
  43. lapdwicks Senior Member


    Yes, it is.

    Actually, I didn't identify it before. But, it would be one of the points I want to emphasize.

    The word "now" is not something that the God has created to be used only with the sense of "present".
  44. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    Granted. And I apologize for over-simplifying in some of my earlier posts. But please do keep in mind that the present is by far the most common use for now, and so if you want to use it in any of these other situations, you have to be very careful or it will be wrong. In the correct context, "She was OK now" can be correct. But in most contexts, it's wrong, and you do need to be aware of this.
  45. lapdwicks Senior Member

    You don't need to apologize. It must be the nature of this forum, otherwise it wouldn't be something other than reading a grammar book.

    Anyway, that's very kind of you to think so.

    Your comments are most welcome.

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