Why not the present continuous tense?

audiolaik

Senior Member
Polish
Hello,

Eye Of The Needle, a Richard Marquand film, begins with a kind of historical background introduction. The voice says:

"....The dead are being dug from the rubble...and in France, the German armies wait for the country to surrender. But English troops are fighting back. In the skies, the young men of the RAF are struggling against....'

Why is the verb wait not in its progressive form? All the other verbs are.

Thank you!
 
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  • Katejo

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    Hi

    In "The German armies wait" the assumed meaning is present progressive here. I think that they have used the present to avoid excessive repetition of present progressive.

    Katejo
     

    audiolaik

    Senior Member
    Polish
    I think that they have used the present to avoid excessive repetition of present progressive.

    Katejo
    Thank you, Katejo, for your kind reply.

    Is it something that English students should avoid when, for example, writing or speaking?
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Is it something that English students should avoid when, for example, writing or speaking?
    No, I think it is fine. Obviously, the cases in which this comes up are rare (a series of verbs in the present continuous tense explaining the background in a book or film to a scene that is to be discussed in more detail).
     

    audiolaik

    Senior Member
    Polish
    No, I think it is fine. Obviously, the cases in which this comes up are rare (a series of verbs in the present continuous tense explaining the background in a book or film to a scene that is to be discussed in more detail).
    Thank you, se16teddy.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Thank you, Katejo, for your kind reply.

    Is it something that English students should avoid when, for example, writing or speaking?
    It's one of those grey areas. The progressive (continuous) is more common in speech than in writing. In more formal contexts, just give a quick thought if you're intending to use the progressive and ask yourself whether it's necessary.
     

    panjandrum

    Occasional Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I'm not convinced that this is relevant. If the quotation, instead of putting wait in the simple present, had put fight in the simple present, I don't think I'd have thought it odd.
    You surprise me.
    I tried it with each of the other verbs in the simple present and all sounded very odd - to me.

    1. "....The dead are being dug from the rubble...and in France, the German armies wait for the country to surrender. But English troops are fighting back. In the skies, the young men of the RAF are struggling against....'

    2.
    "....The dead are being dug from the rubble...and in France, the German armies are waiting for the country to surrender. But English troops fight back. In the skies, the young men of the RAF are struggling against....'

    3.
    "....The dead are being dug from the rubble...and in France, the German armies are waiting for the country to surrender. But English troops are fighting back. In the skies, the young men of the RAF struggle against....'


     

    audiolaik

    Senior Member
    Polish
    You surprise me.
    I tried it with each of the other verbs in the simple present and all sounded very odd - to me.

    1. "....The dead are being dug from the rubble...and in France, the German armies wait for the country to surrender. But English troops are fighting back. In the skies, the young men of the RAF are struggling against....'

    2.
    "....The dead are being dug from the rubble...and in France, the German armies are waiting for the country to surrender. But English troops fight back. In the skies, the young men of the RAF are struggling against....'

    3.
    "....The dead are being dug from the rubble...and in France, the German armies are waiting for the country to surrender. But English troops are fighting back. In the skies, the young men of the RAF struggle against....'


    What makes the verb wait so special?
     

    audiolaik

    Senior Member
    Polish
    I will ask this way: would you be capable of providing a written rule (with its source) as to how and when one should use the present simple tense, instead of the present progressive form? Of cource, the rule ought to refer to the example presented in the first post.
     
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    Wobby

    Senior Member
    English [England]
    I personally think 'wait' is used for effect to convey a different sense, and deliberately to contrast with the others: it shortens the sentence, and gives a sense of the Germans expecting an imminent surrender rather than dawdling around twiddling their thumbs, waiting, as if the countries truly are putting up much of a fight. The use of 'are fighting' gives the idea that it is a whole lot tougher from the English perspective: that they are fighting valiantly and it truly is a struggle - hence making the last part even more coherent. And the use of the continuous in the first part suggests that it really is a long war, with bodies frequently being dug up. Hey, maybe I'm just reading into it too much... :p
     

    Davidvs91

    Senior Member
    English - American
    I think I'm leaning towards Wobby's view on this in that it is meant to contrast with the others.

    Digging up bodies, troops fighting back, and the airforce struggling all convey activity, while the Germans are inactive, laying in wait.
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    I think we are talking about a stylistic choice, not grammatical rule.

    I agree with Panjandrum as to why "wait" in the simple present might be preferred here.

    Also, wait describes what is happening in the background, rather than activity that is carried on in the foreground. I would use "wait" in the present progressive if I wanted to foreground it.
    The armies fought in the air and on the ground. The people in the village were waiting for help to arrive.​
     

    cyberpedant

    Senior Member
    English USA, Northeast, NYC
    It would not be a mistake to use are waiting, not wait, would it?

    Not at all. But the author of those sentences has probably given careful thought to each word—as many of our fellow foreros do. It sounds good to me. The screen writer may be actually quoting the original text (by Ken Follett).
     

    KHS

    Senior Member
    All the verbs could be used either in simple present or in present progressive (=present continuous).

    In my opinion, the choice is stylistic.

    Other people have already pointed out reasons a writer might have for such stylistic choices. Another factor that sometimes affects choice is whether it is foreground or background information.
     

    Wobby

    Senior Member
    English [England]
    It would not necessarily be wrong, but would change the image conveyed. I think Cagey has a point when he talks of foregrounding, but I think maybe I would have it the other way around and say that 'wait' is more active... for example, "A fish waits patiently, ready to snap up its next victim" as compared to "A fish is waiting patiently, ready to snap up its next victim." I think the former has a more immediate sense, while the latter suggests the fish will be waiting for quite a while: as the name of the tense suggests, it is 'continuous' as opposed to 'simple' (and snappy). Either that, or that the latter suggests that the fish is something that you happened to spot in the background while looking around a room, but was not necessarily your primary focus. Like in those textual interactive fiction games where you type 'Look' - they tend to be written in this form. :)
     
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