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KJuno
02-21-2009, 05:02 PM
I'm writing in present tense. In the scene I'm currently on, the MC is reflecting on the last scene and saying she'd been prepared to do something other than what she did.

Is it supposed to be:

I'd been prepared to tell Macy this.

I was prepared to tell Macy this.

Or something else?

...or does it just not even matter?

girlyswot
02-21-2009, 05:42 PM
Was.

You only need to go back one tense (from present to past). If you were writing in the past tense, then you would go back further, to the pluperfect form.

KJuno
02-21-2009, 05:48 PM
That's what I was thinking, but wasn't sure :) Thanks!

Ms Hollands
02-21-2009, 11:27 PM
But if the MC is reflecting on the past scene, is she not thinking in the past?

ErylRavenwell
02-22-2009, 06:01 AM
Actually your question is a very thoughtful one. "Prepare" is actually one of those verbs that covers a certain period of time; thus you use past tense. Else were you using a verb that describes a more instant action, past perfect would have been justified. Past perfect, remember, covers a period of time in the past while past tense is an instant past action, unless the verb itself is transient like ''prepare" and the likes.

ideagirl
02-23-2009, 12:54 AM
I'm writing in present tense. In the scene I'm currently on, the MC is reflecting on the last scene and saying she'd been prepared to do something other than what she did.

Is it supposed to be:

I'd been prepared to tell Macy this.

I was prepared to tell Macy this.

Or something else?

...or does it just not even matter?


Depends what you mean. If the MC was prepared to tell Macy X, but then when the time came to tell Macy she just couldn't bring herself to do it or didn't know how the heck she was going to be able to do it, "I'd been" works best: "I'd been prepared to tell Macy this. I'd even practiced how I would say it. But seeing her there, looking so forlorn, I just couldn't bring myself to do it." Using "was" there wouldn't be wrong exactly, but it wouldn't be as right, if you see what I mean.

Oh, but I just noticed you're writing in the present tense. In that case, "was" is fine. You can still use the past historic, though: "I'd been prepared to tell Macy this. I'd even practiced how I would say it. But now that I see her there, looking so forlorn, I just can't bring myself to do it." Either one works, probably equally well, if you're writing in the present tense.

When you have the choice between the two, then the only difference is that "had been" makes it clear that what you're describing (being prepared to tell her X) is over; you no longer feel prepared. If that's not your point, if you're just saying you were prepared and now you're going to do it, then use "was."

KJuno
02-23-2009, 09:34 AM
It's very confusing, sigh. Thanks ideagirl, that was a good explanation. And thanks everyone else, too!

Dawnstorm
02-23-2009, 07:14 PM
Actually, I think the distinction between no longer being prepared and still being prepared is one of past (no longer) and present perfect tense (still). But it's a bit more complicated than that:

For example:
1. I was prepared to tell her on Sunday, but didn't get the chance. Here she comes now.
You may still be prepared to tell her, but it's no longer Sunday. Or in other words: you're not still prepared to tell her on Sunday.

You can rephrase this as:
2. I had been prepared to tell her before I returned home on Sunday, but didn't get the chance. Here she comes now.
This is pretty similar to the above. The only difference is that in the second we have now two states/events: 1. "being prepared to tell her" and 2. "returning home". Event (2) ended state (1), so it's possible to put state (1) into the past perfect (past-in-the-past).

It's still possible to use the past tense here:
3. I was prepared to tell her before I returned home on Sunday, but didn't get the chance. Here she comes now.
The difference betwee version (2) and version (3) is that in version (2) you highlight the event of returning home, and then relate the state of being prepared to this point in time; you set both off from the present in the distant past - in a period that's over and done with. Thus you get the highlighted returning in the past tense, and the being prepared related to the returning (and coming before it) in the past perfect.

In version (2) you just view the two items as a temporal string: 1. I was prepared. 2. I returned home.

If you do not have a definite time in the past in mind, you can still use the past tense.
4. Yeah, I was prepared to tell her, but I never met her.
This suggests that the speaker has given up on telling her. The information could be irrelevant, she could have died, or the speaker could simply have changed his/her mind.

If you refer to the indefinite past, but you're still prepared to tell her, you'll have to use the present perfect tense:
5. Yeah, I've been prepared to tell her, but I've never met her.
Here we know that the speaker is still prepared to tell her, should he meet her.

Note that a sentence like (4) could easily refer to a specific point in time, too. You could be talking about a time when you know you both were in the same city. In this case, the same sentence does not imply anything about whether you're still prepared to tell her. It merely means that an opportunity is in the past. There is no information about what you would do if another opportunity arises. If you do not have spefic opportunity in mind, though, (4) does imply that you're no longer thinking of telling her.

Then, there's another set of affairs:
6. I'd been prepared to tell her, but then she was so mean to me. I've forgiven her since, and here she comes now.
See the tenses above? The sequence: 1. I'm prepared to tell her. 2. She's mean to me (and I no longer want to tell her.) 3. I forgive her (and I'm again prepared to tell her.) The moment of speaking co-incides with the "Here she comes now." In the past she was mean to me. I'm highlighting this as a crucial event, and I'm relating the "being prepared to tell her" to that.

Again, note that I don't have to highlight her being mean to me:
7. I was prepared to tell her, but then she was so mean to me, but I've forgiven her since, and here she comes now.
Instead of highlighting one event, you present both events as a sequence.

Similarly, you could think of the "I've forgiven" part as an event at a over-and-done-with time in the past:
8. I'd been (was) prepared to tell her, but then she was so mean to me, but I forgave her soon after that. Here she comes now.
Notice that you're ordering your events differently in (6/7) and in (8):

In (6) and (7) you're stating a past state of affairs: (being prepared --> her being mean). Then you're using that state of affairs a reference point for the presence ("I've forgiven her since"). This is why you use present perfect in those examples.

In (8) you're stating a past state of affairs, too, but this time you're including the forgiving: (being prepared --> her being mean --> forgiving)

Tense is very complicated, but the upside is that native speakers rarely get it wrong. However, problems can arise if a native speaker and a native listener apply different interpretations to the same sentences. As a writer, you'll need to balance verbal economy (as few words as possible) against clarity (the use of optional auxiliary verbs or "time phrases", that help a reader interpret the temporal relations that a text expresses). It is very confusing. I'm not a native speaker, and took me a long time to properly understand the English tense system (tense in my mother tongue - German - is a lot simpler). I don't think I understood it properly until after I graduated from University (where I studied English). I'm pretty sure I still make the occasional non-native speaker tense mistake.

I hope this isn't too confusing.

ideagirl
02-26-2009, 06:21 AM
Actually, I think the distinction between no longer being prepared and still being prepared is one of past (no longer) and present perfect tense (still).

That distinction exists between those two tenses too. "I've been a musician for seven years" (present perfect) means you're still a musician; "I was a musician for seven years" (simple past) means you've stopped. But those aren't the only tenses capable of making that distinction.

maestrowork
02-27-2009, 11:24 PM
I'm a bit unsure about the OP. It's written in present tense, but the character is talking about something in the past, and something that she had not done for that moment in the past. I think in this case, it should be past perfect tense:



I just remember something that happened yesterday. I'd been prepared to tell Macy about the fish, but when I got there, I totally forgot. Now I feel like such a fool.


I think people are generally confused about tenses when they use the "main narrative tense" as a guide, but they shouldn't. It really depends on the timeframe of the sentence itself. The story maybe told in present tense, but since the "event" was in the past, it should follow the rules of "past tense." In this case, there's a order of time: Prepare -> went to see Macy -> Today.

Now, why I said I wasn't sure about the OP is that I didn't get a feeling (from the context) of the time order. Because the following would be correct as well, but the time order/context is different:

I just remember something that happened yesterday. I was prepared to tell Macy about the fish, but I chickened out and ended up not saying anything. Now I feel like a fool.

In this case, there's no time before meeting Macy, so the past perfect tense is not needed. Just straight past tense.