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Sage
03-10-2007, 08:50 PM
Okay, so I'm going through my last beta reader's comments, & she's a copy-editor, so she edited. That's cool. I was confused on something she commented on a lot, but didn't clarify. & that was the use of "would" & "could." It seems like every time I have a sentence with "would" or "could" (or both) in it, she tells me that I need to iron out the tenses in the sentence.

I'm writing in the past tense.

Aren't "would" & "could" the past tense version of "will" & "can"?

So if, for example, I'm writing a sentence that in the present tense is:

I know I can jump that high.

in the past tense it should be:

I knew I could jump that high.

Right?

Now, the only instance I've found where she's actually made the change, it's been to add the word "have" after "could" or "would." I think that's right if the present tense is "would" or "could" so that:

I wish I could love him.

becomes:

I wished I could have loved him.

I know I messed up sometimes with that (like where she spelled out the problem for me), but she's commented on some that were can-->could & will-->would. Am I missing something in her statement that "the tenses need to be ironed out" every time I use "would" & "could"?

(BTW, all examples were made up for this post)

maestrowork
03-10-2007, 09:05 PM
Yeah, sometimes they confuse me, too. But the way I understand this:



Aren't "would" & "could" the past tense version of "will" & "can"?


I believe so.



Now, the only instance I've found where she's actually made the change, it's been to add the word "have" after "could" or "would." I think that's right if the present tense is "would" or "could" so that:

I wish I could love him.

becomes:

I wished I could have loved him.


This one is tricky. It's subjunctive mood, and they have different meanings. "I wish I could love him" means you don't love him at all, and wish that somehow you could.

"I wished I could have loved him" just looks weird to me. You may be thinking "I could have loved him if he were nicer to me." I think it should be "I wished I could love him."

"I wished I could have loved him," I think, means "I could have loved him, but I didn't, and now I regret it because he's dead..." which is very different in meaning than "I wished I could love him." It still feels weird to me... it's probably better this way: "I wished I had loved him."

These make more sense:

I could have loved her but she was mean to me.
I would have let her go except she kept calling.

The follow two sentences have different meanings:

I knew I could have done that but I was too busy.
I knew I could do that but I didn't know any better.


Yeah, the "could have" and "would have" get to me, too.

If you give us specific examples, maybe we can give you better opinions.

The Scip
03-10-2007, 11:49 PM
I've been having trouble with the same stuff. I'm almost done the first draft of my WIP right now, but everytime I write the words "could have" or "would have" I look back at it and hate the way it looks/sounds.

I'm leaving it for now, just trying to reduce my usage of it, knowing that I'll go back and change it later anyway.

I could have stopped sooner, if only I would have recognized how it sounded. :)

maestrowork
03-11-2007, 12:28 AM
I could have stopped sooner, if only I would have recognized how it sounded. :)

Um... ;) It should have been:

I could have stopped sooner if only I had recognized how it sounded.

Sage
03-11-2007, 01:40 AM
Some of them are in the subjunctive, I believe. Here's some examples from the novel:

If there had been a live band, the first place I'd check out would be the stage.

He stuck his hand through my belly, where my navel would be if I were human-born. (I think this one is right to be "would have been")

Hell, it could have been more than a warning shot, for all the harm it would do him.

If I would let myself, I could have fallen for him very easily.

Judg
03-11-2007, 02:00 AM
If I would let myself, I could have fallen for him very easily.
This one should read: If I had let myself, I could have fallen for him very easily.

The word if is never followed by the conditional.

I think the confusion is coming from the fact that "would" in the present is a sign of the conditional or a hyper-polite indication of willingness. In the past, it's the past form of "will".

Examples:
Present conditional: I wouldn't do that if I were you.
Willingness: If you would care to follow me, I'll take you to the president's office. (Hard to imagine this one in anything but the second person.)
Past of will: He said he would come in a few minutes.

Hope this helps a little without contributing to further confusion.

Sage
03-11-2007, 02:15 AM
Actually, Judg, that does help, but I think it helps in a way you didn't mean it to.

I think the "would" needs to be dropped altogether in that case.

"had" suggests that she's contemplating a choice she had in the past, but what she's doing is thinking about a future possibility. So perhaps it should be:

If I let myself, I could have fallen for him very easily.

Hmmm, I still seem to want the "would" in there. It is a willingness issue.

Sandi LeFaucheur
03-11-2007, 02:40 AM
If I let myself, I could have fallen for him very easily.



You're mixing your tenses. "If I let myself" is in the present or future tense. "I could have fallen" is in the past.

Past tense: "Had I let myself, I could have fallen for him very easily." Or: "If I'd have let myself...."

If you say "If I let myself, I could fall for him very easily" you are no longer in past tense.

maestrowork
03-11-2007, 02:43 AM
I will try:


If there had been a live band, the first place I'd check out would be the stage.


If there had been a live band, the first place I checked would have been the stage.


He stuck his hand through my belly, where my navel would be if I were human-born. (I think this one is right to be "would have been")

He stuck his hand through my belly, where my navel would have been if I were human-born.



Hell, it could have been more than a warning shot, for all the harm it would do him.

Hell, it could have been more than a warning short, for all the harm it would have done to him.


If I would let myself, I could have fallen for him very easily.

I had let myself, I could have fallen for him easily.

Sage
03-11-2007, 02:56 AM
But what do you do when your character in the past is musing about the future?

weatherfield
03-11-2007, 02:56 AM
Hi Sage,

I've been following this with some interest, because I have a bit of an unhealthy grammar obsession, and a particular fascination with the subjunctive (I know, I'm weird :D).

Anyway, I was going to go into a little deconstruction of your example, but Sandi says it better than I would have.

As for Maestro's corrections: exactly. What's happening with these is, you've started them in past tense, then moved to future mid-sentence, when I think you really want everything to stay in past tense. The flip-flop of this is the "If I let myself," example, which, if I'm reading it right, starts in present and moves to past, when you want it to say that this is a situation the narrator is currently facing. Am I understanding this? I think I just managed to confuse myself :o

maestrowork
03-11-2007, 03:01 AM
But what do you do when your character in the past is musing about the future?

Then it's a straight "would" or "could."

He thought about it, and hoped he could one day achieve the impossible.

She would do it even if her family might disown her.

I would, if I could, but I didn't think I should. I still might, but I probably wouldn't.

weatherfield
03-11-2007, 03:05 AM
But what do you do when your character in the past is musing about the future?

It would depend a lot on the POV and the actual musing, but maybe something like, "When I imagined life after [whatever], I pictured a succession of [random adjective] days."

Or, "She wondered where he would be in three months' time and if he would still think of her."

Is this what you're talking about?

Sage
03-11-2007, 03:13 AM
Then it's a straight "would" or "could."

He thought about it, and hoped he could one day achieve the impossible.

She would do it even if her family might disown her.

I would, if I could, but I didn't think I should. I still might, but I probably wouldn't.
So I still don't get why "If I would let myself..." is wrong.

I'm so confused. :cry: How can I identify where I switch to the future tense? & if she's thinking about future possibilities, what's the rule? I'm also confused on the first one, 'cuz to me "I checked" sounds like she did check, but she didn't. She just would have.

maestrowork
03-11-2007, 03:53 AM
Well, if you make everything into present tense, the sentence becomes:

If I will let myself, I could fall for him very easily.



It doesn't make sense why you would say "If I will let myself," subjunctive or not. Instead, you would say, "If I let myself..." The "would" just don't fit the "if" clause.

Thus the correct form in past tense/subjunctive should be:

"If I had let myself, I could have fallen with him easily."
or

"I couldn't let myself fall in love with him."

Judg
03-11-2007, 11:43 PM
Well, if you make everything into present tense, the sentence becomes:

If I will let myself, I could fall for him very easily.



It doesn't make sense why you would say "If I will let myself," subjunctive or not. Instead, you would say, "If I let myself..." The "would" just don't fit the "if" clause.

Thus the correct form in past tense/subjunctive should be:

"If I had let myself, I could have fallen with him easily."
or

"I couldn't let myself fall in love with him."
It not only doesn't make sense to say it, it's just plain bad grammar. In a conditional sentence, if is never followed by a future tense.


So I still don't get why "If I would let myself..." is wrong.

I'm so confused. :cry: How can I identify where I switch to the future tense? & if she's thinking about future possibilities, what's the rule? I'm also confused on the first one, 'cuz to me "I checked" sounds like she did check, but she didn't. She just would have.
It's redundant, Sage. Would is very clumsy after if because it looks like a conditional where it shouldn't be. The only justification is using it as a potential willingness, but let myself already pretty well covers that. Besides, whenever a sentence is a bit clumsy or unclear, even if it is technically correct or doable, it's always a good choice to look for a clearer version. Not all difficulties need to be resolved; sometimes they can just be neatly sidestepped.


Actually, Judg, that does help, but I think it helps in a way you didn't mean it to.

I think the "would" needs to be dropped altogether in that case.

"had" suggests that she's contemplating a choice she had in the past, but what she's doing is thinking about a future possibility. So perhaps it should be:

If I let myself, I could have fallen for him very easily.

Hmmm, I still seem to want the "would" in there. It is a willingness issue.
I'm a little nonplussed to see that nobody has made the obvious correction. If it's a future possibility, it should read: If I let myself, I could fall for him very easily. Why are you trying to stick a past tense in the future?

Sage
03-12-2007, 12:08 AM
I'm a little nonplussed to see that nobody has made the obvious correction. If it's a future possibility, it should read: If I let myself, I could fall for him very easily. Why are you trying to stick a past tense in the future?
:) I actually thought of that today at work. :)

I'm sorry everyone, I'm really trying to get this rule so that I don't have hope someone catches my mistakes in the future. Usually I learn grammar rules pretty fast. I don't know why my brain doesn't like this one.

Judg
03-12-2007, 12:39 AM
OK, quick review of conditional sentences.

For a real condition, i.e. one in the future that could conceivably happen:

If clause with the verb in the present tense, and the main clause in the future tense. The clauses can be in any order.

Examples:
If you come to the party, you will meet all my friends. (It is still possible that you come.)
If I let myself (this one is a wee bit confusing, because let is the same in all tenses), I will fall in love with him. (I'm toying with the idea of letting myself.)
I will look into it, if he is interested. (Maybe he is, maybe he isn't.)


For an unreal condition, i.e. one that ain't gonna happen:

If clause with the verb in the subjunctive (which to keep things confusing, usually looks like the simple past, except in the third person singular), and the main clause in the conditional.
If you came to the party, you would meet all my friends. (You've made it clear you don't intend to come. This might be a last-ditch attempt to persuade you, but I'm not too hopeful.)
If I let myself, I would (or could) fall in love with him. (But I intend to block that possibility.)
I would look into it, if he were interested. (Ha! Finally an example where the subjunctive is visible! And I obviously don't believe he's interested.)

For a past unreal condition, i.e. one that never did realize itself:

If clause with the verb in the past subjunctive (which looks exactly like the past anyway...), and the main clause in the past conditional.

If you had come to the party, you would have met all my friends. (But you didn't, so it's too late.)
If I had let myself, I could have fallen in love with him. (But I did neither.)
I would have looked into it, if he had been interested.


Any other constructs are wrong. Until someone comes along and pulls up something I haven't thought of.

I've already cited one: the hyper-polite functionary.

If you would care to follow me (or If you will/would follow me), we can begin our tour.

This breaks the rules for the conditional because it isn't really a conditional. The speaker would be shocked out of her uniform if anyone declined. It's formulaic, and more than a wee bit ugly, in my insufficiently humble opinion. But people say it, and like most cases when a rule is twisted out of shape, there is a recognizable reason. It it also used only in a very narrow context.

Chances are very good that I've left something else out, but I can't think of anything else off the top of my head.

Sage
03-12-2007, 12:47 AM
Thanks, Judg. That makes sense now :Hug2:

I just have one more question. What about a real condition (from the POV character's perspective it is a real possibility it could happen), in a novel set in the past tense?

Judg
03-12-2007, 12:59 AM
I just have one more question. What about a real condition (from the POV character's perspective it is a real possibility it could happen), in a novel set in the past tense?
Trying to wrap my head around that one. An example would be appreciated. For the character, she is in the present tense and would express herself accordingly. If she's looking back, it's an unreal past condition, assuming it didn't happen. If it did happen, then it's just past.

And those last two sentences illustrate another kind of conditional sentence, a real condition in the present, where we're not talking about what could happen in the future, but what the present possibilities are. In this case, all verbs are present.

You see, I knew I forgot something.

Sage
03-12-2007, 01:11 AM
Um, maybe take one of your real condition examples & try to make it past tense? Like if the POV character is considering whether she should look into something for someone. In the present we have:
I will look into it, if he is interested. (Maybe he is, maybe he isn't.)
If the novel's in first-person past tense, how would that translate? From the character's POV he still may be interested. So how would it differ from how it appears as the unreal condition?

Judg
03-12-2007, 01:16 AM
I would look into it, if he was interested.

This is a form that would only appear in a narrative, it seems to me. I guess it's one more to add to the list: a past real conditional.

You see, there's always one more thing...

maestrowork
03-12-2007, 04:14 AM
Right. It doesn't have to be subjunctive with "if." In this case it's a simple "if he was interested, I would look into it."

It is clumsy in past tense, because it already happened -- the sense of "future" is just weird; it makes more sense in present tense. But grammatically, it's the right way to do it. Logically, I think it would make sense if it's from the POV:

"He thought he would call her if she was interested."

Sage
03-12-2007, 04:58 AM
Yeah, it has happened from the POV outside the story, but from inside the story it hasn't. The character wouldn't know at the time what the future held, & it usually doesn't make sense to clue the reader into what "did" happen in a future point in the novel.

Thanks, Judg & maestro, I really appreciate all the help in understanding this. :LilLove:

Sandi LeFaucheur
03-12-2007, 05:47 AM
In that example, I would say:

I would have looked into it, had he been interested.

"Would" by itself is not necessarily in past tense. You do need "have" and as it's an auxiliary verb, you need to have "looked" in the past tense. The word you can lose is "if".

Higgins
03-12-2007, 05:59 AM
Actually, Judg, that does help, but I think it helps in a way you didn't mean it to.

I think the "would" needs to be dropped altogether in that case.

"had" suggests that she's contemplating a choice she had in the past, but what she's doing is thinking about a future possibility. So perhaps it should be:

If I let myself, I could have fallen for him very easily.

Hmmm, I still seem to want the "would" in there. It is a willingness issue.

I think, since the letting is prior to the modal ("could"), the letting has to be in the pluperfect:

If I had let myself, I could have fallen for him easily.

rugcat
03-12-2007, 06:43 AM
English can be tricky, because so many verb forms are identical. In other languages, the subjunctive, for example, is much clearer.

English: If I had had (past perfect) the money, I would have bought (past subjunctive) a car.

French: Si j'avais eu de l'argent, j'aurais achete une voiture. (Separate verb forms)

Now that I look at this, I realize both my French and my grammar are rusty. I'll leave it up for people to make fun of me.

Sage
03-12-2007, 07:22 AM
Okay, so let's go back to (the original version): If I would let myself, I could have fallen for him very easily.

In the real condition, first-person narrative, past-tense, does this work (it sounds right to me, but is probably wrong)?

If I would let myself, I could fall for him very easily.

Whereas in the unreal condition, it would be:

If I had let myself, I could have fallen for him very easily.

See, the thing is that under the circumstances, she's trying to balance her feelings with the other things going on around her. So she's acknowledging that, on one hand, she wants a relationship with this guy, but on the other, she shouldn't start a relationship at this time. I guess it's an unreal condition..., but using "had" there seems so final, & she doesn't really make the decision until she talks to him in a bit.

Would the rest of the paragraph help? I could find it & post it.

Judg
03-12-2007, 07:30 AM
Repeat after me, "no would after the word if". The sentence, as you've written it, is wrong. It is the main clause that is supposed to have the conditional, not the IF clause.

As for the best way to fix it, a context would definitely make it easier.

Sage
03-12-2007, 07:44 AM
K. I fixed all the others (see, I did learn :D , it's just this sentence I can't figure out). This is the last one:


Pana had been sweet and charming ever since I had met him, a breath of fresh air after working with Angels like Taxet every day. Any other time in my life, he could have been to me what Helen had been to Sam. If I <?> let myself, I could <?> fall<?> for him very easily.

maestrowork
03-12-2007, 07:52 AM
If I let myself, I could fall for him.

If I could let myself, I would fall for him.

(no would or will after "if" but "can" or "could" is fine)

Judg
03-12-2007, 07:53 AM
At any other time in my life, he could have been to me what Helen had been to Sam. If I had let myself, I could have fallen for him very easily.

It's clear from the context that she didn't let herself. I don't see any way you can tell this looking back and maintaining any kind of suspense about her decision on this. The preceding sentence has already eliminated it in any event. If you want to make it clear that she considered it very seriously, I'd just say so in another sentence.

I played with the idea very seriously, more than once. Or something along those lines.

If you want to write this and hide from the reader which way she decided to go, you're going to have to tell the whole thing in a different way.

Best of luck with this.

Higgins
03-12-2007, 05:30 PM
K. I fixed all the others (see, I did learn :D , it's just this sentence I can't figure out). This is the last one:


Pana had been sweet and charming ever since I had met him, a breath of fresh air after working with Angels like Taxet every day. Any other time in my life, he could have been to me what Helen had been to Sam. If I <?> let myself, I could <?> fall<?> for him very easily.



You have a tense problem, not a modal problem. The main narrative should be in the past perfect ( eg. Joe and I have been friends for a long time)...that's just a convention in English. You can throw in a few simple pasts, but they can be confusing...Joe went to the store (simple) and Joe has gone to the stone (past perfect).......BUT this paragraph starts in the pluperfect (the narrative time before the perfect)...the pluperfect works as a time before the main narrative time and you have to use it sparingly because it makes your sentence sound odd....because it has to use the pluperfect:

If I had let myself, I could have fallen for him very easily. IE, the subjunctive pluperfect of "to let", followed by the perfect (with a modal) of "to fall".
I guess you could call this the prior tense convention of personal self-intervention. Ie, you have to stop yourself BEFORE you fall for him (or at least use the past perfect (=pluperfect) subjunctive)....

This again is probably due to the relative impoverishment of English moods: we really only have a funtional indicative and imperative, no reliable subjunctive and certainly no "optatives" or other moods that describe people's mental states using verb forms only. Which is why we need adverbs more often than seems to satisfy experts at making up things about writing that are not true. So our moderately intact tense system (and our adverbs) have to do more work. For example the past progressive of intention "I was going to see if Joe wanted to go to the store"...which is all about the present, but uses the past as a stand in for some intentional mood or subjunctive usage that doesn't exist in English.

It occurs to me that the sentence:

If I had let myself, I could have fallen for him very easily.

Has an odd adverbial problem: "very easily" seems to jarr with allowing one's self to fall in that "allowing to fall" already seems as easy as falling down...maybe even easier. And yet "very easily" seems to imply another state that the narrator has in mind: letting yourself fall, but not easily. Maybe "If I had let myself, falling for him would have been an easy thing to do."
Not a "could" of possible (in)action, but a would of general possibility.

Which brings up a kind of non-standard (but okay in some dialects, I think) possibility:

If I hadda let myself, I would have fallen for him with no trouble.

What is "hadda"? It is an ellided infinitive (gotta, gunna), I think...implying the presence of some force "If I had to let myself" or even "If I had had to let myself"...the lost infinitive of lost desire.