or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, April 04, 2005

Dynamic Tension

There are so many things to love about the English language, and one of the things I love the most is the way the present tense can sub for the past and the future if need be.

Here's a snippet of dialogue to demonstrate the point. Anyone wishing to stage this might want to consider something along the lines of Racine or Pinter instead.

"Have a bad day?"
"Bad?! I go into my office and there sitting in my chair is the boss, and standing next to her is that smarmy geek from accounting. She tears a strip off me, and the geek's just standing there smirking. It takes half an hour and a lot of smooth talk to get rid of them. You bet that wrecks my whole day."
"Yikes. So what are you doing for the long weekend?"
"We're heading out of town for some camping. Anything to get away from here. Are you two planning anything?"
"Nah, we're staying put. Mike's working and I'm doing some things around the house."
"You're stuck in town on the first long weekend of the summer?"
"Yeah, but we can get away for two weeks in August if things work out."

Not an identifiable past participle or marked future form in the bunch, and yet any reasonably fluent speaker of English will instantly understand that the first half is a discussion about the past, while the second half is postulating about the future. There may already be a name for such grammatical constructions, but I always think of them as "implicit past" and "implicit future".


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