Back to School
by Cherie Tucker
Let’s do a brief review, because we still seem to be having
trouble with our verb tenses. Here’s a little song to help you with
those tricky past participles that require helper verbs (called
auxiliary verbs by the nuns). Sing it lustily to “Row, Row, Row
Am, Is, Are, Was, Were,
Do, Did, Have, Has, Had,
May, Can, Might,
Could, Would, Should
Are auxiliary verbs.
The construction requiring these little helpers arises when you are
talking about something that
Was started in the past and is continuing or was recently
(She has always mispronounced that word.)
(They have just finished paving the driveway.)
Was finished before something else was completed.
(They had cut the cake before we got there.)
Would be finished before a future happening.
(It will have burnt to a crisp by then.)
Be careful not to put these helpers in front of verbs that simply
show that the action was completed in the past. Too often we hear
dreadful things like “I shoulda took the bus” or “I wish
I’d of went with you.” Look out as well for verbs that need the
helper verbs and can’t stand alone. It’s sink, sank, have sunk,
but news reports invariably say “The boat sunk.” It didn’t.
Here are some of the most common misspoken verbs :
Drink It’s drink, drank, have drunk. I wish I hadn’t
drunk so much last night.
Swim It’s swim, swam, have swum. He’s never swum
that fast before.
Dive It’s dive, dived, have dived Not dive, dove, have
diven! (Dove is making its way into our ever-evolving
language but shouldn’t be used in formal writing.)
Shrink It’s shrink, shrank, have shrunk. Yes, the movie
should have been Honey, I Shrank the Kids.
We’ll do lie/lay at length next time, but for now remember
that lie describes inaction. Things at rest just lie
there and don’t do anything to anything else. Lay describes
the action of doing something to something else. Hens lay
eggs. Consequently, if you say that you are laying down,
you’ve told us you’re producing feathers, which could be a lie.
Cherie Tucker, owner of GrammarWorks, has taught writing basics to
professionals since 1987, presenting at the PNWA conference.
She currently teaches Practical Grammar for Editors at the
University of Washington’s Editing Certification program and edits