Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I've always used would as the past tense of will:

Present: Tomorrow, I will go to the beach.

Past: The following day, I would go to the beach.

However, in response to my question on Writers.SE, Robusto pointed out that my use of would creates an "an imperfect parallelism of tenses." What does this mean, and how do I correctly treat a statement about the future that is made in the past?

(I think it means that would could also be interpreted as a conditional, as in "I would go to the beach if the weather was nice," but isn't the intent clear from the context in which the sentence appears?)

EDIT (in response to Robusto):

Does the ambiguity introduced by would disappear if I put my sentence in its context?

It took me nearly a decade to write this script, and now I would pitch it to the top producer in Hollywood. But the following day, I got hit by a bus, and my dreams came to an abrupt end.

share|improve this question

2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

The point is, in the example you gave over there:

It took me nearly a decade to write this script, and now I’d pitch it to the top producer in Hollywood.

the switching of tenses makes it ambiguous. It could mean you wanted to pitch it to the top producer, or that you were going to, or that you still hadn't done it yet, etc.

The solution I offered:

It took me nearly a decade to write this script, and now I was about to pitch it to the top producer in Hollywood.

Keeps both clauses in the same time frame and makes it easy to see that you are talking about a future time in relation to a past event, and that both things happened in the past.

share|improve this answer
    
Thanks, now I get it! Would the ambiguity disappear if I put the sentence in its proper context? (See edit) –  The English Chicken Mar 14 '11 at 14:17
    
Wouldn't it be preferable to say "It had taken me nearly a decade..."? –  Kosmonaut Mar 14 '11 at 15:09
    
@Kosmonaut: That's certainly another possibility, especially if the sentence formed part of a simple narrative. I interpreted it as representing someone's thought process: less formal, more immediate and excited. –  Robusto Mar 14 '11 at 15:18
    
I guess we are getting into writers.SE territory at this point anyway :) –  Kosmonaut Mar 14 '11 at 15:37
    
@Kosmonaut: Tru dat. Or at least GrayArea.SE, which should be a proposal on Area 51 any day now. :) –  Robusto Mar 14 '11 at 16:02

I've always used would as the past tense of will:

Present: Tomorrow, I will go to the beach.

Past: The following day, I would go to the beach.

That's not an example of 'would' being used as a past tense of 'will', Jen.

However, in response to my question on Writers.SE, Robusto pointed out that my use of would creates an "an imperfect parallelism of tenses." What does this mean, and how do I correctly treat a statement about the future that is made in the past? ... EDIT (in response to Robusto):

Does the ambiguity introduced by would disappear if I put my sentence in its context?

It took me nearly a decade to write this script, and now I would pitch it to the top producer in Hollywood. But the following day, I got hit by a bus, and my dreams came to an abrupt end.

I don't understand what "imperfect parallelism of tenses" means either, Jen. To my mind, you've simply used 'would' in a fashion that isn't natural English. 'would' used in its capacity to describe a future in past narrative has to be set up as a future. I think your only problem here is your use of 'now'. Try 'soon', which does point to a future.

Here is an example with no regard to style. You can choose your own words to describe the time as you think it will work best for your story. I assume that there is some prior dialog that has set the situation in the past.

It took me nearly a decade to write this script, and soon I would pitch it to the top producer in Hollywood. But the following day, I got hit by a bus, and my dreams came to an abrupt end.

You can/could, of course, work in other descriptions of time. One example; "and the next week I would pitch ... ."

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.