0

I am translating an ebook for A1-German learners. Most of it is written in the present tense. I am writing a lot of dialogue.

Is it correct to use the present progressive or not? Your help will be greatly appreciated!

Here are some examples:

I am glad and I am asking her/ I ask her: “How long does it take to get to work? I have a long way, I need nearly one hour in Rome.”

“That’s the best!” she is answering/she answers.

“I can go by suburban train, that’s only five minutes. Then, I still have to walk another ten minutes. But I always go by bike, then I am at my desk in fifteen minutes.”

“That's perfect. But tell me—how's your love life?”

Anna sighs: “Well, not so good. What about you, Maria? Is there somebody for you?”

I shake my head. “No, I don't have a boyfriend. Umm, well, perhaps there's a great Berliner?”

Anna laughs. “I am not so sure—but who knows?”

10
  • Hi, I am translating the text and don't know the correct form to use - I am no English native, most of my translation is based on some grammar knowledge and "feeling" - but now, I have totally lost the feeling.. I have to decide which form to use or is actually both correct? Apr 18, 2015 at 15:17
  • 1
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's asking for help with translation. Apr 18, 2015 at 15:18
  • sorry, I didn't know that. I am really interested in the rules behind it - of course it's a translation, but I want to understand the rules for the usage of say/saying in the present tense. I am not asking for anybody to translate anything! Apr 18, 2015 at 15:28
  • 2
    I have to ask why you are translating a book involving grammar that is partly going to be in English when (by your own admission) you don't have the language competence in English you would require to be able to do so competently. As it has been described, this project is destined to turn into a mammoth mess. (I speak as someone who has quite a few years' experience of handling other people's translations.)
    – Erik Kowal
    Apr 18, 2015 at 15:29
  • 1
    Thanks for the new info. That approach sounds quite reasonable. :)
    – Erik Kowal
    Apr 18, 2015 at 15:40

2 Answers 2

0

According to Longman English Grammar a story can be told using present tenses to make it sound more interesting or dramatic and it is done so that:

The progressive is used for 'background' and simple tense for the main events:

I'm driving along this country road and I'm completely lost. Then I see this old fellow. He's leaning against a gate. I stop the car and ask him the way. Hi thinks a bit and then says, 'Well, if I were you, I wouldn't start from here.'

Your text is such that there isn't much 'background' and I see someone speaking as a 'main event' so I would go for the present simple.

0
2

Is it correct to use the present progressive or not?

In general storytelling can be written in any tense as long as it is consistent and makes sense. The same is true for dialogues, except that the tense of the quoted parts is basically impervious to the tense of the story telling. For example, a storyteller using past tense verbs:

“How long does it take to get to work?”, she asked.

“I can go by suburban train, that’s only five minutes,” I told her.

For a moment she made no reaction. Then, touching me lightly on my shoulder, she asked, “By the way, how's your love life?”

Notice the phrase touching me lightly on my shoulder happens at the same time as the character was asking a question. This phrase is not affected by the tense of the storytelling.

A storyteller using the present tense:

“How long does it take to get to work?”, she asks.

“I can go by suburban train, that’s only five minutes,” I tell her.

For a moment she makes no reaction. Then, touching me lightly on my shoulder, she asks, “By the way, how's your love life?”

I suppose you could also tell the story consistently using a present progressive tense, but, being no writer, it feels more difficult to me. Present progressive is used to signal what's happening "right now", but in a story, the time should continuously move forward, so you need to somehow let your reader know what is happening when.

My friend Anna is approaching me and is beginning to speak to me. “How long does it take to get to work?”, she's asking me.

I'm answering her by saying, “I can go by suburban train, that’s only five minutes.”

She's making no reaction for a moment. Now, she's touching me lightly on my shoulder. Then she's asking me, “By the way, how's your love life?”

1
  • thank you very much! That explains ma "feeling" that both could work! Apr 18, 2015 at 19:16

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