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I'm describing something in the past tense. However, that something repeats over and over again. What is more correct?

A ball destroyed a vase. It was an infinite loop. The ball bounced up. It hit the vase. The vase dropped on the floor. This cycle repeated forever.

or

A ball destroyed a vase. It was an infinite loop. The ball had bounced up. It had hit the vase. The vase had dropped on the floor. This cycle repeated forever.

or

A ball destroyed a vase. It was an infinite loop. The ball bounces up. It hits the vase. The vase drops on the floor. The cycle repeated forever.

Thanks

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  • A ball destroyed the vase. It was an infinite loop. The ball bounced up, it hit the vase, the vase dropped on the floor, and this cycle repeated forever. May 27, 2016 at 14:52
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    Periods don't make sense. I am not a native speaker so I could be wrong. I have written a comment, will invest in this question. May 27, 2016 at 14:53
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    Semantically speaking however, the paragraph doesn't describe how (or even if) the vase became undestroyed, so how can it be an infinite loop? Oh wait, were there an infinite number of vases?
    – Mr Lister
    May 27, 2016 at 15:12
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    @Karma, I don't have any problem with use of the indefinite article in the first sentence ("A ball destroyed a vase."). In the subsequent sentences, however, it does need to be "the vase" to indicate that the vase in question is the same one referred to in the first sentence.
    – PellMel
    May 27, 2016 at 15:20
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    @Mr Lister You're correct. That needs to be clarified.
    – user18993
    May 27, 2016 at 17:53

2 Answers 2

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In terms of verb tenses, the first passage and the third are both acceptable. I am of two minds regarding which I prefer.

The first passage can be interpreted like this:

A ball destroyed a vase. In fact, the ball destroyed the vase in an infinite loop. Specifically, the ball bounced up, it hit the vase, the vase dropped on the floor, and this cycle repeated forever.

The second passage is wrong because use of the past perfect indicates that prior actions are being described, not the actions occurring in the loop itself.

The third passage can be interpreted like this:

A ball destroyed a vase. In fact, the ball destroyed the vase in an infinite loop in which the ball bounces up, it hits the vase, and the vase drops on the floor. The cycle repeated forever.

The first passage has the advantage of being non-redundant: if you omit "This cycle repeated forever" then the previous sentences will not be understood to constitute the steps in the infinite loop.

The third passage has the advantage that the verb tenses make clear which actions are part of the loop, but the concomitant disadvantage that adding "This cycle repeated forever" is then redundant.

Additional comments:

  • It should be "the vase dropped to the floor."

  • There is nothing inherently wrong with using an indefinite article in the first sentence of the passage as you do. Depending on context and intended meaning, however, it might be equally or more appropriate to use the definite article instead for one or both of the nouns.

  • It strikes me oddly to say "A ball destroyed a vase" when in fact it was an infinite cycle that (one must therefore presume) is ongoing.

  • Although perhaps it makes sense in context, it seems inconsistent that the actions described could cycle, because the single solace for the poor vase ought to be that once it drops to the floor and is destroyed, it should be unable to suffer the same fate again.

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  • It should be "the vase dropped to the floor." Why is that? To the floor seems the more popular choice, but both to the floor and on the floor are idiomatic in English.
    – deadrat
    May 27, 2016 at 17:37
  • @deadrat, if the vase dropped, then it did not start on the floor. Dropping entails motion from wherever it started to the floor. If the drop had not not broken it, then perhaps afterward it would have rolled around on the floor.
    – PellMel
    May 27, 2016 at 19:11
  • English does not follow rules of logic. Again, it is idiomatic to say that something dropped on the floor, and you can check that claim against texts on the web or in the ngram server.
    – deadrat
    May 27, 2016 at 19:26
  • @deadrat, English does not always follow the rules of logic, but it does not frequently defy them openly. In any event, if, for the sake of argument, we accept Ngram as a reasonable measure of how idiomatic a given usage is, then "dropped to the floor" is strongly preferred over "dropped on the floor" in present-day English.
    – PellMel
    May 27, 2016 at 19:37
  • English routinely defies the rules of logic. As you can find by typing "rules of logic" into the search box at the top of the page. The double negative, subject/verb agreement, objective case for nominative complements -- the list goes on. Idioms themselves are expressions with meanings that can't be discerned logically. And your assertion that to the floor is preferred seems awfully familiar. Where did I first hear that?
    – deadrat
    May 27, 2016 at 20:04
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The first one is correct.

In response to Karma's comment, it's fine to use full stops (periods) because each of those is a complete and functional sentence. Writers sometimes choose to use a series of very short but grammatically complete sentences in a row. It creates an effect in the telling of a story. Ernest Hemingway especially liked to do this.

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    The first one is correct. Why is that?
    – deadrat
    May 27, 2016 at 17:33

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