Sunday, January 16, 2011

Present perfect huh?

A car carrying a bride to her wedding has slid across the road and gotten stuck in a snowbank, but the state police have sent out an SUV to pick her up. The wedding has gone on as scheduled.

I changed the details there, but that's a sentence construction I just read in a news story. Now I know that journalism has an odd way with tenses (most headlines in present tense, for example), but this really stopped me. Did it just happen, as I assumed from the present-perfect (has slid)? No, it was earlier today. The "state police have sent out" seems to me to be saying that the SUV hasn't gotten there yet. But the wedding "has gone on"-- so obviously the SUV got there, picked up the bride (this actually happened to someone I know, btw-- you should never schedule a wedding in the winter in Northern Indiana... another couple I know -- also a January Indiana wedding-- had to move their reception because the snow-laden hall roof collapsed) -- what was I saying? Oh, yes, present perfect.

What does present-perfect tense imply to you? When you read that a car "has slid across the road," what does that mean to you about when it happened?

It's a bit confusing to me because "has" makes me think that the action happened very recently and maybe isn't concluded fully. But if the wedding took place, obviously she didn't just get stuck in the snowdrift. So that was sort of misdirective, that present perfect.

When do you use present perfect?

Alicia

7 comments:

Nerine Dorman said...

Hell, I'm a newspaper sub-editor by day and that sentence stopped me in my tracks. Eeek.

In writing, I don't try to label the terms but I've a "feel" for when something with tenses is not working. I can't explain it... I just know... Weird, I admit.

Melissa Alexander said...

I agree with you -- "Has slid" feels like it just happened. That impression is reinforced by "have sent" in the second clause. To me the sentence reads like she just slid, and the just sent help, but the help hasn't arrived yet.

Weird.

Wes said...

Thank you! It drives me nuts when a reporter, or someone even less useless like a TV reader, says something like "The President goes to XYZ tomorrow for.............." instead of saying "will go" or "is scheduled to go".

Adrian said...

I suspect the story was written shortly after the accident was reported, and then "updated" as the story developed without any significant editing. I suppose grammar is the price we pay for always up-to-date online information.

Wes said...

Make that "more useless".

It's an established practiced in advertising to use bad grammar because people remember the product better than if good grammar had been used.

Edittorrent said...

Wes, yes, a bad sentence sort of sticks in the mind, doesn't it?

Wes said...

And you know I have plenty of them..............