Tuesday, September 1, 2009

This is about a past participle! Change of pace!

I came across this line in an article about LBJ (who I have grown to think of as a tragic hero in the Greek tradition, with his greatest strength-- the ability to make people compromise-- leading to his downfall-- the Vietnam War):
"Johnson would have dressed these people down in public and then drank all the liquor in their cabinet."

Drank or drunk? To me, it's drunk (would have drunk) because it is the conditional-- he didn't actually drink. But for a second, before it flew out of my mind, I thought I had a reason why "drank" is right. Now it's gone, but I remember that at some moment, I had a blinding insight.

Poor me. My blinding insights are so often lost during the blinding.

Anyway, does anyone have a good argument for "drank" there? Or are we all agreed -- conditional tense (would have) takes past participle (drunk)?


Laura K. Curtis said...

I can't think of any way to make it drank. And that particular issue (which seems to plague a plague where people can't get "may/might" right in past conditionals) is one that trips my switch!

Julie Harrington said...

Well "have dressed" and "have drunk" seem right to me. I mean, that is the past participle form, right? And yet part of my brain said, no "drank" is right.

Maybe it's because the "would have" is attached to one event only (dressing them down) before LBJ goes off and does the 2nd act (not at the same time). He went off and "drank all the liquor in their cabinet." 2 Seperate events in time instead of simultaneous?

Sigh. Grammar. It's not always my strong suit and yet, here I am..... LOL.


Kelsey (Dominique) Ridge said...

While my grammar book didn't offer me a nifty solution to this question, I'd have to say that "Have drunk" sounds better to me.

Anonymous said...

Agreed on "drunk" :)

James Pray said...

All I can think of is that maybe you could consider the dressing-down and drinking aspects as a piece, so it's not "Johnson (would have dressed these people down in public) and then ([would have] drank all the liquor in their cabinet)" where the second "would have" is an ellipsis - that is, looking at the sentence as two "would have [verb]their[noun]"s - but rather as "Johnson would have (dressed these people down in public and then drank all the liquor in their cabinet)".

I don't know if the above is technically permissible, but I think that it is a readability thing that runs according to the same principle that you apply when you, say, write a paragraph in past-perfect, but don't put ALL of the verbs in it in past-perfect, because it's awkward and cluttered to read lots of "had [verbed]" constructions in a row, and the same goes if multiple verbs ought to take the "would have [verbed]" sense - it's cluttered to throw a would-have in front of all of them, but without the would-have in front of them, the proper tense (drunk vs drank, in this case) reads pretty awkwardly, in my mind.

Patience-please said...

I'm thinking that maybe no matter how conditional the concept of dressing down was, the drinking was actual, hence: drank.

Actually, I just wanted tell you how much I'm enjoying The Power of Point of View.

Thank you!

Cliff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cliff said...

> conditional tense (would have) takes
> past participle (drunk)?

It's easier than that. If the verb "to have" is used as a modal verb, it is followed by the past participle. He has drunk, he had drunk, he would have drunk, he might have drunk, would that he had drunk and so forth. If "to have" is not there, you can't use the past participle (other than adjectivally).

So it's drunk, not drank but only because it's subordinated by to have, not because it is conditional. "He would drink" is conditional but uses the infinitive (without the "to").

Edittorrent said...

I'm with you on that-- drunk.

I don't meant that I'm drunk. :)

Anonymous said...

I agree that "would have drank" is somewhat jarring. However, it's in the particular voice of the speaker so therefore allowable.

Robin Lemke said...

Gotta be drunk - if the first half of the sentence is conditional, then the second half has to be, too. Because he only would have drunk the liquor if he'd publicly dressed them down. So you have to stay with drunk.

Judith said...

I have a question only vaguely related to this post. In my manuscript, I have a couple references to "when she had her last drunk" or "my last drunk". Most people think these are typos and ought to read "her last drink." But "my last drunk" is actually frequently used term by people in AA to refer to the last episode of getting plastered.

Can you suggest a good way of putting this in my manuscript without being totally intrusive by explaining? Also, I don't want any agents or editors thinking I am an idiot. When I first heard the term, it made sense to me, but maybe it was because it was spoken.

Thanks, if you are able to help.