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GRAMMAR: THE USES OF PAST SIMPLE AND PAST CONTINUOUS

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GRAMMAR: THE USES OF PAST SIMPLE AND PAST CONTINUOUS

If you take a look at the examples below, you will notice that not all of them are made up of past tense forms with a narrative value, as we would expect. Since the examples are taken from the text above, which is practically a narration, our main guess would be that the author employs past tenses to tell her story. And yet, compare the last two examples with, say, example (2). While examples (3) and (4) contain a succession of events expressed by means of past tense structures, the temporal forms in (2) are not meant to express sequence, but to describe repetition in the past:




(1) When I first met him he was still living with his mother.

(2) He didn’t take things hard, he didn’t grouch and whine when things didn’t go his way.

(3) But he went down when he thought I wasn’t noticing, and washed and washed himself.

(4) We drew back and back from it, and turned and ran, back up into the hills

In fact, this is the main semantic distinction that characterizes Simple Past in English: while this tense normally expresses a past action at a past moment (defined by a definite past adverbial), like in (5), or a narrative sequence, like in (3) and (4), it can equally convey the idea of past habit, like in (2) or (6):

(5) She went home (at 5).

(6) She often went home.

Narrative Past

Habitual Past

Bill struck his baby brother and got punished for it.

Bill often struck his baby brother and got punished for it.

Of these two main values of Simple Past, the more basic is the ‘narrative’ one, simply because with the ‘habit’ value a frequency adverbial is necessary (when the verb is eventive). Only when the verb is expressed by a state can one do without a frequency adverbial. Compare the examples below. The sentence under (7) expresses a past action (no definite time adverbial is necessary for this meaning to be clear, as is demonstrated by placing this adverbial between brackets). The sentence under (8) is made up of a state verb, which conveys a meaning of generality to this sentence. The sentence under (9) expresses a repeated past action only when the frequency adverbial is present:

(7) He struck his baby brother (on Monday).

(8) He was a bad brother. (= He had the general property of being a bad brother.)

(9) He often struck his baby brother.

The fact that Simple Past can also express past repetition/habit poses problems for Romanian learners of English. They tend to associate this meaning with Past Continuous.

Nota bene!

Past Continuous is very infrequently used with a habitual meaning!

Due to the fact that in Romanian, the Imperfect expresses both an action unfurling at a moment in the past (Maria manca un mar) and past habit (Maria canta la vioara si stia sa cante si la pian), Romanian students have the impression that this situation is valid for the English Past Continuous as well. Things could never be further from the truth.

TIPS FOR TRANSLATION:

The Romanian Imperfect is not equivalent with Past Continuous:

Maria manca un mar. = Mary was eating an apple.

Maria canta la vioara si stia sa cante si la pian. = Mary played the violin and could play the piano, too.

Exercise*: Translate the following into English, paying attention to the table above:

In port, corabii nu mai soseau; orasul devenise foarte avar, pungile ramaneau innodate de mai multe ori la gura, iar noi, dimpotriva, cu gurile cascate, murind de foame, vanzand ca sa mancam, si mai cu seama ca sa platim; ne mergea rau, pentru ca la fiecare raita ne descopereau, pentru fiecare copilarie ne faceau o mie de mizerii si nu era picaro care sa nu se fi dat la noi, unul pentru ca era don Cutare, altul in numele lui don Cutarica… Nevasta-mea umbla infricosata si foarte plictisita de atata socreala, pentru ca, invatata vesnic sa aiba toata libertatea din partea mea, se vedea acum robita, nemaifiind stapana pe viata ei; daca una vorbea, cealalta urla, din fiecare tantar faceau un armasar, si iscau atata taraboi, incat, ca sa nu iau partea nici uneia, imi luam pelerina, de cum vedeam ca se apropie furtuna, si ieseam de-a fuga in strada, lasandu-le sa se paruiasca in voie.

Pe nevasta-mea o necajea grozav faptul ca nu-i luam partea, parandu-i-se ca, pe drept sau pe nedrept, trebuia sa tinem intotdeauna cu ai nostri si ca de avea sau n-avea dreptate, datoria mea era sa fiu impotriva mamei, cu toate ca nu s-ar fi cuvenit. Ajunse sa ma urasca, si sa nu ma mai poata vedea in ochi pana intr-atata, incat, gasind prilejul in persoana unui anume capitan de galera in Neapole, ancorata in port, schimba dragostea mea pe a lui si, adunand toti banii si toate giuvaerurile din aur si argint pe care le aveam, inalta panzele si fugi in Italia, fara ca de atunci sa mai am vreo stire despre ea. Auzisem spunandu-se ca era cu adevarat nebun cel care umbla sa-si caute nevasta odata ce-l lasase, si ca sotul trebuia sa intinda punte de argint pe unde sa-i fuga dusmanul din casa. Socoteam ca-mi va merge bine singur, decat intr-o tovarasie proasta, caci desi era adevarat ca eu singur ii ingaduisem cate toate, traind din asta, incepusem sa nu mai pot rabda sa ma tina oricine de rau. Era puterea viciului, care m-a facut totdeauna supus tuturor josniciilor; si fiind obisnuit sa rabd afronturi inca de copil si de tanar, cu atat mai mult mi se pareau usor de indurat fiind om in toata firea. Nevasta-mea plecand, imi facu un serviciu, pentru ca, nemaifiind silit s-o rabd, ma eliberam de pacatele zilnice; n-o alungasem eu, plecase de bunavoie, iar sa o urmez era cu neputinta, pentru ca multe mi s-ar fi putut intampla daca m-as fi intors in Italia. Ramasei asadar cu maica-mea, si incepuram sa vindem mobilele care ne mai ramasesera ca sa avem ce manca; dar cum ne mai ramasesera mai multe zile decat mobile, nu dupa multa vreme nevoia incepu sa ne dea pinteni. (Mateo Aleman – Viata lui Guzman de Alfarache

Apart from this important distinction that should be acknowledged about the values of Simple Past, there are other tinges of meaning we would like to focus on. The table below attempts to offer a brief revision of the various uses of Past Simple and Continuous. We have placed these tenses in opposition, just as we have done in the case of Present Simple and Continuous (see Unit One, Section Two, C, for a reminder). As you will notice, the simple values parallel the continuous ones. More often than not, a difference in meaning is imposed by the aspectual dimension of these forms, rather than by the temporal sense embedded in them. Our table is by no means exhaustive but has the merit of enabling the student to memorize the basic differences of these tenses more easily:

PAST SIMPLE



PAST CONTINUOUS

Past event at a definite point (main value)

E.g. Bill went to the opera (yesterday).

Future value (only in time and condition adverbial clauses)

E.g. Bill explained to her that he would give her the money as soon as she arrived.

Habitual (obligatorily combined with a frequency adverbial or a context that disambiguates this meaning)

E.g. Whenever they met, they quarreled. He often cursed his friend.

Narrative past (a sequence of events in the past)

E.g. Yesterday,

I bumped into John. He saw me and started telling me about his sick mother.

I heard a noise behind. It was just a barking dog.

Attitudinal (polite) past

E.g. I hoped you’d give me a hand with this heavy suitcase.

Temporary use of past continuous (main value)

E.g. Bill was listening to Pavarotti (at that point).

Future value (personal arrangement)

E.g. They were meeting at five in front of the Opera House.

Emotional present continuous (used instead of a past simple structure for stylistic reasons – to show emotion in the tone of the speaker)

E.g. He was always bringing her presents! He was always saying the wrong thing!

Frame past continuous (goes hand in hand with Narrative past, offering a setting for the past actions)

as I was walking down the street,

While he was talking to me,

Attitudinal (polite) past continuous (even more polite than its ‘simple’ counterpart)

E.g. I was wondering whether you could help me.

EXERCISES:

Translate into English:

a) Am dat drumul la geamantane langa perete si m-am uitat in pamant. Unde eram? Parca mai intrasem o data in odaia asta. Nu, nu acum patru zile, ci mult mai demult, dar nu stiam precis cu ce ocazie, si m-am asezat in pat si mi-am luat capul in maini sa-mi aduc aminte. Inainte insa i-am aruncat ei o privire, sa vad daca imi da ea mai usor cheia intrebarii. Dimpotriva, ea era ultima de la care puteam afla ceva in acest sens si atunci m-am intins cu fata in sus si mi-am pus bratele peste ochi. Buna metoda folosea doamna Sorana, fiindca n-a trecut mult si am incept sa vad in intunericul de sub pleoape. Eram in munti, de Craciun, cu inginerul Dam si cu pustiul lui, un baiat de vreo paisprezece ani, toti trei pe schiuri, eu invatam. In fata noastra se intindea lunga vale, plina de zapada, dar marginita si de brazi si inginerul imi spunea:”Fii atent, Caline, ca n-ai multe posibilitati, treci intai pe-o partie mica si invata intai sa cazi, fiindca daca iti dai drumul aiurea pe partia cea mare, poti sa-ti rupi gatul.” (Marin Preda – Marele singuratic)

b) Un om care moare, nu moare intr-un teritoriu al mortii, adica sa plece dintre noi intr-o lume de cosmar si acolo sa se chinuie si sa-si dea duhul. El moare intre noi, pe soare sau intr-o incapere in care mai sunt si altii, si care se uita in acest timp la el cu ochi vii. E adevarat ca se stramba sau da ochii peste cap, inainte de a scoate un tipat final… dar poate, ochii, sa-i tina si imobili, si ingrozit de simtirea lui sa nu faca nici o miscare, paralizat de suflul cel rece…

Un astfel de om vazu Simina cand intra in incaperea bufetului, in care petreceau de obicei oamenii lui Niculae. Fumul de tigari era gros si nu putu, din primele clipe, sa-si dea seama unde era si daca era acolo prietenul ei. Era o liniste stoarsa, ca printre naufragiati… Cei asezati pe scaune la mese se uitau la chipul acelui om care, prin ochii sai holbati, suporta cu o spaima linistita o povara: ducea in spinare un om care incalicase pe el si il calarea de colo pana colo prin incapere. Vedeti, spunea privirea lui infricosata, nimeni nu e stapan pe propria lui soarta, iar eu sunt omul care sunt asa cum ganditi voi despre mine ca sunt… Si fac ceea ce ganditi ca trebuie sa fac…



Simina ramase nemiscata la intrare. Niculae statea la masa singur, cu un pahar mic in fata, chiar langa tejghea, jumatate intors cu spatele la usa si la ceea ce se petrecea in incapere. Si n-o vazu imediat in acele clipe. Dar apoi se intoarse de tot si se uita si el, ca si ceilalti, mut, la spectacolul care se petrecea sub ochii lui. Cel calarit era domnul Anghel. Venise sa-i ceara socoteala lui Damian Ghoerghe. Intrase in bufet si i se adresase cu    o blandete parca ireala:

- De ce, ba, mi-ai violat nevasta?

Se vedea, pentru cine il cunostea bine, ca el nu mai putea de-aici inainte, pana la sfarsitul zilelor sale, sa creada ca fapta nu avusese loc, cand din nimic taiase liliacul din spatele casei. Dar acum? Cine mai putea sa-l asigure ca fapta nu se comisese? Si mai ales cine ar putea sa-i spuna in fata, daca s-a comis, ca s-a comis? Ai fi zis, dupa expresia teribila din privirea lui bulbucata, ca intrebarea va fi insotita de o saritura de fiara intaratata. Dar nu se intampla nimic. Catastrofa se pare ca il lasase pe domnul Anghel incredul, si el nu venise, dupa cum se parea, aici, sa-i ceara socoteala, ci mantuire, sa-i spuna adica Damian Gheorghe el singur cu gura lui ca nimic nu s-a intamplat, ca a stat toata dupa-amiaza aici la bufet, cu martori, uite, sa spuna si ei, sunt aici de fata… Nu e asa, Stane, nu e asa, Vasile? Uite, bufetiera, tovarasa Mimi, care nu minte niciodata si nu tine cu nimeni, femeie cu carte, a fost functionara la birouri, dar a facut, tarziu, un copil cu electricianul ei si s-a trecut la bufet, unde castiga mai bine. Sa spuna ea, n-a stat el, Damian Gheorghe, tot timpul, cum sta acuma cu cumnata-sau, barcagiul, la masa aceea si au baut bere?!

Damian Gheorghe insa tacea si se uita la el cu o expresie de stupoare pe chipul sau cu nasul lung ca o sabie, “Ce vrea asta de la mine?” parca spunea. Si apoi il intreba:

Ce vreai, ba, de la mine?

De ce mi-ai violat nevasta? repeta domnul Anghel.

Intrebari, raspunsuri… Cine i-o fi invatat pe oameni sa le puna, sa le dea?….Sa nu-l omori pe asta? Damian Gheorghe parea totusi de asta data ingaduitor. Se ridica de la masa si deodata ii sari domnului Anghel in spinare. Dar nu-i facu nimic. Incepu sa hauleasca: ha,ha! Si sa-i dea domnului Anghel, care era voinic, pinteni. Apoi Damian Gheorghe se linisti. Dar nu se dadu jos de pe salele gelosului, a carui privire, intre timp, se bulbucase.

Niculae se ridica, ii ocoli pe cei doi cum ai ocoli un copac, si o scoase pe Simina afara.

Ce draguta esti tu, ii spuse, nu ma asteptam sa ma cauti, taman ma pregateam sa viu eu dupa tine…

De ce il lasati? zise ea indignata.

N-are rost sa te amesteci in distractiile lor, raspunse Niculae patern, ca si cand cei pe care ii lasase la bufet ar fi fost fiii sai, care se distrau in felul acela cam brutal.

Asta numesti tu distractie?

Asta da, de obicei Damian Gheorghe apuca omul de falci, ii deschide gura ca la cai, si daca nu e prin preajma un perete, atunci spre un copac il impinge si ii zdrangane de el tartacuta….

S-ar parea ca si pe tine te distreaza un astfel de spectacol.    (Marin Preda – Intrusul)

c)*    - Da-ncotro, frate Sisoe? intreba Habacuc.

Dar Sisoe isi luase toiagul la subsoara si se indeparta grabit, fara sa mai priveasca indarat.

Dupa plecarea lui Sisoe, cei doi tovarasi ramasi pe loc incepura sa dea semne de neliniste.Trageau cu urechea, ridicau mereu capul si se uitau imprejur, fara pricina.

In jurul lor era insa liniste si pace.(…) Pe cararea din cealalta margine, trecura mai tarziu sase catei imbracati in catifele, tragand dupa ei un carucior de argint, in care dormea un inger sugaci, cu pumnisorii la gura. Si de sub tufisurile din stanga, iesira o clipa la iveala, in soare, doua pisici verzi, poleite cu aur.

Dar sfintii erau obisnuiti cu asemenea aratari paradisiace, intr-un loc singuratic ca acela.

Oare ce s-o fi intamplat? intreba Pafnutie, in sfarsit, ridicandu-se deodata in picioare.

Zarise printr-o spartura de frunzis pe sfintii Mochie si Farnachie trecand in goana, unul dupa altul, cu pletele in vant. Habacuc se ridica de asemenea, si privi in urma lor. Din partea cealalta rasari si sfantul Pafnutie cel gros, dand din maini si strigand catre ei de departe:

Auzit-ati vestea, fratilor?…Sisoe se pogoara pe pamant!

Cei doi ramasera cu gurile cascate:

Cine si-a spus? De unde stii?

Tot raiul stie si vorbeste, gafai Pafnutie.

Nu se poate.

Ba, inca, se poate…Ca s-a infatisat inaintea Domnului Dumnezeu si atat s-a rugat ca s-a induplecat Cel preamilostiv si i-a dat slobozenie sa se pogoare intre oameni…ba cica i-ar fi dat si putere sa faca minuni pe pamant! urma Pintilie privindu-i speriat.

Mare-i minunea Ta, Doamne! Cuvanta pe ganduri Pafnutie.



Iaca, pun ramasag cu oricine ca numai pozne o sa faca, adauga iute Habacuc.

Incalte, sa-i fi dat pe cineva dintre noi sa-l calauzeasca, vorbi incet Pafnutie, dand la iveala dintele intreg. Ca pe pamant sunt multe rautati si ispite…

Sunt mai intai felurite mancari grase, care de care mai sarata si mai piperata, zise Habacuc, lingandu-si buzele.

Toate cu carne! intari Pafnutie scarbit.

Este si rachiu, adauga Habacuc, privindu-i tinta.

Si ceilalti doi inghitira in sec fara voie, ca si cum ar fi simtit aidoma in fundul gatlejului arsura bauturii blestemate.

Sunt si muieri de cele vii…gemu Pintilie cel roscovan, cu dintii stransi, uitandu-se crunt la un varf de buruiana din fata lui. Si catestrei se cutremurara la auzul acelui cuvant de rusine si se uitara unul la altul spaimantati. (George Toparceanu – Minunile Sfantului Sisoe)

2. Fill in with the correct verb forms:

a) Bill (insist) on (show) the writer the first chapter of the novel he recently (begin). Lesser (ask) him not to just yet, but Bill (say) it (help) him. (Know) if he (start) off right. He (say) this (be) a brand-new book, although there (be) some scenes from the other novel, brought from Mississippi to Harlem, where most of the action (take) place. Bill (ask) Lesser (read) the chapter in his presence. He (sit) in Harry’s armchair wiping his glasses and (look) at a newspaper, as the writer, chain-smoking, and (read) on the sofa. Once Harry (glance) up and (see) Bill sweating, profusely. He (read) quickly, thinking he (lie) if he didn’t like the chapter.

But he (not have to). The novel tentatively called The Book of the Black, (begin) in Herbert Smith’s childhood. He (be) about five in the opening scene, and nine at the end of the chapter; but in truth he (be) an old man. In the opening scene, one day the boy (drift) out of his neighbourhood and (cannot) find his way home. Nobody (speak) to him except an old white woman who (see) him through her groundfloor window, sitting on the ker.

“Who (be) you, little boy? What (be) your name?”

The boy (will) not say.

In the afternoon this old smelling white woman (come out) of the house and (take) the boy by the hand to the police station.

b) I might have languished alone for the rest of the week, if Elsie (not find out) where I (be) and started visiting me. My mother (cannot come) till the weekend, I knew that, because she (wait ) for the plumber to check her fittings.

a)      I was lying in bed one night, (think) about the glory of the Lord, when it (strike) me that people (fight) for too long. A new and wonderful miracle (have to) happen soon, or else we were doomed.

b)      Mary asked me if I (want) to stay overnight because her mother (leave) and she didn’t like (be) on her own. I answered I (ring) my parents to ask for permission.

c)      I remembered something I (see) Mrs. White do on that occasion. I remembered (see) her flip through a book, then (put) it back on the shelf. Then I (hope) she (not see) me.

d)      When I (look) out over the town , nothing (change): every place I (knew), every street I (walk) on was still there. People (go) about their business as always.

e)      When I finally went home that day, my mother (watch) television. She never (speak) of what (happen) and I (not remind) her, either.

f)        It was morning when Bill (creep) home. He had a plan to go straight up to school, hoping no one (notice) him coming and going that way. But his plan (go) wrong because his elder sister (spy) on him for several weeks and was determined (find out) what he (do) lately.

g)      When she (reenter) the room, the men (gather) around a small radio, (listen) to a news broadcast. It was the first time she (see) any of them in casual clothing: they seemed (shed) all formality.

h)      The men invited her to play cards. They (play) with great seriousness. Through the first few hands, Joanna (lose) steadily. But as she began to remember more about the game, her luck (change). Soon she (win) consistently.

i)        The men (arrange) the chairs, (make) a place for her at the card table. She (not play) poker since college. For a brief period of time it (be) the fashion in her class and she was sure she (remember) the game in no time.

j)        He promised her he (come) back as soon as he (find) what he (look for) since that tragedy. But she had problems (believe) him.

m)    Sir Perceval (be) in the woods for many days now. His armour is dull, his horse tired. The last food he (eat) was a bowl of milk, given to him by a woman. Other knights (be) this way, he can see their tracks and their despair. His only hope is he (find) the treasure before them.






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