Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 30th 2013 Contents B8
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt June 30, 2013
I have heard instructions given
in a friendly and encouraging
tone: "Do as much as you could,"
instead of the correct: "Do as
much as you can."
Why is it incorrect? Because the
sentence begins in the present
tense---"Do"---and should correctly
be followed by the present tense
On the other hand, in the sen-
tence "You did as much as you
could," "could" is used correctly
here following on the past tense
"So much for can and could.
The same sequencing is needed
when using may (present tense)
and might (past tense), eg "I think
I might attend the concert," is
incorrect and should read instead:
"I think I may attend the concert,"
or "I thought I might attend that
On the subject of can and may,
I may as well deal with the dif-
ference in their meaning, as many
people have asked me what it is:
May I? and Can I?
Lucky you that you did not have
to learn it by being told, in answer
to your "Can I go to the cinema?"
"Yes, of course you can walk to
the cinema with your friends this
afternoon"---meaning you are able
to; you have two strong legs to get
you there, but---here comes the
catch: "You may not. You are not
allowed to do so; you haven t my
permission to go, not only because
your grammar is so poor, but you
have not done your chores."
So, now you know. You can, but
you may not.
Trust me, many of us learned
this the hard way. Try teaching it
cleverly, but kindly, to your chil-
dren. They won t easily forget the
There is another rule regarding
sequencing verb tenses that I
would like to stress. At times, when
one begins a sentence in the pres-
ent tense, one may move to the
If, on the other hand, one begins
in the past tense, one must con-
tinue in the past.
"I know (present) that you will
"I knew (past) that you would
This also tests your understand-
ing of the "will" and "would"
problem that we face each day.
Putting direct speech into
reported speech is another testing
ground for the sequence of tens-
es.He said to me, "I hope you will
be able to attend the meeting this
afternoon." Is changed in reported
He hoped that I would be able
to attend the meeting that after-
He believes you will agree is
changed to He believed that you
I keep persisting with the
will/would difference because it is
not only said incorrectly, but writ-
ten and printed incorrectly, regard-
less of the circumstances. Not long
ago, I sat through a lengthy service,
and had time to read and re-read
the printed programme distributed
to the large audience with the
offending "would" instead of
"will" and vice versa appearing
not once but twice in the recorded
history and future hopes of the
It bothered me that that spe-
cially printed programme, with its
ornate colourful graphics and styl-
ish lettering, included in the text
the offending "would" and "will"
that were missed (twice).
"Will" is definite, not a wish or
request. The correct version would
have been "I would like some help."
He continued, "I hope that they
would now listen to my pleas."
Poor sequence of tenses. Cor-
rection: "I hope that they will now
listen to my pleas"---present tense
followed by the future.
Too many people, especially
those who are trusted, expected
and relied upon by clients to over-
see printed material are careless
about simple English rules that
may detract from the message
being conveyed, and, in extreme
circumstances, even ruin a person s
chances of being taken seriously.
Nevertheless, it is not too late
to learn and to pass on the knowl-
edge---in keeping with the inspiring
Chinese saying, "It is better to light
one little candle than to curse the
The sequence of tenses
A member of the Korean Song and Dance Troupe based in New York which has been travelling around the
world promoting Korean culture around the globe, performs a Heung-Chum (Joyful Dance) during the show
Sounds of Korea at Queen's Hall, St Ann's, last week. PHOTO: ANDY HYPOLITE
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