June 26th, 2012


Use of tenses in different varieties of English

Someone mentioned in a comment to a recent post that “American English prefers the simple past in most situations where British English prefers the present perfect”

The example was given of British English using "Who has had a heart attack?" while American English would generally use "Who had a heart attack?" To me, as a native speaker of British English, those two phrases have quite different meanings, and would be used on different occasions. (I would be very confused if someone asked a group I was in "Who had a heart attack?" I would be thinking "What? When? Who said someone had had a heart attack?")

The discussion reminded me of the time I had a fic beta’d by someone in the US; I hadn’t realised until then the extent to which American English uses tenses differently from British English. She made many changes that to my mind changed the meaning completely, so I changed most of them back. One example which has always stuck in my mind was this:

I had written: “Sam went back to his desk. Someone had written him a note...”

She changed it to: “Sam went back to his desk. Someone wrote him a note...”

To me, that second wording means “Sam went back to his desk and while he was sitting there someone came along and wrote him a note.” In other words, from Sam’s point of view at that moment of returning to his desk, I had placed the note-writing in his past. The beta-reader changed my sentence to something that placed the note-writing in his present or near future.

For speakers of British English: do you read that revised wording the way I do? Am I using these tenses the same way as you do?

For speakers of American English: Do the beta-reader’s changes reflect normal American usage? And if so, if you were writing in the third person, past tense, how would you express the two different concepts:

A - Sam arrives at his desk and the note-writing is finished

B - Sam arrives at his desk and then the note-writing happens

For speakers of other varieties of English: How do you do it? How do you read these sentences? Does your use of tenses tend to the American way, or the British, or something different again?

ETA: I'm amazed and delighted that replies are still coming in for this. Any I haven't managed to address so far I hope to catch up with very soon.

(btw I couldn't find a tag for tenses.)

"Painfully" bad jokes

I've been thinking lately about social reactions to bad jokes (especially puns). It seems pretty common to express mock pain/disgust at jokes that are deemed "weak" (i.e., contrived and unfunny) by the listeners. In my dialect of English, this is expressed with groans and interjections of the kind that are normally used for physical pain -- "Ow!" or "Ouch!" or "Ooh!" How do speakers of other languages react to bad jokes? How are different kinds of jokes evaluated as funny/unfunny? I know a lot of English speakers regard puns as especially stupid.

Hello everyone!

Hi this is a pretty rookie post so I hope no one is upset. Anyway, I've been out of school for a few years now and I am going back this fall. I'm excited but I feel like I've become dumber over the years.. Would anyone mind helping me this some questions? (You can point out whatever I've done wrong in the posts too if you'd like :P)

Learnt? I see people say it, but I also hear learned.. Which is correct? Or is there certain instances that each is used for?

Whilst? As in "Whilst I've taken English before blah blah .." okay is it more proper to use than while or?

Whom or Who.. ugh this one baffles me

John and I vs John and me etc that whole thing..

Wary? Weary? When people say "I'm weary of planes blah blah" which word is it?

Alright well I have a bunch more (like the perplexities of the semi-colon) but I feel very ashamed I've become so bad at English as it used to be my best subject. Well thank you all for reading, sorry for the stupidity and hopefully someone will be willing to give me some information! Thanks all!