Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Tenses (3).

Tenses (3). Today: Errors in Sequence of Tenses. Examples may be readily found in which the primary sequence of tenses is mangled — e.g.: “Mrs. Yager faces a possible sentence of up to 60 years in prison, although neither side expects that the maximum sentence would [read ‘will’] be imposed if she was [read ‘is’] convicted.” Peter Applebome, “Child Abuse ‘Rescuer’ Is Now the Accused,” N.Y. Times, 27 Apr. 1992, at A1. But the secondary sequence also causes problems when the writer begins with a past-tense verb in the principal clause and then switches to the present or future tense in the subordinate clause — e.g.: o “Mr. Noriega limited his own movements even further, avoiding windows and even the shaded palm court out of fear that snipers will [read ‘would’] gun him down.” Kempe, “So Noriega Is Ours,” Wall Street J., 4 Jan. 1990, at A1, A14. o “The term ‘request’ implied that you have [read ‘had’] a choice in the matter.” Eoin Colfer, Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident 112 (Am. ed. 2002). Next: Sequence Errors with Infinitives. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “Make about two-thirds of your total vocabulary monosyllabic; keep words of three syllables or more down under 20%.” Walker Gibson, Tough, Sweet & Stuffy 108 (1966).
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