From the Editor’s Desk: Past Participle and Past Tense

One of my all-time favorite publishing houses is the Black Library. They do mostly licensed science fiction and fantasy out of the United Kingdom. I’ve read a great deal of fiction, non-fiction, classics, etc. from across the pond, but only when reading the action-packed militaristic stories from the Library did I finally notice how jarring their differing uses of past participles and tenses for verbs can be. Picture this: A blazing laser gun battle illuminated the sky like a kaleidoscope of fireworks, almost hypnotizing the running soldier. Explosions erupted on all sides, leaving him blind, deaf, and disoriented, as he desperately dived for cover. He heard-

Wait, dived? Why not dove?

Maybe it makes me a bit snobbish, but the first few times I read this it pulled me right out of the fictive dream. The next few pages I just kept thinking why would the author use the archaic form instead of the new one? It passed quickly, but after I put the book down it still nagged at me. And as I read more from the Library, I found more discrepancies: They swinged clubs and cudgels, not swung. They swimmed across the murky swamp, not swam. The tip of the flamethrower was lighted, not lit. There may be more I’m omitting, but the point remains: It was distracting enough to pull me out of the scene, so how can I avoid it in my own writing, or use it to my own advantage.

A little bit of research revealed my original hypothesis as correct: these participial and tense changes are a North American tradition. Strangely, some have lagged behind others in social acceptance. Swimmed sounds silly to even the most untrained ear, but up until ~1960 dived was considered correct, and dove would have been marked wrong on your U.S. English Grammar Exam (or more likely essay).

The typical rule from this arm-chair editor: when in doubt, change it in your prose (unless you’re writing in the UK, then do as you please). For dialogue, it opens up some interesting options, however. Any character from, or who learned English in, North America should always use the adjusted tense. But, if your work features a speaker from (or who learned English in) the UK, having them employ these vernacular affectations could lend a taste of authenticity to the character, particularly if your work is set in a specific time period.

I’ll endeavor to bring you more little eccentricities From The Editor’s Desk; this is only volume one.
In other exciting news, I’m pleased to announce I’m starting up an editing business for books, short stories, dissertations, reports, etc. If it has words, I’ll read it and let you know if it can be better. I’m dipping my toe currently, but I’ve got a few credentials:

-BA English Literature (Cum Laude) from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas
-Freelance Sports Columnist and Public Interest Reporter for The Las Vegas Review-Journal, Henderson Home News, and Boulder City News 2000-2008

I’ve already edited a first draft of a romance novel (attestation forthcoming) and a potential self-help style non-fiction book from an already-published author. If you’re interested, please contact me through this blog or e-mail me at gentlesandman@yahoo.com. I’m currently looking to get experience mostly, so if you think I might have something to offer after reading this post feel free to contact me.

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One thought on “From the Editor’s Desk: Past Participle and Past Tense

  1. I mostly notice different word choices in UK romance novels, but you’re right the verb tenses are also a little different and can be confusing when you first see them. Good luck on the exciting editing adventure. 🙂 I’m sure you’ll be great.

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