English A-Z: Tenses and Sentence Structure

I’m diving right in before I get distracted.


I studied Russian in college, and I remember being frustrated by their obsession with “complete” vs. “not complete” verbs.  It’s called “aspect” if you’d like to read about it.  I found it to be unreasonably picky.

When I thought this, I did not understand that English is also obsessed with the complete / incomplete divide.  We just do it with tenses.  And I didn’t notice because I never learned about English grammar.  Present-perfect, past-perfect, and future-perfect exist only to specify that an action was completed.  It seems to me a small point to create an entire tense around it.  The perfect continuous tenses also seem needlessly specific.  They’re about when the completion of an ongoing action happens?  Come on.  The Russian language is vindicated in my eyes.

Also, all of the present tenses are weird.  Simple present (i.e. I eat) doesn’t actually describe the present moment – present continuous does (i.e. I am eating).  Simple present just describes habits you have in general, including now.  And present perfect (i.e. I have eaten) has a lot of nerve calling itself “present” – it’s referring to a past action!  But as of the present time, it’s completed.  Ah, yes, completion rears its bizarrely important head.

Maybe I would have been a more successful student of Russian if I’d been more than dimly aware of the mechanics of my own language.

This is a lot of grammar.  Heres a Lolcat.
This is a lot of grammar. Here's a Lolcat.

Sentence Structure

I take back what I just said.  I would not understand subjects, predicates, direct objects, indirect objects, etc. without associating them with Russian words and cases.  These concepts are extremely abstract to me in English – it’s like trying to build on air.  I have to work through her examples in Russian for them to make sense.

I also take back what I said about not being taught any English grammar.  I did in fact learn about some of it explicitly, particularly punctuation.  As a result, I have a thing about semi-colons: wrong ones leap off the page at me.  I’m not claiming to use them perfectly every time.  But I judge.  And since I also brushed up on sentence structure, I can point out that her example is wrong because the clause before the semicolon lacks a subject:

After cleaning the house; we went shopping and bought some clothes, shoes and groceries.

A quick Google search sent me to a grammar website from Perdue University that pretty clearly states that a semicolon joins two independent clauses, and that an independent clause has a subject and a verb.  Akinyi’s explanation was “This is used to divide or separate a long independent sentence.”  Not quite.  I’m not sure where her editor was on that one.

Overall Impressions

  • My knowledge of sentence structure and tenses was pretty detailed in some areas, and extremely lacking in others.  It felt good to start bridging that gap.
  • Wow, do I need to examine every book my students use to make sure there are no errors?
  • Why are errors in a book so very astounding to me?
  • Teachers really need to know their stuff.  It takes preparation to find mistakes before you’re up in front of the class and confidence to refute the book once you’re up there.