Too many verbs in the same tense?


I read in a grammar guide that it is generally seen as bad literary style to have too many verbs in the same tense. What exactly does that mean?

Thank you for your help.

I feel using more prepositions than verbs makes lovely sentences in English. But I may be very wrong.

Hi Philin,

thank you for your reply. Unfortunately it doesn’t answer my question. :frowning:

More prepositions than verbs make lovely sentences? Sounds intriguing. Could you give some examples?

I have never actually heard of it, but I can imagine why they might say that: using different tenses is a way of ordering your clauses and sentences, marking the place of each clause relative to others in your story, as regards both time and importance. An example is the difference between main story line and background information, which can be shown by shifting tenses.

I wonder what type of sentence you are thinking of. I hope not “the conference in the capital of the neigbouring country on the ceasing of hostilities by the parties in this dispute of ideology caused by the separation of the congregation of the secondary patriarch from the ecumenical community has commenced today”, which is not entirely easy on the reader.
Just kidding. But I am generally in favour of using separate clauses instead of long prepositional constructions, just as I prefer clauses to noun adjectives, if possible. The company redundancy prevention policy assistant manager makes me want to - you know.

Prepositional constructions are often easier to read than constructions with noun adjectives; for 1.) at least prepositions can give some clue of the nature of the link between the nouns - though “of” doesn’t always give much information - and 2.) the “head” of the construction comes first, as opposed to noun adjectives, where the qualifying nouns come before the head.

  • “City discrimination”: is it discrimination of people by city, or in a city?
  • “In the city revolution”: someone who is not paying attention might be tricked into thinking first of a city called “Revolution”, if he intuitively takes “city” as head.

Choose the name you find most aesthetic:

    • The Heritage Protection Programme.
    • The Programme for the Protection of our Heritage.
    • The Programme to Protect our Heritage.
      I find 2 and 3 the most pleasing ones, although 1 is acceptable as well.

Adjectival constructions (adjective + noun) give fewer clues about the nature of links than prepositional ones do. But adjectives sometimes have a more restricted, fixed type of link to their noun than any random noun adjective has to its head noun.

  • “City policy” versus “urban policy”.
    City policy can be the policy made by the city on something, or a policy made to manage the city; urban policy can only be the latter. But this type of advantage is not all that frequent in adjectives.

Clauses offer the most choice in giving the reader a clue about the nature of the connection between elements, because they have tenses, and conjunctions, which are the most diverse and least ambiguous of linking words. Consider:
- The company has a new child molestation protocol.
- The company told us that employees shouldn’t bring their children to work, because they could get molested.

Constructions with noun adjectives have two advantages: 1. they are shorter, and 2. they do not force you to think about the relation between the elements of your sentence: they let the reader do the work. That said, I have no objection to noun adjectives if they are short and clear because they are well known. Even then, I often find prepositional and adjectival constructions more pleasing to the eye.

I like it!

I am sorry that I am not good at giving examples but I would try: :slight_smile:

I jumped and entered the water. vs. I jumped into the water.
I left the old place and reached a new place. vs. I moved from the old place to a new place.

Sorry for the poor examples.

“not to hv too many verbs in a same tense in a sentence” I feel it implies that the length of the sentences should not be too long to avoid monotony and confusion.

To me, it is just very hard to think of a sentence that has too many verbs in the same tense. In a way, ordering one’s clauses comes naturally, or we wouldn’t be able to make sense of our texts later on anymore. We may not always use the correct tense, but if it is obvious that one action happened later than another action in one sentence, then I would assume that we automatically use different tenses. I guess what throws me is the word “too”: to have too many verbs in the same tense.

I generally agree with you on that, but I guess it also depends on the mood you want to create. A text with a higher amount of short sentences creates more tension in the reader than a text with a higher amount of long ones. In an action scene, shorter sentences are better, because they hook the reader. Longer sentences are better in a narrative to give the reader a breather. However, one short sentence after another will come across as choppy, while one long sentence after another will become tiresome. Variety is the key.

I always like it when people give examples. It makes me understand things better. Perhaps you would like to show me what you mean by the two quoted statements? :slight_smile:

I know you gave us a lot of information, but–please forgive me–it reads like a grammar guide to me, and I’m not sure what it has to do with my original question.

Don’t worry, the examples are good enough to get your point across. :slight_smile:

I jumped and entered the water sounds a bit verbose to me. But maybe it’s just the word “entered” that bothers me.

I left the old place and reached a new place. vs. I moved from the old place to a new place. Here I can see your version being used in a text to create a certain effect, or a mood. For example if you want to express the meaning of the sentence in a symbolical or philosophical way.

But here, too, I think, variety is the key.