7: 51 a.m. — Atlanta
Hello everyone. I hope you are well as we race headlong toward another weekend. Apparently several of you are enjoying the cinquain form. Maybe I shall have to revisit it occasionally when I hear you groaning over yet another complex form which requires metre, or rhyme, or counting syllables [which isn’t too bad with cinquains, is it?].
We are nearing the end of the words to avoid series, but have no fear. After a short break in focus, I shall take up mis-usages of language. There are many, people.
Today I want to talk briefly about the conditional tense, which has become the default tense in student writing, and therefore has probably crept into some of yours. In almost all cases where you find yourself using could, would, or should, check yourselves. Do you mean to say can, will, shall?
Should is not such a problem. It is not as commonly used as the other two and is clearer as to when to use it: Should I run a mile today? The question implies that you know you should, or can, run the mile, but aren’t feeling pepped to do so. The response: I should, implies you know you are supposed to, but still feel hesitant as to whether you will. The response: I shall run the mile today, indicates a future outcome; and saying I will run the mile today adds determination to that future outcome.
The real problems come with could and would. As conditional verbs, they require a condition, to be used correctly. A condition is a situation or circumstance. If a certain condition is true, then a particular result happens.The –oulds come in when there exists an uncertainty, a but.
Condition certain If you do not hand in your homework, you will fail.
Condition likely If the forecasters are right, it will rain today.
For those two conditions there are no buts. Now look at these two:
Condition unlikely If I won the lottery I would take a round the world cruise.
Condition impossible If I lived forever, I would travel to every country.
These last two are followed by an imaginary but: but it’s unlikely I will win the lottery, but it’s impossible I will live forever. These are known as unreal conditionals and are what we are interested in. The -oulds are used in situations unlikely to happen, therefore imaginary.
If a situation is real, likely, possible, use can and will. You will find that is most of the time.
Another short one [for me]. Next week we shall look at a miscellaneous group that I will address more from the point of view that the words are overused and unneeded, therefore clutter otherwise clean sentences, than that they are incorrect.
If you think someone will enjoy this, please click the buttons below. Remember to ask if you have questions about anything I have written. I will see you tomorrow for this week’s roundup of prompts and exercises from other sites; on Tuesday for a non-form, relaxing prompt; and on Thursday for the last of the words to avoid and links to a couple of sites on the same subject.
Happy writing everyone.