Verb Tense Matters and Affects Meaning

Choosing the correct tense and form for a verb is important for clear writing. An incorrect choice can often lead to a distortion of meaning, as in this example sentence from the Sports section of The Birmingham News:

She has been an Alabama fan her entire life and had a brother, Chris, who played as a member of the 2009 and 2011 national championship teams.

The present perfect verb form HAS BEEN tells the reader that SHE (the subject of the sentence) is alive and well in the present and is still an Alabama fan. However, the past tense verb form HAD, in reference to her brother, makes it sound as if her brother has passed away.  To say SHE HAD A BROTHER suggests that the brother is no longer alive, which is not the case.

Here is another sentence with a verb form problem. It is from the same issue of the newspaper:

For the past three years, "Trading Christmas"–based on the best-selling Debbie Macomber novel about how house swapping can led to romance–has been the most-watched movie on Hallmark, whose audience is 55 percent female.

 LED is the past tense of the verb LEAD, as in "Alabama LED for the entire first quarter." It is also the past participle, which is used with helping verbs like HAS and HAVE, as in "Notre Dame HAS LED in the ratings." However, when the helping verb CAN is used, the present tense form is needed. Therefore, this sentence should read as follows:

For the past three years, "Trading Christmas"–based on the best-selling Debbie Macomber novel about how house swapping can lead to romance–has been the most-watched movie on Hallmark, whose audience is 55 percent female.

 

Here is one final verb problem, also from the same issue of the newspaper:

Turnovers also be the key and the team that makes the bigger plays on special teams, as always, should take the victory.

I have no problem with sports writing being a bit more casual with the rules. A "slangy" style works, to some extent. However, I do think using BE as the present tense verb goes too far. This is unacceptable usage and makes the writer sound far less than professional. The verb to go with TURNOVERS should be ARE because TURNOVERS is plural. The sentence should read this way:

Turnovers are also the key, and the team that makes the bigger plays on special teams, as always, should take the victory.

 

NOTE: Being a diehard Buckeye and an Auburn fan, I don't have a sure favorite in tonight's BCS championship game. May the truly best team win!


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