Verb Tense Glitch Leads to Confusion

When I taught a recent certification workshop on good writing, one participant commented that her biggest writing issue is choosing verb tenses to match the time frames she is describing. The following quotation from a Birmingham News article about an upcoming ALDOT expansion project is a perfect example:

construction barrierIt won't always be smooth sailing, …but it shouldn't be like the Interstate 20/59 mess in Bessemer in  2012.  When a refurbishing project began taking out entire directions of Interstate 20 Monday and for the next several months, existing Interstates 59 and 459 should be able to shoulder the burden of diverted traffic.

I have highlighted all of the words and phrases in this quote that give hints about the time frames involved. In the first sentence, WON'T is a contraction of WILL NOT, which is future tense. The word SHOULD is a conditional verb that refers to something expected to happen (but hasn't yet) in a certain way.

Now look at the second sentence. WHEN used with BEGAN is past tense, yet MONDAY and FOR THE NEXT SEVERAL MONTHS refer to the future. (This article was written before next Monday, when the project will begin.) SHOULD BE ABLE TO SHOULDER also refers to the expected situation in the future.

Here is my suggested revision to correct the verb usage and make the time frame clearer and consistent with the facts:

 

It won't always be smooth sailing, …but it shouldn't be like the Interstate 20/59 mess in Bessemer in 2012. When a refurbishing project begins taking out entire directions of Interstate 20 next Monday, existing Interstates 59 and 459 should be able to shoulder the burden of diverted traffic.

 

My very best wishes for peace and patience to all those who travel this route "over the next several months." My very best wishes as well to ALDOT (one of my favorite workshop groups) for a successful completion of this important project.

 

 

It won't always be smooth sailing, …but it shouldn't be like the Interstate 20/59 mess in Bessemer in 2012. When a refurbishing project began taking out entire directions of Interstate 20 Monday and for the next several months, existing Interstates 59 and 459 should be able to shoulder the burden of diverted traffic. It won't always be smooth sailing, …but it shouldn't be like the Interstate 20/59 mess in Bessemer in 2012. When a refurbishing project began taking out entire directions of Interstate 20 Monday and for the next several months, existing Interstates 59 and 459 should be able to shoulder the burden of diverted traffic.


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