Grammer Gobbet #2

Paper Coach : Teach Yourself to Write (A Fiction Writing Course)

Still reading those grammar books very slowly. But I came across the following grammar tidbit that frankly, baffles me. Maybe someone out there has a better way to explain this. This is about tense of the infinitive. The problem is that I can't quite grok the rule for determining agreement between main verb and infinitive.

Here's the relevant passage in The Elements of Grammar

"The infinitive has two tenses, present and present perfect. Which tense to use depends upon the time expressed by the main verb...in the following sentences the present infinitive is used with verbs denoting present or past time. The time denoted by the infinitive is the same as that of the principal verb or later than denoted by the principle verb...

I should have liked to do it, but I could not (not to have done it).
Jim would have liked to go with his brother last week (not to have gone).
I had intended to write the letter before breakfast (not to have written)."

Why does reading grammar rules always make me dizzy?

That said, my problem is that my gut (usually quite good with grammar) would likely have written to have done it and to have gone.

I can't quite see why that would be wrong. Input anyone?


At 5/09/2007 12:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does it matter if it's "wrong" ?
I think you should use what feels true to you.

At 5/30/2007 10:03 AM, Blogger Lou Agresta said...

Have to disagree here.

Sure, one should use what feels true and grammar 'rules' are certainly bent by writers all the time -- for very specific purposes.

So of course we should work with the language from an inner sense of truth, tonality, rhythm, meaning, etc.

Unless people can't understand what the heck was just said because the grammar is busted.

Or worse, they misinterpet what was meant because the grammar is busted.

Or aesthetically, the busted grammar so squeals in the readers ears that they fail to read what felt true to the writer.

Or pragmatically, the busted grammar turns off the editor; so, what felt right never sees print. Which is fine, of course, but really means the writer is journal writing (or other working personally, in some other self-satisfying form) and not writing for consumption by others.

On top of which, to bend the language to strong effect, one really does (I feel) need to understand the use of the language for effect in its unbent form first.

Unless one is a literary genius and can just bypass such considerations; however, I for one am not such a person.

I'll learn the grammar.


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