Eroica’s Erotica, Episode 2: Past Perfect Tense
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Verb tenses get confusing when you have flashes forward and backward in a story–even tiny ones. But good use of the past perfect verb tense can help in a past tense story.
Eroica’s sweet voice breathed the dirty words. I whispered back a line I memorized.
These sentences make it sound like the narrator memorized a line right there while Eroica read. But what if the whispered line came from something the narrator read and memorized another time, before this?
I whispered back a line I had memorized.
“That’s hot,” Eroica said. Her eyes followed my hand. “Where did it come from?”
We now understand that the line the narrator whispered had been memorized another time, in the “former” past, before the past tense moment described with the other verbs, whispered, said, and followed. This is the past perfect verb tense, and it describes “former past” or the “past before the past.”
I had read it on a bathroom wall, but I didn’t want to tell her that.
The narrator did not read that naughty line on a bathroom wall within the confines of this past tense story but instead before, in the past perfect. And note the combination of the past perfect had read in the first phrase with the past tense didn’t (did not) want in the second. This clarifies that the narrator first read the sexy, whispered, memorized words sometime before the scene at hand but that in this scene, the narrator doesn’t want Eroica to know that.
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