Friday, 30 January 2015

Using Past Indefinite through Dialogues

This page shows different ways of using the Past Indefinite (or Simple Past) through dialogues from English literature.

The Past Indefinite is used to express a single action completed in the past. It is performed within a period of time which is already over. An indication of the past time is given or implied in the situation. The speaker is mostly interested in the circumstances of the action, not the action itself.

Illustrative Examples:

1. The children in the junior form have great difficulty in writing compositions, so the teacher is trying to teach them how to do it; they are writing together on the blackboard a composite account of the holiday.

The teacher: John, tell me something that you did.
John: Went to the seaside, miss.
The teacher: How?
John: Bus.
The teacher: By yourself?
John: No. Lot of us kids went. Us went with the Mothers’ Union, miss.
The teacher: Right. Now put all that into sentences that I can write on the blackboard. Well, come along. You can start by saying, “During the holidays I went to the seaside.” What shall we put next?
Anne: I went in a bus.
The teacher: Now what?
The teacher: I went with the Mother’s Union.
Another pupil: I went with some others.
Another pupil: I went on a Saturday.
Another pupil: I went with my sister.
(Miss Read. Village School)

Note: Sometimes the mention of the time or the place of the action appears unnecessary because reference is made to a particular action which is definite in the mind of the speaker and the hearer.

2. Franklin is an amateur photographer. He is on the beach. He has fetched his camera and wants to take pictures. He comes up to a boy and a nurse.

Franklin (to the boy): Did you wash?
The nurse: Oh! yes, he washed. I saw that.
Franklin: Good. Now I can take your picture. (To the nurse) Perhaps I could take yours too?
The nurse: Yes, of course. Are you keen on photography?
Franklin: Very. I hope to take it up. I mean professionally. For a living.
(H. E. Bates. How Vainly Men Themselves Amaze)

3. Mike Campbell and Brett Ashley are to join the rest of the party for fishing in the Spanish town of Pamplona. They are a few days late. Jacob Barnes meets them in the Café Irũna one morning.

Mike: Did you get god fishing? We wanted to join you.
Jacob Barnes: It wasn’t bad. We missed you. …
Mike: Was it really good? Did you take many?
Jacob Barnes: Some days we took a doze apiece.
(E. Hemingway. Fiesta)

The Past Indefinite is used in narration to express a succession of past actions (single accomplished actions or actions of some duration occupying a whole period of time).

Illustrative Examples:

4. Owl Finds Eeyore’s Tail

Owl: Handsome bell-rope, isn’t it?
Winnie-the Pooh: It reminds me of something, but I can’t think what. Where did you get it?
Owl: I just came across it in the Forest. It was hanging over a bush, and I thought at first somebody lived there, so I rang it, and nothing happened, and then I rang it again very loudly, and it came off in my hand, and as nobody seemed to want it, I took it home, and –
Winnie-the Pooh: Owl, you made a mistake. Somebody did want it.
Owl: Who?
Winnie-the Pooh: Eeyore. My dear friend Eeyore. He was – he was fond of it.
Owl: Fond of it?
Winnie-the Pooh: Attached to it.
(A. Milne. Winnie-the Pooh)

5. Vincent Van Gogh and Toulouse Lautrec walk in Montmartre (Montmartre [mɔ̃martr] – a district in Paris frequented by painters and writers).

Toulouse: You’re probably wondering what’s wrong with my legs, Van Gogh. Everyone does. Well, I’ll tell you.
Vincent: Oh, please! You don’t need to speak of it.
Toulouse: You might as well know. I was born with brittle bones. When I was twelve, I slipped on a dance floor and broke my right thigh bone. The next year I fell into a ditch and broke the left one. My legs have never grown an inch since.
Vincent; Does it make you unhappy?
Toulouse: No. If I had been normal I should never have been a painter. My father is a count of Toulouse. I was next in line for the title.
(I. Stone. Lust for life)

The Past Indefinite expresses recurrent past actions with such adverbs or frequency as often, never, every day (month, year,), each day, now and again, sometimes, etc.

Illustrative Examples:

6. One morning the old Water-rat who was extremely fond of fiction and the Linnet had a conversation near the pond. Its subject was devoted to friendship and the Linnet told the story of The Devoted Friend.

The Linnet: Once upon a time there was an honest little fellow named Hans.
The Water-rat: Was he very distinguished?
The Linnet: No, I don’t think he was distinguished at all, except for his kind heart, and his funny, round, good-humoured face. He lived in a tiny cottage all by himself, and every day he worked in his garden.
(O. Wilde. The Devoted Friend)

The Past Indefinite expresses permanent actions (continuous or uninterrupted processes in the past, giving a general characteristic to the person or thing denoted by the subject). This use is found with durative verbs.

Illustrative Examples:

7. The cooks are talking in the kitchen of a restaurant.

Michael: … One day I’ll work in a place where I can create masterpieces… Beef Stroganoff, Chicken Kiev, and that king of the Greek dishes – Mousaka.
Gaston: Never. You’ll never create a Mousaka. Chips you can make – chips with everything.
Michael: Don’t you think you Greeks have got the monopoly on good cooking, you know. There was a time when English knew how to eat.
Gaston: There was a time.
(A. Wesker. The Kitchen)

Note: Recurrent or permanent actions in the past are also expressed by means of “used to + infinitive”, “would + infinitive”  expresses only recurrent actions in the past and is more restricted in its application.

8. The guests at table strike up a conversation about sport games.

Miss Verever: What is this argument all about?
Mr Golspie: We’re arguing about football and cricket. I don’t suppose you’re interested. I’m not much, myself. I like billiards. That’s one thing about coming back to this country, you can always get a good game of billiards. Proper tables, y’know.
Mr Pearson: I used to be very fond of a game of billiards, snooker too, when I was out in Singapore.
(J. B. Priestley. Angel Pavement)

9. Vincent Van Gogh is dying; he and his brother Theo remember their childhood.

Theo: Do you remember the mill at Ryswyk, Vincent?
Vincent: It was a nice old mill, wasn’t it, Theo?
Theo: We used to walk by the path along the stream, and plan our lives.
Vincent: And when we played in the high corn, in midsummer, you used to hold my hand, just as you’re doing now. Remember, Theo?
Theo: Yes, Vincent.
Vincent: When I was in the hospital at Arles, I used to think often about Zundert. We had a nice childhood, Theo, you and I. We used to play in the garden behind the kitchen, … and Mother would make us cheese cakes for lunch.
Theo: That seems so long ago, Vincent.
(I. Stone. Lust for life)

The Past Indefinite expresses an action which occupied a whole period of time now over. Such an action is usually part of the narration about past events.

Illustrative Examples:

10. While walking Miriam and Paul talk about their common acquaintance.
Miriam: What about Clara? I hear nothing of her lately.
Paul: I walked with her about twenty minutes yesterday.
Miriam: And what did she talk about?
Paul: I don’t know. I suppose I did all the jawing – I usually do.
(D. H. Lawrence. Sons and Lovers)

11. The author talks to John Howard, an old man of about 70, who has been a member of his club for many years, They recollect the old days.

John Howard: I used to have an interest in a wine business. A great many years ago, in Exeter. …
The author: I used to go to Exeter a good deal when I was a boy!
John Howard: I know Exeter very well indeed. I lived there for forty years.
The author: My uncle had a house at Starcross.
(N. Shute. Pied Piper)