Archives for posts with tag: Tense

One of the quainter English phrases is to ‘to and fro’, where fro is an old contraction of from. You can use the term ‘physically’, as in to go to and fro London, although I admit there’s the insertion of the verb ‘to go’ there. You can also use it figuratively, as in ‘I need to to and fro on this subject before I can make a decision I’m happy with’.

That’s fine, but how do you use the term in the past tense? Imperfect tense is OK – as in I was to-ing and fro-ing – although to hyphenate or not is slightly problematic. But what about the simple past tense, as in I did something? Here are some options, to my mind:

  • I to-ed and fro-ed
  • I to’d and fro’d
  • I went to and fro
  • I to and fro-ed

I’m not sure what feels right. Maybe the answer is context: if you mean it physically, then maybe use the verb to go with it. If your intent is mental, maybe it’s to-ed and fro-ed. Who knows, but this is the type of thing I think about and it’s one of very many small pockets of the language that I don’t have an answer for.

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For a language that is the lingua franca – and I’m aware of the irony of using that term – of the business world, and most of the tourist world, English is a tad tricky at times. Actually it’s a lot tricky. With a ton of irregular verbs and more heteronyms than you can shake a stick at, it’s no wonder people for whom it’s a second language struggle from time to time.

It’s not that much different for people using it as their first language. Take some of the irregular verbs and their past tenses. We’re talking run-ran-run, drink-drank- drunk, ring-rang-rung. One’s for the present tense, one’s for the simple past – or Aorist if you love your classical Greek – and one’s for the perfect tense, as in I have done something.

From time to time you’ll hear among native English speakers phrases like “I rung him already,” or “I’ve already rang him.”

The way to remember it is this: simple past is generally the ‘a’ word. I ran round the block. I rang Paul yesterday. We drank to her health. When you’ve got the word ‘have’ in there, it throws it ‘back’ farther to the ‘u’ word. ¬†I have rung the changes. We have run a mile. He would have drunk more if he’d stayed.

Of course, the other way to avoid getting it wrong it to take the wonderfully circuitous route favoured by the Irish: I’m after ringing him. I’m after drinking a toast. ¬†Marvellous.