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Verbs: Keeping It Simple

Happy National Grammar Day, peoples. Let's get our Grammar Fix(ed)!

If you missed the bird's-eye view of verbs, check it out here. Today, we're going to home in on the simple forms of a verb.




The simple form indicates that an action occurs and usually implies that it wasn't repeated.


I choked on frozen Reese's pieces once. 
Erynn stared in numb disbelief. 
Now, we remember.
We joke
But she will perform the Heimlich next time. Or else.

Or else what? Maybe the story will end badly.
#SadTimes




Let's move on.

Every verb has five principle parts. I'll give a shout out to Kristen Brandsema Lowery and use "sprinkle" and "fall" as examples.


Infinitive: to sprinkle, to fall

Present: sprinkle(s), fall(s)

Past: sprinkled, fell

Present participle: sprinkling, falling

Past participle: sprinkled, fallen

These five parts are used as building blocks for verbs in the English language. In many other languages, if a verb changes from singular to plural, or from first person to third, or from present to future perfect, prefixes and suffixes are added. The verbs themselves get longer. 

In English, we like to make the WHOLE sentence longer. So how does this affect our writing? (C'mon. I'm an editor. You know I have an ulterior motive).

Listen, it takes effort to keep sentences tight. Tossing in a helping verb here and there is as easy as breathing. We're often careless. It's cutting back that challenges us.

Here's an important rule: As much as your story will allow, stick to the simple forms. They're uncomplicated, concise. 

So quickly, the basics:

For all simple forms, you use either the present or the past principle part.


SIMPLE PAST: past 



Kristen sprinkled cinnamon on her hot cocoa.
I fell on the ice. #NotReally 

SIMPLE PRESENT: present (See how easy these are?)

Freezing rain sprinkles the window sill and glazes everything I can see.
It seems like I fall once every year. #SoFarSoGood #MiraclesHappen

SIMPLE FUTURE: "will" + present  


Boyfriend-Who-Is-My-Husband will sprinkle salt on the sidewalk, but I'm pretty sure I'll fall anyway. #Seriously




In fiction, most stories are told in the past tense, whether they're in first person or third person. But there's still one thing I see too often.

Simple past plus the infinitive. I didn't start to choke. I choked.

That grizzly doesn't begin to slip. He busts it. #FullRecovery

Though they exist, times when it's necessary to show something starting to happen are rare. Always look for ways to tighten the verbiage when you see those wind-ups. 

Now...tell me some one-sentence stories in the comments. Use simple forms only.

One last CRUCIAL thing: Do NOT miss next week's Spelunking Speculative Fiction post from Susan Kaye Quinn, rocket scientist and indie author phenom just in time for her new release (on sale even now for $0.99). She'll give us the lowdown on worldbuilding in The Legacy Human (Singularity #1).

Thanks to Stuart Miles and allesmist for the images.