Grammar Wednesday: the “U” and the “A”

This is a common mistake that I find with my copy-editing, and it has to do with tenses, which I will eventually tackle on this blog.

Drank v. Drunk
Sank v. Sunk

These are two that are commonly misused when speaking and even more commonly misused when writing.

1–He drank the tea.
2–He had drunk the tea.

The first sentence is past tense, the second is past perfect or perfect past.  If you are writing in past tense, and the action happens in the moment (yes, I know that doesn’t make TOTAL sense), then the first sentence is correct. If time has passed since the action has occurred, then the past perfect is necessary and the second sentence is correct.

1–The ship sank in port; the U.S.S. Arizona fell beneath the warm waters of the harbor.
2–The ship had sunk in port; the U.S.S. Arizona had fallen beneath the warm waters of the harbor.

Do you see the difference? In the second sentence there is the past perfect tense twice, with the “had sunk” and “had fallen.” These tense things take time to learn. I will do a more in-depth post about them, including also present tense. For kicks and giggles, the present tense of the second example would be: “The ship sinks in the port; the U.S.S. Arizona falls beneath the warm waters of the harbor.

I should note that I have never ever EVER written a story in present tense. It’s just not my thing. However, I have edited and read plenty. A lot of it comes with preference.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Graham Powell (@graham_powell)
    May 29, 2013 @ 13:17:03

    And then there’s the strange case of “hanged” and “hung”. Which is a little different because the usage is not the same: pictures are hung, people are hanged.

    I wish I knew all the rules of grammar on a more formal level. I (mostly) know how to apply them, but my actual knowledge of what is what and why it’s that way is spotty.

    Reply

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