Re the importance of tenses: Today I read the opinion that was issued yesterday by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in which that court declared Virginia’s Partial Birth Abortion Ban constitutional. Not a pleasant task given its graphic descriptions of various ways to kill babies. But there was a very interesting passage in which the court relied upon the verb tense in the statute to draw one of its major conclusions. Some of you may not want to read the passage given its topic, but if you do, it constitutes the next paragraph. If you don’t want to read this, skip down to the rest of this post for another topic. The Fourth Circuit wrote (and I added the bracketed material to make the meaning clearer since I have lifted this out of a longer discussion):
“In the Virginia Act, a partial birth infanticide is defined as a ‘deliberate act that is intended to kill a human infant who has been born alive.’ Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-71.1(B) (emphasis added). The use of the present perfect tense indicates that the live birth, as defined in subsection (C) of the Virginia Act, must have taken place prior to the ‘deliberate act’ that kills the fetus. Thus, the act that results in the demise and [the act that results in] the emergence [of the baby] to the anatomical landmark cannot be one single action. Additionally, if the doctor acts to complete delivery, § 18.2-71.1(B) shields the doctor from liability, even if the doctor’s acts ultimately kill the fetus.”
In thinking about the court’s point that the present perfect tense indicates past action, I thought I’d recommend a great resource for both those who do know verb tense names and for those who don’t—as per the prior conversation in this thread. You can go to http://www.englishpage.com/verbpage/simplepresent.html
for a great explanation of verb tenses. If look at this page (scrolling all the way to the bottom), you will see that there are graphic representations (accompanied by a textual explanation and examples) of all of the uses of the simple present tense. You will also notice illustrations of both active and passive voice, examples of proper adverb placement, and helpful links. Then if you look at the left side of the page, you will notice links for other verb tenses. One each of those pages, you will find the same materials. Thus, if you know the names of the tenses, you can look at a passage you have written, figure out the tense you used, and go to the appropriate page to see whether you wrote what you meant (i.e., whether you used your chosen tense correctly). Even if you don’t know the names of the tenses, you can quickly pop through the links on the left side of the pages until you find the one that you used and then see whether you wrote what you meant. And whichever category you are in, if you did not say what you meant, you can use the diagrams to find the one that does convey what you intended and edit your original.