In my language, we have only three tenses. Thus, it is super difficult for me to catch the point of usage of all twelve in English :)

Anyway, I decided to challenge myself and practice it by trying. Can I kindly ask you if past tense is correct in a sentence:

"Let me alone!" screamed Mendric when a circle of the seven characters surrounding him becoming smaller and smaller. "I did nothing to you!".

(Mendric is a name).

I am trying to express a fact that Mendric was screaming while the people were coming closer and closer.

  • I think you mean while a circle of the seven characters surrounding him was becoming smaller and smaller. As it is, your "when" clause has no finite verb. Also a circle of the seven characters reads oddly, unless "the seven characters" is a known item in the story. Otherwise I would expect the circle of seven characters, or the seven characters in a circle. – Colin Fine Jun 3 '18 at 18:48
  • @ColinFine Thank you very much, great comment. I am going to study where to use "when" and where to use "while". – tucna Jun 3 '18 at 19:01

I would suggest:

"Let me alone!", screamed Mendric, as the circle of the seven characters surrounding him became smaller and smaller. "I did nothing to you!".

The use of "becoming" in your sentence suggest present tense, so I have changed it to "became". I would also suggest replacing "smaller and smaller" with "closer and closer", as you used in your last sentence. If you do, then I also suggest that you replace "became" with simply "came", I will leave the changes there as it is your story and will be better told in your words.

  • Thank you for the recommendations. Can I ask you more about the tenses? Well, why do you use past tense and not past perfect? (because I guess these are two events in a past related to each other). Would it be any difference in understanding in this case? – tucna Jun 3 '18 at 19:07
  • Using the past perfect (had screamed) for the matrix verb would be perfectly possible, but imply that this whole incident was in the past relative to some later reference point - if you were describing Mendric as remembering the event, for example. Otherwise it would be confusing, as the reader would be left wondering what was the temporal reference point relative to which this was being located. If you did use past perfect for the matrix verb, the verb in the subordinate clause could be, but would not need to be, past perfect. – Colin Fine Jun 3 '18 at 19:25
  • I used past tense as that was the tense you mentioned in your question. You could also use past continuous "was becoming" as suggested by Colin Fine, or the past perfect "had become" as you asked. To me, the use of the past, or the past continuous, in conjunction with the phrase "smaller and smaller", gives more of a feeling of movement and immediacy, which feels more threatening to me. It happened in the past, but it feels like it is happening now. The past perfect feels more distant and complete, and therefore less threatening, to me. – James Jun 3 '18 at 19:39
  • Thank you very much for valuable information guys. It gave me a lot. – tucna Jun 3 '18 at 20:56

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