5

Mr Botibol advanced slowly to a position at the rail about twenty yards away from the woman. She wasn’t looking at him now. So much the better. He didn’t want her watching him as he jumped off. So long as no one was watching, he would be able to say afterwards that he had slipped and fallen by accident. He peered over the side of the ship.

(Source "Dip in the Pool", by Roald Dahl.

Just one question regarding the excerpt from Dahl's short story. Why is the past tense used in the clause as he jumped off? The story is told in the past tense. But the thoughts about the events of the protagonist (the planning jump off the ship) are from his point of view set in the future so I would await "as he would jump off".

  • The more context you provide, the better. If it is possible to link to an online source, then do so. As for the excerpt, it should be marked as an excerpt. I've done this for you. Notice also that the original does not say 'he peered over the side', which is what you wrote. – user6951 Apr 16 '15 at 12:29
  • Thank you for your notice and correction. It is interesting that in my book the title of the story is not "A swim" but "Dip in the pool". – bart-leby Apr 16 '15 at 12:41
  • Also in my version the text differs from yours. – bart-leby Apr 16 '15 at 12:43
  • 1
    @pazzo Bart-leby's version is correct. The one you link and quote appears to be a simplified version for French students of English, as you may see by comparing it with this version. – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 16 '15 at 12:51
  • 1
    May be I am wrong but it seems to me that the title of the story is a sort of a pun. I mean the double meaning of the word "the pool". – bart-leby Apr 16 '15 at 13:09
3

The reason that as he jumped off is in the past tense is because the main clause is in the past tense. If the story were told in present tense (which is uncommon in English) then jump would also be in present tense. Consider:

He didn't want her watching him as he jumped off
He doesn't want her watching him as he jumps off

At that time, his desire for her not to be watching him as he jumped off was in the present, and so it uses the same tense as the main clause.

1

In certain types of subordinate clauses, the present tense is used freely to represent future time, and the past tense is used freely to represent future-in-past time. For example, if you're about to jump off something, and don't want someone to watch you do it, you might say, "I don't want you watching me as I jump off", but never *"I don't want you watching me as I'll jump off".

According to the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL), §4.2.5 (pp. 134–5), what such subordinate clauses have in common is they are "not used to make a future time assertion" (emphasis in original).

The most common type of these are ones like your example: adverbial clauses introduced by time-related words and phrases like when, before, after, as soon as, and so on.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.