Monday, December 09, 2013

Taming the Helping Verb

Keep your verbs in the simplest form possible and try to avoid helping verbs. Sometimes, it's unavoidable, but as much as possible, keep your writing in simple past and don't add a bunch of other verbs to the lineup.

In case you don't know your Helpers, here's a list:
am, are, is, was, were, be, being, been (To Be verbs)
have, has, had (To Have verbs)
can, could
do, does, did (To Do verbs)
may, must, might
shall, should, will, would

Using helping verbs weakens the narrative and should be used sparingly. Why? This one, I can answer. Keep your writing as active as possible. Sometimes, you can't help it. A Helper is unavoidable in some cases. Avoiding the use of was entirely, as some misinformed authors try to do, is impossible. Was is the past tense of To Be – I am (present) I was (past). Some verbs must have a helper to be clear.
Example: I was elected president of the student body.
I elected president of the student body.
Not only is the second sentence not really grammatical, it doesn't make sense. If I chose to say – The student body elected me president, that would work. I left out was and still wrote a clear sentence.

Why is it important to avoid helpers? As I said above, they weaken the narrative. Also, if the author gets too hung up in tenses, the premise of the sentence, paragraph or story is lost in a fog of verbs.
When I was a teenager, we used to tease the husband of a friend of ours. He was from Arkansas and, though he had a very polished manner of speaking, he sometimes reverted to his backwoods roots.
I might should ought to could do that” was a favorite phrase to twit him over. This is, understandably, an extreme example. However, when dealing with the past, we authors sometimes don't know when to quit. We don't stick with simple past, but jump into all those freakish variables that require mountains of extra verbs. You know it's true. It jumps off the page, snarling at you. Take a Louisville Slugger and beat those suckers into submission.

Learn to control the vicious helping verb beast.

© Dellani Oakes

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