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01 January 2013

Grammar: Verb Tenses when Retelling Stories

Stories from books, movies or TV shows

When retelling stories or narratives from literature or films, we often use the PRESENT TENSE and the PRESENT PERFECT.

To make things easy, just remember this:
1. Use present tense when you start telling the story.
Example: Once upon a time in Korea, a young man lives with his aunt and uncle.

2. Use present perfect when the event or situation started in the past and it is  continuing in the story.
Example: He has lived with them for more than 7 years and they have protected him since he was 2 years old.

3. Use past tense only if the event happened before the start of the story.
Example: Before his aunt and uncle adopted him, he lived with his father, the King. However, an evil dragon captured his father.

As you retell the story, you should use the present tense except in special situations.  Read the sample summary of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Summary taken from Wikipedia.)

* NOTE: The verbs here are in past tense because these events happened before the story of the movie begins.

Just before the start of the novel, Voldemort, the most powerful Dark wizard in history, killed Harry's parents. However, he mysteriously vanished after trying to kill Harry.  

* NOTE: The verbs in the paragraphs below are in the present tense because they contain the actual story.

While the wizarding world is celebrating Voldemort's downfall, Professor Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall and Hagrid place the one-year-old orphan in the care of his Muggle (non-wizard) aunt and uncle, Vernon and Petunia Dursley.

For ten years, they and their son Dudley bully Harry. Shortly before Harry's eleventh birthday, a series of letters addressed to Harry arrive but Vernon destroys them before Harry can read them. To get away from the letters, Vernon takes the family to a lonely island. As they are settling in, Hagrid bursts through the door.

* NOTE:  Some of the verbs below are in the present perfect form (in green) because the event or situation started in the past and is continuing to the present.

Hagrid tells Harry what the Dursleys have kept him from finding out: Harry is a wizard and has been accepted at Hogwarts.

Hagrid takes Harry to Diagon Alley, a magically-concealed shopping precinct in London, where Harry is bewildered to discover how famous he is among wizards as "the boy who lived." He also finds that he is quite wealthy since a bequest from his parents has remained on deposit at Gringotts Wizarding Bank. Guided by Hagrid, he buys the books and equipment he needs for Hogwarts. At the wand shop, he finds that the only wand that works well for him is the twin of Voldemort's - both wands contain feathers from the same Phoenix.

A month later, Harry leaves the Dursleys' home to catch the Hogwarts Express from King's Cross railway station. There he meets the Weasley family, who show him how to pass through the magical wall to Platform 9¾, where the train is waiting. While on the train Harry makes friends with Ron Weasley, who tells him that someone tried to rob a vault at Gringotts.


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