Wow, it’s dusty in here. Excuse me for a moment while I blow away some cobwebs.
*takes out the recycling*
Right. Now, where was I? Ah, yes… some good old fashioned pedantry for a Tuesday evening.
I don’t know when this particular grammatical misdemeanor started creeping into general use, but it seems to have been slow and insidious. I’m sure people didn’t all talk like this fifteen years ago, or even ten. But nowadays EVERYONE is making this mistake. All the time. It’s not an educational thing – I’ve heard university scholars and construction workers alike using it. It’s in mainstream media, down your local pub, in your own home…
And it’s driving me crazy.
When did people stop using present participles properly? When did we start forgetting that verbs like ‘sit’ and ‘stand’ (the two most commonly abused in this way) only become ‘sat’ and ‘stood’ when they’re in the PAST TENSE?
I usually sit in this chair while writing.
Yesterday, I sat in this chair.
Right now, I am sitting in this chair.
Notice that? Am sitting? Notice how the past tense is sat?
Verb forms ending in ‘ing’ are present participles. They’re used in the present tense, with an auxiliary verb like ‘am’, ‘were’, or ‘was’, to show that the activity in question is or was ongoing. The ongoing part is key – that’s why it’s present tense and not past.
Past tense forms cannot be used in place of participles in a compound verb phrase. It is completely incorrect to say ‘I am sat in this chair.’ (Argh – it makes me cringe just writing that.) It is equally incorrect to say ‘I have been sat in this chair’, unless you mean that someone else has physically placed you in the chair.
If it’s ongoing activity, you are sitting. Or standing. You are not sat. Or stood. Present participles are important. They’re incredibly precise ways of communicating exactly when and how something took place.
I have been sitting in this chair for several hours. ‘I have been sat’ would make no sense. ‘Sat’ is past tense. Confusingly, ‘I was sitting’ is not past tense, but past progressive tense, using a present participle. Yeah… I can see your eyes glazing over now, so never mind all the different convolutions. The point is, if it’s happening right now, it’s not past tense. If it was happening yesterday, and you’re describing it in an ongoing way, it’s not past tense. You need an ‘ing’ ending on those verbs.
Most verbs are thankfully never misused this way. If in doubt, substitute ‘sat’ or ‘stood’ with another past tense verb. Try ‘cooked’.
sitting cooking. Yes.
sat cooked. Well… maybe if someone put you on a barbecue, but I doubt you’d be speaking any form of grammar at that point. So, no.
Please, people. This is a desperate plea.
STOP USING PAST TENSE VERBS FOR ONGOING ACTIVITY!
Thank you. That is all.