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Present Tense Narration

Story and Joke Telling

Psychiatrist saying 'next'.

 

 

 

Using Present vs. Past Tense in Narration

PRESENT

When telling a joke or story, we use present and present progressive tenses to recreate the event in an active (dynamic) manner. The joke or story teller relates the story as if it is/were happening at the moment.

"A  ONE-LINER" JOKE

A man goes to his psychiatrist and says, "Nobody listens to me!"
The doctor says, "Next!"    

I asked my wife, "Where do you want to go for our anniversary?"
She said, "Somewhere I have never been!"
I told her, "How about the kitchen?" 

PAST

The past tense is used to report "what happened", a completed event.  For example, a reporter uses  the past tense to retell a series of events in a news story. Similarly, an author relates historical events in past tense.    

A REPORTED EVENT

¹A man went to a psychiatrist. The man said that nobody listened to him. The doctor called for the next person to come in.

²A man asked his wife where she wanted to go for their anniversary.  She replied that she wanted to go somewhere she had never been.  He suggested the kitchen to her. 

 

¹It is unclear why the doctor called for the next person.
²It is just a series of events. It is not funny.

 

 

 

 

 

Joke Telling

Active Wording

blonde sitting on sports car

 

 

A "Blonde Joke" 

A blond woman is driving her car home one night when she suddenly finds herself in the middle of a really bad hail storm. The hail stones are as big as golf balls and her car gets dented up really bad. The next day she takes it in to a repair shop to have the dents looked at.
The repair guy, noticing that she is blond and quite dingy¹ when she speaks, decides to have some fun and tells her to blow into the tail pipe of the car really hard when she gets home, and that doing this will cause all of the dents to pop out.

When she gets home she starts blowing into the tail pipe as hard as she can, over and over. Just then, her best friend, who also is blond, shows up. Her friend sees her blowing into the tail pipe and is quite startled by the action. She blurts out, "What are you doing!?"

The first blonde tells the second blonde that the repair guy told her to blow into the tail pipe real hard and the dents would pop out.

Her girlfriend says "Duh²! You need to roll up the windows first!"

Blonde Jokes – a genre of jokes that are directed toward young blond females: a "woman who relies on her looks rather than on intelligence.". Note they are considered "politically incorrect" because they have a disparaging, negative effect.
dingy¹ (adj.) – not too smart;  (also used for a small boat that carries people to a larger ship)
duh² (informal expression) –  everybody knows that, I'm not stupid
blonde (n.) – a female with light hair; blond (adj.) having light-colored hair

 

 

 

Setting up the Scene

BACKGROUND ACTIVITY EVENTS DURING THAT TIME

A progressive tense is commonly used to set the scene for the events that follow.  This use of tense is often called "backgrounding".

The simple present tense relates the series of events that occurs during that time. Note that jokes are typically told with informal language use.

A  blond woman is driving her car home one night when…

she suddenly finds herself in the middle of

 

her car gets dented up really bad(informal)

 

she takes it in to a repair shop…
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 1

Narrating a Joke

man with saber sword

 

Use the present tense to tell this joke.

  1. Select the verb from the menu that best completes the sentence.
  2. Check your responses to the answers by clicking the "check button" to the right.

 

1.
  
  

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 2

Diary Writing

Oregon Trail wagon train

 

 

 

Read the story written as a reported event (past).

The discovery of gold, and the wonderful stories of the mild climate and rich soil were reasons for my family, like most other pioneers, to go West.  Our 2,000-mile journey along the Oregon Trail commenced April 1, 1852, from Independence, Missouri with twelve wagons.

We heard stories of meeting Indians along the way.   The Indians scared me at first, but I became curious about their customs.  I can tell you about one particular incident in which an Indian warrior, our guide, fell in love with my sister and wanted to take her as his wife.  He asked my father how many horses it would take to buy her.  My father jokingly said it would take ten spotted ponies, which he mostly said to humble my sister who had become intolerable on the long trip. Unexpectedly, the Indian came back with ten spotted ponies. My father realized his little joke with my sister had turned against him.  

My father refused to give the Indian his daughter. The next day, the Indian came back with twelve ponies.  My father refused again and the Indian scout left — he did not return.  Our group of wagons was left without a guide for the next five days in some of the most dangerous stretches of the trip.

Soon after that, my mother came down with cholera, and she was in great pain and died two days later.  We buried her in the dry desert land and mournfully left her behind as we moved on.

Everyone was very helpful as we neared Oregon.  We were given food, supplies, and shelter and not a penny was asked for in return.  We were very grateful to all who helped us.

Adapted from  " Oregon Trail Diary" by George Waggoner  

 

 

cholera (n.) – a disease commonly gotten from drinking infected water
commence (v.) start
humble (v.) – to make less prideful, proud, self-important
incident (n.) – event; happening
Indian – Native American, Amerindian
intolerable (adj.) – having an unpleasant character
journey (n.) – long trip

 

mournfully (adv) – feeling or expressing sorrow or grief, (used after a loved one dies)
near (v.) – approach, become closer to
shelter (n.) – a temporary place to live (a covering such as a roof)
spotted ponies (n.) – small native American horses with spots, Pintos
stretches (n.) – passages, parts of a trail
supplies (n.) – things that are needed to live

 

Change the verbs so that the story is a more active narration (as if your were reading it from a diary.)

  1. Edit the tense in the following sentences so that an active tense form is used.
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "check" button.

 

  11.
The discovery of gold, and the wonderful stories of the mild climate and rich soil were reasons for my family, like most other pioneers, to go West.  Our 2,000-mile journey along the Oregon Trail commenced April 1, 1852, from Independence, Missouri with twelve wagons.


  12.
We heard stories of meeting Indians along the way. The Indians scared me at first, but I became curious about their customs.


  13.
I can tell you about one particular incident in which an Indian warrior, our guide, fell in love with my sister and wanted to take her as his wife.


  14.
He asked my father how many horses it would take to buy her.  My father jokingly said it would take ten spotted ponies, which he mostly said to humble my sister who had become intolerable on the long trip.


  15.
Unexpectedly, the Indian came back with ten spotted ponies. My father realized his little joke with my sister had turned against him. 


  16.
My father refused again and the Indian scout left — he did not return.  Our group of wagons was left without a guide for the next five days in some of the most dangerous stretches of the trip.


  17.
Soon after that, my mother came down with cholera, and she was in great pain and died two days later.  We buried her in the dry desert land and mournfully left her behind as we moved on.


 18.
Everyone was very helpful as we neared Oregon.  We were given food, supplies, and shelter and not a penny was asked for in return.  We were very grateful to all who helped us.