Correct, but could be better

rogersgeorge on October 27th, 2012

You can write a sentence that is perfectly correct grammatically, but it’s still not right. (Finding these sentences is one reason to let your work sit for a while, then re-read it.) Here’s an example of a sentence that’s technically correct in its grammar, but it’s not correct in its context.

Artifacts created from one of the five buttes, Obsidian Butte, first appear in Native American villages around 510 B.C. to 640 B.C. …¬†However, for decades, researchers thought Obsidian Butte erupted thousands of years earlier.

To be really correct, the sentence should say “…Obsidian Butte had erupted thousands of years earlier.” The sentence is in an article on volcanism in the Salton Sea in Scientific American online, and I encourage you to read it. The ¬†sentence refers to something that happened in the past, the eruptions. So far, so good. But the eruptions that happened in the past ended before something else that happened in the past, namely the creation of the artifacts. When you have something that starts in the past, and ends in the past, you should use the past perfect, not the simple past.

The only photo of the butte I could find was copyrighted, so here’s a picture of some obsidian in situ

Read the article and you will see a couple more places where the past perfect is more correct. It will be good practice for you.

Subscribe to this blog's RSS feed