Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The Indeterminate Future Tense

I really think I've got this cracked now. So I think I can share this linguistic discovery with you.

I call it the "Indeterminate Future" tense. It's a bit like the normal "Future" tense, but less certain.

The simple Future tense uses expressions like "I shall be in London tomorrow", or "you'll be Tory leader one day, Boris". All future tenses have in them that hidden tension that the future is conditional - somebody might dig up the Bedpan line overnight, or David Cameron might suddenly discover the Philosopher's Stone. But the expectation is there that the thing will happen.

Whereas the Indeterminate Future is a tense used where the expectation - almost, if you will, the determination - is that it won't happen. They generally use the "ironic imperative" through words such as "must" and "really should". These are words that express conviction, but achieve little.

Here are some examples to consider:

"Liturgical Dance every Sunday, Osric? We really must set up a meeting to discuss that."

"I know you're wanting someone with whom to share your concerns about your love-life, Burton. Unfortunately, I'm busy now. Can I let you know when I have some time free?"

"We must resolve the issue of Women Bishops in a way that is acceptable to all."

"I hope some day you'll join us, and the world will live as one."

"We really must set out, at a future meeting, how this fellowship will embrace diversity of worship practice. In the meantime, however, it's still gonna be stones and tea lights."

"We must have lunch together some time."

"The meeting agreed that the church needed to be more active in Mission."

You can see the potential of these expressions. The simple future leaves the power in the hands of others - the person to whom the future event will bring good or otherwise, or the sheer grinding inevitability of time itself.  Actually book that meeting with Burton, or set yourself a deadline to bring in oil-lamps or accordions in worship, and you are a slave to the calendar. You will be resorting to management techniques such as "forgetting" or "old war-wound".

But the Indeterminate Future can pile events and decisions blythely into the forseeable - each one sat there, preserved as in aspic, in a see-through box made out of "we really must" or "nearer the time." It may actually be the true meaning of eternal life. All those empty promises and half-intentions will be lived out in a parallel universe of tied-up ends, where we have telephone conversations with great-aunts and have lunch with those friends we wish we'd never met. Or Burton finally gets some advice on his love-life. Imagine there's no heaven? Nah, I reckon that must be more like the other place.

1 comment :

  1. Too much grammar makes my head spin!!

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