The IWU Writing Center

HelpNote

 

SHIFTS

The rule of thumb is consistency: consistency in person, number, tense, mood, voice, and tone within a sentence (or within a larger piece of discourse, like a paragraph or the piece as a whole).

PERSON: Is the subject of the sentence the person speaking (first person), the person spoken to (second person) or the person spoken about (third person)?

NUMBER: Is a person or thing singular or plural?
 

  • Shifts in person: this occurs when, within a sentence, the person shifts from first to second person, from second to third person, etc. 
    Example: A person who is a nonsmoker can develop lung problems when you live with smokers. This shifts from third to second person.
    Revision: A person who is a nonsmoker can develop lung troubles when he or she lives with smokers. This is consistently third person. 
    Revision: If you are a nonsmoker you can develop lung troubles when you live with smokers. This is consistently second person.
  • Shifts in number: this means shifting between singular and plural in one sentence.
    Example: They had the best time of their life. 
    Revision: They had the best time of their lives. 
    Example: All the candidates have a conservative record.
    Revision: All the candidates have conservative records.
  • Shifts in tense, mood, voice.

TENSE: when (past, present, future) the action of the verb occurs. Tense is marked by verb endings and auxiliary verbs (e.g., He walks home, He walked home, He will walk home, He was walking home.)
Inconsistent: The road climbed up from the river bottom and the vegetation changes dramatically.
Consistent: The road climbed up from the river bottom and the vegetation changed dramatically.
The "historical present tense" refers to texts which may have written long ago but because they can still be read today are referred to in the present tense. 
Inconsistent: In his article, Norman Frye criticized the postmoderns lack of ethics and asks whether literature should still teach as well as entertain.
Consistent: In his article, Norman Frye criticizes the postmoderns lack of ethics and asks whether literature should still teach as well as entertain.

MOOD: what the attitude of the speaker towards the action is
Three moods:

    • indicative: sentence presented as fact or straight assertion
    • imperative: sentence presented as a command, often to an understood "you."
    • subjunctive: sentence presented as doubtful or conditional
      Inconsistent: If he were more experienced, he will be able to help us. This shifts from subjunctive to indicative.
      Consistent: If he were more experienced, he would be able to help us. (Consistently subjunctive)

VOICE: whether the agent or receiver of the action is in the subject slot (active vs. passive). A transitive verb, which transfers action from a subject to an object, can be expressed in active or passive voices. ("The door was opened" is passive, without an agent listed; "John opened the door" is active, with the agent in the subject slot.) Both voices are useful in writing, but shifting from one voice to another within a single sentence is very confusing. 
Inconsistent: Columbus arrived in the New World, and it was believed he had found the coast of Asia. Shifts from active to passive.
Consistent: Columbus arrived in the New World and believed he had found the coast of Asia. OR Columbus arrived in the New World; Spanish courtiers believed he had found the coast of Asia. OR Columbus arrived in the New World. It was believed by Spanish courtiers that he had found the coast of Asia.


Shifts in Tone: this is the speaker's attitude toward the subject or the audience, and it is derived from diction, verb selection, sentence structure, mood, voice, etc. Example: In his famous painting Persistence of Memory, Salvador Dali creates a haunting allegory for modern memory and time, a vision we just have to dub awesome.

Shifting between direct and indirect discourse: direct discourse is where you quote directly. Indirect discourse is paraphrasing. When you move from one to another, there are verb changes which must take place. Example: Lawrence asked, "Is that the telephone ringing?"  Indirect: Lawrence asked whether the telephone was ringing.

 

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