+31 (0)61 850 5055

The innovation: Fixing up your hair for the new year? Just sit back in your dressing gown, press a few buttons, and presto.

In 1899, French artists created a series of these futuristic images for the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris. The drawings gave curious French people a glimpse into what things would be like in the year 2000 (“en l’an 2000″). Although I don’t know anyone who dresses like this (even at home), I do think this innovation would come in handy if we could multitask with our i-Phones while the machine made our hair beautiful.

The English: “The machine is combing her hair, putting on her makeup, and polishing her toenails.” This is a grammatically correct sentence with matching verb tenses. (The sentence could make the reader wonder if “her” refers to the machine putting on her own machine makeup and nail varnish. This begs other questions about artificial intelligence…but that’s a discussion for another time. The sentence is still grammatically correct.)

Unfortunately, I see many examples of lists with mixed verb tenses, a grammar no-no. So don’t say “The machine is combing her hair, puts on her makeup, and is polishing her toenails.”  “Puts” is the awkward verb here because it doesn’t match the other two. Better would be “The machine is combing her hair, putting on her makeup, and polishing her toenails.”

Tip 1: If there’s an “ing” after one verb, there should be an “ing” after all verbs in a list. An “ing” turns a verb into a noun called a gerund. Because the verb is now a noun, you can also add other nouns to the list (see below.)

Tip 2: If one verb is in its infinitive form (beginning with “to”), all verbs in the list should also be infinitives…but in this case they don’t all have to begin with “to” (see the first example below).

Here are some more examples of wrong and right ways to string verbs in a sentence:

Wrong: The beautiful French woman loves to paint, dance, and her handsome boyfriend.

Right: The beautiful French woman loves to paint, dance, and admire her handsome boyfriend. (The list contains three verbs in the same tense: paint, dance, and admire.)

Also right: The beautiful French woman loves painting, dancing, and her handsome boyfriend. (Painting, dancing, and her boyfriend are all nouns).

And also right: The beautiful French woman loves to paint, to dance, and to admire her handsome boyfriend. (Grammatically correct, but a little wordy.)

Wrong: Tonight, she will dine with Henri, be dancing with Etienne, and will go home with François.

Right: Tonight, she will dine with Henri, dance with Etienne, and go home with François. (Ooh la la.)

Wrong: This morning, her mother scolded her for eating too loudly, her dog has vomited in the foyer, and her brother called her a coquette*.

Right: This morning, her mother scolded her for eating too loudly, her dog vomited in the foyer, and her brother called her a coquette*.

I hope you get the idea. Now celebrate the new year by writing, practicing, and remembering to match your verb tenses!

*Coquette: “a woman who endeavors without sincere affection to gain the attention and admiration of men” (Merriam-Webster)