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Shifts - Types - Common Mistakes We Make and It's Correction


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Shifts

Shifts in Tense

Shifts in Voice

Shifts in Mood

Shifts in Person

A shift is an unnecessary or illogical change of tense, voice, mood, person, number, tone or style, viewpoint, or direct and indirect quotations within a sentence, paragraph, or essay. While there are times when it is necessary to shift one of these elements to clarify meaning, unnecessary shifts confuse the reader and distort the meaning of our writing.

Avoid illogical and unnecessary shifts.

Case 1: Shifts in Tense


A shift in tense occurs when the tenses of verbs within a sentence or paragraph do not logically match. Sometimes, however, it is necessary to shift tenses to indicate specific changes in meaning.

EXAMPLES:

Confusing:

Last night I was watching my favorite television show. Suddenly the show is interrupted for a special news bulletin. I lean forward and will eagerly watch the screen for information.

Revised:

Last night I was watching my favorite television show. Suddenly the show was interrupted for a special news bulletin. I leaned forward and eagerly watched the screen for information

Case 2: Shifts in Voice

Voice shows whether the subject of the verb acts or is acted upon. As we know when the subject of the verb does the action, the sentence is said to be in the active voice: I hit the ball across the field. When the subject of the verb receives the action, the sentence is said to be in the passive voice: The ball was hit by me.

As with shifts in tense, there are times when it will be necessary to shift voice within a sentence. Sometimes a shift in voice will help a reader zero in on the focus of the sentence.


EXAMPLES:

Confusing:

As we finished our coffee and tea, the waiters and waitresses were seen clearing the adjacent tables.

Revised:

As we finished our coffee and tea, we saw the waiters and waitresses clearing the adjacent tables.

Confusing:

The cook mixed the bread dough until it was blended and then it was set in the warm oven to rise.
Revised:

The cook mixed the bread dough until it was blended and then set it in the warm oven to rise.

OR

The bread dough was mixed until it was blended and then it was set in the warm oven to rise.


Case 3: Shifts in Mood

As with tense and voice, there are occasions when we have to shift mood within or between sentences to make their meaning clear. Unnecessary shifts in mood, however, can cause confusion. Shifts in mood often occur in giving directions, when a writer moves between the imperative mood and the indicative mood . The following examples illustrate annoying or confusing shifts in mood:

EXAMPLES:

Confusing:

The cleaning service asked that they get better hours and they want to work fewer weekends as well. (shift from subjunctive to indicative)

Revised:

The cleaning service asked that they get better hours and that they work fewer weekends as well.

OR

The cleaning service asked to work better hours and fewer weekends.

OR

The cleaning service wants to work better hours and fewer weekends.

Case 4: Shifts in Person

As we know person means the form a pronoun or verb takes to show the person or persons speaking: the first person (I, we), second person (you), or third person (he, she, it, they). As the pronouns indicate, the first person is the person talking, the second person is the person spoken to, and the third person is the person, concept, or thing spoken about.

Shifts between the second- and third-person pronouns cause the most confusion. Some people feel that these shifts are the most common because English allows us to refer to people in general in both the second person (you) and the third person (a person, one; people, they). The following examples illustrate common shifts in person and different ways to revise such shifts.

EXAMPLES:

Confusing:


When one shops for an automobile, you should research various models in consumer magazines and read all the advertisements as well as speak to salespeople. (shift from the third to the second person)

Revised:

When you shop for an automobile, you should research various models in consumer magazines and read all the advertisements as well as speak to salespeople.

OR

When one shops for an automobile, one should research various models in consumer magazines and read all the advertisements as well as speak to salespeople.

OR

When people shop for an automobile, they should research various models in consumer magazines and read all the advertisements as well as speak to salespeople.

Confusing:

When a person applies themselves diligently, you can accomplish a surprising amount.

Revised:

When people apply themselves diligently, they can accomplish a surprising amount.

OR

When you apply yourself diligently, you can accomplish a surprising amount.


Sample Usage

Stated above with suitable examples.


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