Friday, October 2, 2009

Using Verb Forms in the Real World

Notice how the present and past tenses, simple, progressive, and perfect aspects, and modal auxiliaries combine to create meaning in the following excerpt from today's Washington Post.

Dark blue: present simple
Light blue: present progressive
Purple: present perfect
Dark green: past simple
Light green: Past progressive
Orange: future
Brown: modal auxiliary

'You Just Turn Your Head and Wait'
With Suicides, Train Engineers Long Haunted by Horror, Helplessness

By Steve Hendrix
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 2, 2009

Bruce Evans has learned to look away. Hoping to keep his mind free of yet another image that will linger for a lifetime, he has learned to avert his eyes as his train barrels down on a person on the tracks. In 20 years at the controls of Amtrak locomotives, Evans has watched a dozen fatalities unfold in agonizing close-up.

"After the first time you strike somebody, you just turn your head and wait for the impact," said Evans, an engineer based out of Washington's Union Station.

The first one was sitting on a quiet stretch of rail near Weldon, N.C., a man ignoring Evans's frantic horn blasts, waiting for a locomotive roaring at 75 mph to end his despair. "When I looked in the mirror, he was tumbling in the air, just flying," Evans said. "I can see it as clearly as if it was happening in front of me right now."

Colorfast mental snapshots of horror, a sense of overwhelming helplessness, sympathy and sometimes anger -- these are the aftershocks that engineers and subway train operators report from their special perch as unwilling agents of sudden death. Eight people have jumped in front of Metro trains in 2009, the most in recent years, and inches from each of those horrific scenes, barely mentioned in the news, sits a traumatized driver who will be forever entangled with a stranger's demise. It is an intimacy none of them sought.

"It's such a mixture of both anger and compassion, I don't know where one ends and the other starts," said Evans, who estimates that about half of his fatal strikes were suicides. "They're doing this to you, too. It's a hard thing to take home."

According to a British study, 16 percent of train operators involved in fatal incidents develop post-traumatic stress. For some, getting right back behind the controls is the best way to shake off the shadows of violence. For others, years of counseling are needed before they can return to everything they love about driving a train.

Some never do.

"Everyone reacts differently," Evans, 61, said. He told of a colleague who struck a mother and her four children on the tracks near Providence, R.I., a murder-suicide. "He never worked again."


Nina Liakos said...

Here are two challenges for you:
1. How many infinitives can you find? (I found 6.)
2. How many prepositional phrases can you find? (I found 47!)
List them in a comment. (You don't have to repeat items a classmate has already listed; just add some more.)

Jaehak said...

1. Prepositional Phrase(51);
of yet another image
for a lifetime
on a person
on the tracks
In 20 years
at the controls
of Amtrak locomotives
in agonizing close-up
for the impact
of Washington's Union Station
on a quiet stretch
of rail
near Weldon
for a locomotive roaring
at 75 mph
in the mirror
in the air
in front
of me
of horror
of overwhelming helplessness
from their special perch
as unwilling agents
of sudden death
in front
of Metro trains
in 2009
in recent years
from each
of those horrific scenes
in the news
with a strangers's demise
of them
such a mixture
of both anger
of his fatal
to you
to a British study
of train operators
in fatal incidents
For some
behind the controls
off the shadows
of violence
For others
of counseling
to everything
about driving a train
of a colleague
on the tracks
near Providence

2. Infinitives(6);
to look away
to keep his mind free
to avert his eyes
to end his despair
to take home
to shake

Eric Lin said...

1. Prepositional Phrase:
as his train
After the first time
about half
before they

2. Infinitives(6);
to look away
to keep
to avert
to end
to take home
to shake

Nina Liakos said...

@Jay: Wow! You jumped right in and found almost every prepositional phrase in the excerpt. Very impressive! You made a very few small mistakes. First, and not really a mistake, is analyzing 'in front' and 'of me/Metro trains' as 2 separate prepositional phrases. Very strictly speaking, you are right, but we usually conside 'in front of' as one preposition, and 'in front of me/in front of Metro trains' as two prepositional phrases rather than four.

Second, another compound preposition is 'according to'. The prepositional phrase is 'according to a British study'.

Third, you missed some compound objects: 'of overwhelming hopelessness, sympathy, and ... anger' and 'of both anger and compassion'.

Fourth, you missed the noun in 'of his fatal strikes'.

Fifth, 'roaring' is not part of the prep. phrase 'for a locomotive'. ('roaring at 75 mph' modifies locomotive, though)

Finally, 'such' is not a preposition.

I think you missed only two prep. phrases; Eric got one ('after the first time'), but we'll have to wait and see if anyone can identify the last one.

@Eric, Jay didn't leave you much to do, but you did find one prep. phrase that he missed. 'as his train' and 'before they' are not prep. phrases, however. "as' and 'before' are subordinating conjunctions (of time), and 'train' and 'they' are the subjects of dependent clauses.

I could not find 'about half' anywhere. Where is it?

@Jay & Eric: Good job on the infinitives!

Ploy said...

The last one might be 'as clearly as if'. Is it correct?
or it's an adverb? I'm not sure.

Ps.'about half' is in ¶5 on the third lines.

Li Jiang said...

@Jay: Next time, please leave more for us to do...:)don't finished it alone...

I cannot find any infinitives and prepositional phrases. I think they found all...

Nina Liakos said...

"About half" is not a prepositional phrase after all. "About" here is an adverb that means "approximately" "Half" is the subject of the sentence ("Half...were suicides.") In the sentence, "Jack is thinking about Jeanne", "about" is a preposition.

I am sorry to have misled you. I thought Jay had missed "of violence", but on closer examination I see that he has it on his list.

@Ploy: "as ... as if" is not a prepositional phrase. "" is a kind of comparative expression. If a noun follows the second "as", that is a preposition: for example, "as high as a kite", "as a kite" is a prepositional phrase. But in this excerpt, "as if" + clause is an adverbial clause, and "as if" is a subordinating conjunction. Nice try!

I will post another excerpt and limit everyone from posting more than 5 phrases! Thank you all for your participation.

s08040kr said...

I found all infinitives, on the other hand,I found only 43 Prepositional Phrase.