Monday, January 16, 2006

present perfect

What do modern English grammar, the King James Bible, and the key to success in entrepreneurship (and maybe even life!) have in common?


I'm smiling as I type this, because, really, you never know what you're going to read about when you visit here, do you? I'm sure you didn't expect this! But it actually is quite relevant to both my life, and perhaps yours, as well. So, maybe I'm a crazy, confused gal, but I like to dispense little educational tidbits now and then.

First, a grammar lesson.

Remember in school when you had to identify the different parts of speech or pick out the dependent clause in a sentence? And then you had to figure out whether a sentence was past tense, or present tense ... and later on you discovered that there isn't just past, present, or future tense--there are also different types of past, present, and future tense! And one of those types, it just so happens, is called "perfect."

Growing up, I didn't understand that one. In fact, it really bothered me. How on earth could somebody determine if a past tense verb was perfect or not! Really. What made it any better than a past progressive or a simple past?

The word perfect puzzled me in a different context, as well. In church, my pastor always read from a King James Bible. The word perfect seemed to come up quite a bit, like in reference to King Solomon's building the Temple, it says in 2 Chronicles 8:16 "... So the house of the LORD was perfected." A New Testament example is found in Romans 12:2 "... that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." (emphasis in both passage is mine). I understood the common meaning of the word "perfect"--flawless--but the full meaning escaped me for many years.

And then, in college I took Modern English Grammar & Usage, a joint senior/master's level class for my writing minor. Inevitably, the topic of verb tenses was covered in detail. Our professor, bless her, went over and over and over the grammatical rules, trying to (nicely) get it through our mental blocks how to tell the difference between one and the other in order to pass our upcoming exam.

We didn't get it. Past, present, and future perfects just didn't make any sense.

Until I got up the nerve to ask for a better definition.

As it turns out, perfect, in the english grammatical sense, means complete. Any verb in its perfect form signifies an action that has been completed (past), is complete (present), or will be complete (future).

Ohhhh. It was like in one of those cartoons where a lightbulb flashes above a character's head. We finally got it! So, on the test, any time we found a completed verb, it was perfect. And from that day forward, whenever I come across that context in the Bible, I know that it means that Solomon's Temple was complete, or that the will of God is complete.

And now, in my research of entrepreneurship, I'm reading Why Aren't You Your Own Boss? by Paul and Sarah Edwards, two entrepreneurial heros of mine, and it turns out that the key to success in any venture, whether one as simple as cleaning a bathroom or as complex as creating a master business plan, is completion.

It doesn't matter how many ideas we have, or how many creative impulses; if we do not follow them through to completion, then we will never succeed. Pretty simple, huh? Yet pretty profound, considering that one of my own chief weaknesses is the tendency to have a million ideas, or a hundred ways to do things, or even just a dozen or so manuscripts in the works.

I have to complete. It's that simple!

It's that perfect.

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