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Need some grammar help
December 31, 2011 12:16 PM   Subscribe

"It hadn't been raining all morning, but drops began to fall at lunchtime."- is the bolded clause grammatically correct? Is there ever a case where it could be properly used in a sentence? If the person wants to say that there hadn't been any rain that morning, wouldn't he say "It hadn't rained all morning, but drops began to fall at lunchtime"? On the other hand, if the person is trying to say that it had rained that morning, but not non-stop the entire morning, how would he say it? He still wouldn't say "It hadn't been raining all morning,..." would he? Or would it be correct in that case?
posted by shelayna to Writing & Language (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
There had not been a time when it was raining all morning. It's correct, if unnecessary.
posted by cmoj at 12:18 PM on December 31, 2011


"It hadn't been raining all morning" sounds fine if you're actually trying to say that there were times that morning when it was not raining while implying that it had rained a decent amount. In that particular sentence it is probably grammatically correct but somewhat pointless since lunchtime is not a part of the morning.
posted by toomuchpete at 12:27 PM on December 31, 2011


Perhaps a little clunky, but not at all ungrammatical. For some reason, "been" sort of sticks out there. I think "It hadn't rained" is a little tighter, but I couldn't explain to you why I feel that way.
posted by Gilbert at 12:29 PM on December 31, 2011


I think "all" is the ambiguous word here. It is uncertain whether it refers to continuous time or continuous rain.

"It hadn't been raining in the morning, but drops began to fall at lunchtime" makes better sense.
Conversely: "It hadn't been raining continuously in the morning, but the downpour commenced at lunchtime."
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:37 PM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's correct. I can't parse it for you, but it is beautifully written. It gives a sense of leisurely pastness to the 'not raining' condition.
posted by SLC Mom at 12:40 PM on December 31, 2011


You could also say, "All morning it hadn't been raining," but I think the original is better.
posted by SLC Mom at 12:42 PM on December 31, 2011


No. The continous tenses are used to emphasize an ongoing action. The bolded clause is grammatically correct, but doesn't make sense, because the fact that is didn't rain all morning doesn't reall sound like an ongoing action - in spite of using the past perfect continous.

The emphasis on the fact that it continually did not rain all morning makes me wonder, was it supposed to be raining? What was going on instead of it raining all morning? It seems to me the emphasis on the ongoing action that hadn't been happening is misleading, or confusing.

These examples make more sense to me:

It had been threatening to rain all morning, but the drops began to fall at lunchtime. (it appeared that it was about to rain at several moments during the morning but it didn't)

The sun had been shining brightly most of the morning, but the drops began to fall at lunchtime. (the sun was continually shining brightly most of the morning)

Ok, thinking about this, perhaps "It hadn't been raining all morning, but drops began to fall at lunchtime." makes sense if it was in a paragraph talking about how much it had been raining all week, during a storm, and it was expected to have been raining all morning - but it didn't.

Otherwise "It hadn't rained all morning, but the drops began to fall at lunchtime."

To say that it had rained, but not non-stop you could possibly say:

It hadn't been raining non-stop all morning, but the drops began to fall at lunchtime and didn't let up for hours. (awkward)

It had been drizzling all morning, but the heavy rain begain to fall at lunchtime. (changing rain to drizzle changes the meaning)

I hope my answer is helpful. I'm a EFL teacher and I spend way much time analyzing awkward but not-quite-incorrect usages like these.
posted by Locochona at 12:53 PM on December 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


"It hadn't been raining all morning, but" suggests that it is still morning. So you could say, "It hadn't been raining all morning, but as he put out the bagels for brunch, he heard an ominous crack of thunder."

Otherwise you'd have to say, "It hadn't rained all morning."

However that's grammar. So long as your reader knows what you're saying, then I believe the tone is more important than perfect grammar.
posted by musofire at 12:59 PM on December 31, 2011


Sentences like this are interesting in that their meaning can change depending on how the words are spoken.


As you wrote in the question is sounds like there was no rain at all until the afternoon.
However if you emphasize "all" as in "It hadn't been raining all morning, it sounds like it has been raining a lot just not all morning long but close to it.

And to answer part of your question, that is a scenario when the phrase would be correct and not awkward.
posted by 2manyusernames at 1:26 PM on December 31, 2011


I quite agree with SLCMom. A lovely bit of prose, just as it stands.

While Locochona is, strictly speaking, right to say that there is a mild grammatical ambiguity in the clause, humans are better with language than the grammar-book implies.

The reader is quite able to hold in temporary superposition both of the possible meanings of the clause, namely (a) "It did not rain at all in the morning" and (b) "It did not rain continuously in the morning" until the clarification given in the second clause. If meaning (b) were intended, we would expect the second clause to be something like "but from lunchtime on the rain was relentless." But the second clause clearly implies meaning (a), so the wave function collapses (if you will) and the meaning is adduced!
posted by tivalasvegas at 1:27 PM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


ugh, deduced.
posted by tivalasvegas at 1:29 PM on December 31, 2011


Because the sentence describes a continuous action as not happening, it suggests that the narrator was there to observe the entire time. That's why it's pleasing; it evokes the image of someone monitoring every second of the weather. "It hadn't rained all morning" falls somewhat short of this extent, being information you might pick up by glancing outdoors to look for puddles, for example.
posted by Mapes at 1:46 PM on December 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


I agree that the second clause clarifies the ambiguity in the first clause, and I don't think there's anything incorrect about the grammar, but I still find the sentence awkward and inelegant. If this were the opening sentence of a book, article, or story I was reading, it would put my back up. But going by the other answers it seems like this is basically a matter of taste.
posted by mskyle at 2:15 PM on December 31, 2011


It started to rain at lunchtime is simpler. I have no problem with the grammar of the sentence posted; it conveys the message clearly and legally (grammatically speaking).
posted by theora55 at 2:41 PM on December 31, 2011


One question.

What time is lunch?
posted by timsteil at 3:33 PM on December 31, 2011


Sorry, what I meant was, that if the person has lunch at 12:30, it changes the whole issue.
posted by timsteil at 3:35 PM on December 31, 2011


It seems correct and conveys an emotional message none of the "tighter" or "better" versions do, in my opinion.
posted by maxwelton at 3:43 PM on December 31, 2011


It's completely fine.

On the other hand, if the person is trying to say that it had rained that morning, but not non-stop the entire morning, how would he say it? He still wouldn't say "It hadn't been raining all morning,..." would he? Or would it be correct in that case?

If you want to convey that message, italicize all. But the stuff after the comma (the "but" and the "began" in particular) would negate that, so it'd all have to go.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:21 PM on December 31, 2011


If the person wants to say that there hadn't been any rain that morning, wouldn't he say "It hadn't rained all morning, but drops began to fall at lunchtime"?
Yes.

On the other hand, if the person is trying to say that it had rained that morning, but not non-stop the entire morning, how would he say it? He still wouldn't say "It hadn't been raining all morning,..." would he?
Yes, because that's what it means.
posted by Dolley at 4:37 PM on December 31, 2011


When I read, "It hadn't been raining all morning but...", I expected something like this to follow... "..but it did pour down heavily at dawn and again around 10:00...". IANACE.
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:56 PM on December 31, 2011


The bolded part can certainly be used in a grammatically correct sentence.

"Hey, hold on, before you went out to get the paper, had it been raining all morning?"
"It hadn't been raining all morning".
posted by surenoproblem at 5:04 PM on December 31, 2011


Mapes nailed it. Assuming this is being used in fiction (or even if not), this is an excellent sentence. It implies a lot without saying it: that the observer has been sitting around all morning, just kind of waiting for the rain to start. And around lunchtime, it finally did.

It feels leisurely, slow-paced, almost like a Murakami story where people spend a lot of time in "in between" states waiting for something.

"Drops *began* to fall" clearly implies no drops fell before then. I don't see a reasonable reader assuming anything else.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:29 PM on December 31, 2011


It sounds awkward to me; I'd prefer "It hadn't rained all morning, but drops began to fall at lunchtime."

Trying to justify my intuition-- where the simple past focuses an event at a point, the past progressive zooms in, making the event a process, a subset of the timeline. I don't think that plays well with the negative (since there's no process to zoom in on).

Or to be simpler, the progressive doesn't add any information that isn't present in my rewrite, so it's unnecessary.
posted by zompist at 8:25 PM on December 31, 2011


Are you asking whether this is grammatically correct, or whether it's a bit awkward? There are lots of grammatically correct sentences that don't make any sense or are awkward. It would be grammatically correct, for example, to say "It hadn't been not raining all morning" - even though that's a very awkward and perhaps nonsensical thing to say. It's also grammatically correct to say "George had been raining all century."

Anyway, I also agree somewhat with Mapes. The continual verb is pleasant in this situation, and - as I've said - as long as you follow the 'rules' for the use of the verbs, the sentence is grammatically correct.
posted by koeselitz at 10:32 PM on December 31, 2011


Grammatical or not, (and, technically it is) I would say that the two clauses don't function well together because "It hadn't been raining all morning..." suggests that it may have been raining for part of the morning while "...but drops began to fall..." suggests that rain is falling for the first time. The meaning of the sentence is unclear, and, as a reader, I would stumble over that line. I would ask a writer to recast it as "It hadn't rained all morning but drops began to fall..." if she meant no rain had fallen or "It had been raining on and off all morning, and drops began to fall again at lunchtime..." if it had rained but not non-stop.
posted by GreenEyed at 10:53 PM on December 31, 2011


The rhythm it reads with is pleasing; the words in excess are not harmful. But if you were writing a lyric, you might prefer "drops began falling".
posted by flabdablet at 4:31 AM on January 1, 2012


Editor here, answering the OP's primary question: The boldface phrase is perfectly grammatical.
There's always room for discussion about better ways to say things, or 'pastness' (I like). But in this case, there's no grammar issue.
posted by LonnieK at 3:31 PM on January 1, 2012


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