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Ask Me--The Word "Stuck"

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My daughter recently wrote the sentence, "If someone other than Dullhead touched the goose, they stuck." I think we need something like "got" or "became" before "stuck." I also think it needs a preposition afterwards saying what he got stuck to (the goose).

I looked up "stuck," and most online dictionaries say it can be both past tense and past participle.  I would almost never say, "The caramel spilled all over the floor, and I stuck in it."  I think I could say that, but "I got stuck in it," or "I became stuck in it," would be more likely.

Now this could be avoided entirely if she had written the summary of "The Golden Goose" in the present tense.  I recently came across a writing book for children that said, "When you talk or write about what happens in a story, you should always use the present tense."  In all my years of schooling, I don't remember ever being instructed to do that.  Have I been doing it wrong all these years?

In the present tense, my daughter's sentence could read, "If someone other than Dullhead touches the goose, he sticks."  I prefer to add, "to the goose," or "to it," at the end. In the past tense, do we need to add something before "stuck," and does there have to be a preposition afterwards to explain what he is getting stuck to?--Kimberly Tench

Wow, Kimberly. That's a lot of questions. Starting with the present-tense plot-summary thing, yes, that's right, and it's true not only for children but for graduate students, who would write, for example, "Holden Caulfield leaves his prep school and travels to New York City," or "Gatsby falls in love with Daisy," or whatever. A fine point is how to describe something that happened prior to the point in the story you are at. For that, oddly, I favor the past participle, e.g., "Huck's mother had died years earlier." Also, you generally use the present tense when referring to the author: "Shakespeare portrays Hamlet as paralyzed by thought." But, when you shift (sometimes subtly) from talking about the sort of self-enclosed world of the work to the circumstances of its composition, you change to the past tense: "Shakespeare started writing the play shortly after hearing that his mother had died." (I made that up.) Of course, some writers favor the so-called historical present: "Shakespeare moves to London in 1591..." But that's a subject for another day.

Moving along to "stuck," you raise two issues: the need for an auxiliary verb before it and a prepositional phrase after. For both (perhaps unhelpfully), I would say, "It depends." I would use "get" or "become" if I were emphasizing the state of being stuck and leave them out if I were emphasizing the action of sticking. For example, "We tried to drive the car out of the mud, but it got stuck." On the other hand: "We rubbed ten balloons on our sweaters and threw them against the wall, but only one stuck."

You'll notice that neither of those examples states (there I go using the present tense again) what the thing got stuck to, because it's clear from the context. If it's not clear, then you need to specify. For example, "I covered the ball with glue, so when I threw it, it stuck to the house."

Bottom line: I like your daughter's summary.

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