As writers, it is very important to keep the same tense in the sentences and paragraphs.
There are three main verb forms for showing time or tense:
does not use auxiliary verbs
refers to specific time period during which
something happened and is over
something will happen
Simple present (action goes on now): I sit
Simple past: (action happened and is over): I sat
Simple future (action will happen): I will sit
- uses have, has, or had as auxiliary verb
- allows action to continue over time
Present perfect (action happened and may still be going on): I have sat
Past perfect (action happened before something happened in the past): I had sat
Future perfect (action will be considered in the future, by which time it will have already happened): I will have sat
- uses is, are, was, or were as auxiliary verb with -ing ending on main verb
- focuses on “progress” of action
Present progressive (action is in progress right now): I am sitting
Past: progressive (action was in progress in the past): I was sitting
Future progressive (action will be in progress in the future): I will be sitting
Each of the above tenses denotes a specific time for an action or event to take place. Writers should be careful to use the exact tense needed to describe, narrate, or explain.
In general . . .
Do not switch from one tense to another unless the timing of an action demands that you do.
Keep verb tense consistent in sentences, paragraphs, and essays.
Verb tense consistency on the sentence level
Keep tenses consistent within sentences.
Do not change tenses when there is no time change for the action.
Since there is no indication that the actions happened apart from one another., there is no reason to shift the tense of the second verb.
Note another example.
The above sentence means that Mary walks into a room at times. The action is habitual present. The second action happens when the first one does. Therefore, the second verb should be present as well.
Change tense only when there is a need to do so.
Usually, the timing of actions within a sentence will dictate when the tense must change.
The first action will take place in the future; therefore, the second one will as well.
The second action took place in the past; the first action occurred before the past action. Therefore, the first action requires the past perfect tense (had + verb).
Verb tense consistency on the paragraph level
Generally, establish a primary tense and keep tenses consistent from sentence to sentence.
Do not shift tenses between sentences unless there is a time change that must be shown.
PRESENT TENSE PARAGRAPH
All actions in the above paragraph happen in the present except for the future possibility dependent upon a
present action taking place: " If a cat sees the bird, the cat will kill it."
PAST TENSE PARAGRAPH
All of the actions in the above paragraph happen in the past except for the possibility dependent upon
one action taking place: "If a cat saw the bird, the cat would kill it."
In the following paragraph, some of the sentences contain errors in verb tense. Write out the correct form of any verb that is used incorrectly, and then compare your answers with those at the bottom of the page.
A bank teller in Italy was jilted by his girlfriend and decide the only thing left to do was kill himself. He stolen a car with the idea of crashing it, but the car broken down. He steal another one, but it was too slow, and he barely dent a fender when he crashed the car into a tree. The police arrive and charge the man with auto theft. While being questioned, he stab himself in the chest with a dagger. Quick action by the police officers saved the man's life. On the way to his cell, he jumped out through a third-story window. A snowdrift broken his fall. A judge suspends the man's sentence, saying, "I'm sure fate still has something in store for you."
- Hard Luck
A bank teller in Italy was jilted by his girlfriend and decided the only thing left to do was kill himself. He stole a car with the idea of crashing it, but the car broke down. He stole another one, but it was too slow, and he barely dented a fender when he crashed the car into a tree. The police arrived and charged the man with auto theft. While being questioned, he stabbed himself in the chest with a dagger. Quick action by the police officers saved the man's life. On the way to his cell, he jumped out through a third-story window. A snowdrift broke his fall. A judge suspended the man's sentence, saying, "I'm sure fate still has something in store for you."