My tenses are all over the place. How can I fix this?

19 Dec

See also English Tenses and Subject-Verb Agreement.

This is a real problem for many students, especially those from language backgrounds where tense is not shown the same way it is in English (and even more so in other European languages, which is one reason that studying Latin, Greek, French or German can help your English by making you more aware of what happens in English.)

  • The main thing is to remember what tense you started in and keep to it.

    “The General Idea: One of the first things any reader likes to know is when what you’re telling them about takes place. You don’t want to confuse your reader, right? So while you’re talking about the same event (or group of events), make sure you stick to a single general tense–past, present, or future.” (USING A CONSISTENT VERB TENSE — Emory University USA.)

  • Obviously, if you are writing dialogue inside a past tense story, the dialogue in “quotation marks” will follow its own rules. A future FAQ will deal with direct (“…”) dialogue/speech and indirect (reported) speech. There are special problems there.
  • The following sites are for students from Year 9 up. Students in Years 7 and 8 can probably understand them, but if you need some help while reading them, do ask your teacher.

    Tense consistency — controlling shifts in verb tense. See also Sequence of tenses Do take the time to study those handouts. They will help to improve your English expression. They are from the excellent English as a Second Language (ESL) Resources, Handouts and Exercises from Purdue University (USA) Online Writing Laboratory (OWL). They explain things very well. There are exercises linked to these handouts too.

    Have a look at this English Tense Tutorial, and at this English Tense Timeline, or maybe this one.

    Here is one quite difficult exercise. (From Webster/Comnet Edu List of Interactive Quizzes)

    Find more activities and quizzes in the links under Quiz Pages.

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    Posted by on December 19, 2006 in English grammar, esl for students, questions asked, student help, writing


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