Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

5.5: Eliminating Shifts in Verb Tenses

  • Page ID
    70196
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    One of the most common mistakes in writing is a lack of tense consistency. Writers often start a sentence in one tense but ended up in another. Look back at that sentence. Do you see the error? The first verb start is in the present tense, but ended is in the past tense. The correct version of the sentence would be “Writers often start a sentence in one tense but end up in another.”

    These mistakes often occur when writers change their minds halfway through writing the sentence, or when they come back and make changes but only end up changing half the sentence. It is very important to maintain a consistent tense, not just in a sentence but across paragraphs and pages. Decide if something happened, is happening, or will happen and then stick with that choice.

    Read through the following paragraphs. Can you spot the errors in tense?

    If you want to pick up a new outdoor activity, hiking is a great option to consider. It’s a sport that is suited for a beginner or an expert—it just depended on the difficulty hikes you choose. However, even the earliest beginners can complete difficult hikes if they pace themselves and were physically fit.

    Not only is hiking an easy activity to pick up, it also will have some great payoffs. As you walked through canyons and climbed up mountains, you can see things that you wouldn’t otherwise. The views are breathtaking, and you will get a great opportunity to meditate on the world and your role in it. The summit of a mountain is unlike any other place in the world.

    What errors did you spot? Let’s take another look at this passage. This time, the tense-shifted verbs have been bolded, and the phrases they belong to have been underlined:

    If you want to pick up a new outdoor activity, hiking is a great option to consider. It’s a sport that is suited for a beginner or an expert—it just depended on the difficulty hikes you choose. However, even the earliest beginners can complete difficult hikes if they pace themselves and were physically fit.

    Not only is hiking an easy activity to pick up, it also will have some great payoffs. As you walked through canyons and climbed up mountains, you can see things that you wouldn’t otherwise. The views are breathtaking, and you will get a great opportunity to meditate on the world and your role in it. The summit of a mountain is unlike any other place in the world.

    clipboard_ea8b9a1037cf81a74595d9a68a71f8ffc.png
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Image by Jean Beaufort is in the public domain.

    As we mentioned earlier, you want to make sure your whole passage is consistent in its tense. You may have noticed that the most of the verbs in this passage are in present tense—this is especially apparent if you ignore those verbs that have been bolded. Now that we’ve established that this passage should be in the present tense, let’s address each of the underlined segments:

    • It’s a sport that is suited for a beginner or an expert—it just depended on the difficulty hikes you choose.
      • depended should be the same tense as is; it just depends on the difficulty
    • if they pace themselves and were physically fit.
      • were should be the same tense as pace; if they pace themselves and are physically fit.
    • Not only is hiking an easy activity to pick up, it also will have some great payoffs.
      • will have should be the same tense as is; it also has some great pay offs
    • As you walked through canyons and climbed up mountains
      • walked and climbed are both past tense, but this doesn’t match the tense of the passage as a whole. They should both be changed to present tense: As you walk through canyons and climb up mountains.
    • The views are breathtaking, and you will get a great opportunity to meditate on the world and your role in it.
      • will get should be the same tense as are; you get a great opportunity

    Here’s the corrected passage as a whole; all edited verbs have been bolded:

    If you want to pick up a new outdoor activity, hiking is a great option to consider. It’s a sport that can be suited for a beginner or an expert—it just depends on the difficulty hikes you choose. However, even the earliest beginners can complete difficult hikes if they pace themselves and are physically fit.

    Not only is hiking an easy activity to pick up, it also has some great payoffs. As you walk through canyons and climb up mountains, you can see things that you wouldn’t otherwise. The views are breathtaking, and you get a great opportunity to meditate on the world and your role in it. The summit of a mountain is unlike any other place in the world.

    Exercise

    Read the following sentences and identify any errors in verb tense.

    1. Whenever Maudeline goes to the grocery store, she had made a list and stick to it.
    2. This experiment turned out to be much more complicated than Felipe thought it would be. It ended up being a procedure that was seventeen steps long, instead of the original eight that he had planned.
    3. I applied to some of the most prestigious medical schools. I hope the essays I write get me in!

    Contributors and Attributions


    5.5: Eliminating Shifts in Verb Tenses is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

    • Was this article helpful?