How to Choose The Right Tense: Three Practical Tips

alex
May 3, 2021 ·
7 min read
Grammar

The guideline to master the three verb tenses with the three ultimate tips and a quick overview of tenses.

Introduction

The tenses have a very important place in learning English. A writer communicates with a reader with the effective use of the correct tense. But when you employ the tenses, you get confused with the different types of verb tenses. 

If the tenses are still chaotic for you, then it is the perfect time to learn it now! 

A writing that may sound lifeless can be packed with action only with the mere change of a tense form. A story may not sound interesting in the past form, but when changed into the present tense, the story seems interesting as the events sound like happening in real-time.

So let’s unfold the mystery of tenses by diving and grasping the gist of it.

What is a Verb Tense?

A verb tense shows the timing of an event or action. Whether you are writing, reading, listening, or even proofreading something, you need to know the correct tenses to depict when that action or situation happened.

Types of tenses

In the English language, there are three tenses.

  • Past describes the actions that have already happened.
  • Present describes the actions that are happening.
  • Future describes the actions that will happen.

The 12 types of verb tenses are simply categorized in the following table.

Past TensePresent TenseFuture Tense
1.Simple past tenseSimple present tenseSimple future tense
2.Past perfect TensePresent perfect tense Future perfect tense
3.Past progressive tensePresent progressive tenseFuture progressive tense
4.Past perfect progressive tensePresent perfect progressive tenseFuture perfect progressive tense

Here we have 3 simple tips for you to use the correct tense according to the situation.

Learn the right form of verb according to the sentence 

There are three forms of the verb in English Grammar. You must know the three verb forms in order to use them correctly according to different tenses. Like in most cases, -ed is added to the end of a verb in the simple past tense. However, it cannot be applied to all the verb tenses. For present tense, the 1st form of the verb is accompanied by is, am, and are. The third form of the verb is used in the perfect verb tenses.

Avoid inconsistent verb tense shift 

Usually, it is recommended to use the same verb form in your entire project. The reader might be confused with the tense shifting.

Some stories that show different sequences and period of time and the story jumps frequently between present and past scenes. There should be obvious breaks in different sections of the story to avoid confusion.

However, if you are describing a different era or period then a shift in verb tenses is used. But even then there should be no tense shift in a sentence or more ideally in a paragraph.

For example, this sentence:

“She had sung (past perfect Tense) the song and then she danced (simple past tense)”

Should be written as,

“She sang (simple past tense) the song and then she danced (simple past tense).”

To maintain the flow and clarity, a whole sentence should be written in the same tense form.

Learn to choose the correct tense 

You should know exactly where and how to use the correct tense. For that, you should also master the forms of verbs as the tenses depend on it mainly. The basic form of tenses that is used the most are

  • Simple past tense. It uses the second form of the verb for any action, e.g. went or ate.
  • Simple present tense. It uses the first form of the verb for action, e.g. go or eat.
  • Simple future tense. It uses the first form of the verb.

Some pro tips!

If you want to make your writing foolproof then you can follow these tips and tricks to take your verb tenses to the next level.

  • Practice, practice, and practice. It is the first rule to imply.
  • Rewrite a paragraph in other tense forms and you can see the change and effect that it brings to the story with the change of tense.
  • When you are writing a story or a novel, you have to decide in which tense you are going to write it. The tenses can entirely enliven the narration of your story.
  • Keep the tense same throughout one project so that the reader doesn’t get confused with the changing time frame.
  • You can mix and match the verb tenses for displaying a variety of events. But make sure to break them clearly.
  • Showing different moods can uplift your story. Using a subjunctive or potential mood can add possibilities and suspense to your story.

Here is a quick review of the 12 forms of verb tenses. You can have a look and choose the correct tense forms according to the situation and events.

Past Present Future 
Simple2nd verb form1st verb form / verb+ is/ am/ areWill + 1st verb form
PerfectHad + 3rd verb formHas/ have + 3rd verb formWill have + 3rd verb form
ProgressiveWas/ were + 1st verb form + ingIs/ am/ are + 1st verb form + ingWill be + 1st verb form + ing
Perfect progressiveHad been + 1st Verb form + ingHas/ have been + 1st Verb form + ingWill have been + 1st Verb form + ing

Let’s see a quick example of the same sentence in different verb tenses.

The simple form of tenses is the most used.

Simple past tense: Mary went to the park. 

Simple present tense: Mary goes to the park.

Simple future tense: Mary will go to the park.

The perfect tenses are used to explain the events or actions that are completed already. It is the opposite of progressive actions where the action is going on.

Past perfect Tense: Mary had gone to the park.

Present perfect tense: Mary has gone to the park.

Future perfect tense: Mary will have gone to the store.

The progressive tenses are used to tell about something that happened and continue to happen later on.

Past progressive tense: Mary was going to the park.

Present progressive tense: Mary is going to the park.

Future progressive tense: Mary will be going to the park.

The perfect progressive tenses explain the ongoing events.

Past perfect progressive tense: Mary had been going to the park.

Present perfect progressive tense: Mary has been going to the park.

Future perfect progressive tense: Mary will have been going to the park.

You can notice the difference in the verb forms and how the different tenses change the meaning of the same sentence.

Final thoughts

Learning tenses is a must-have for the English language. You can unlock the changes in your writing by using different verb tenses and inject life and energy into them.

Follow these tips and keep your focus on how the verbs are used. Once, you have learned the rules of correct tenses and practiced them hard, you will never be blamed for using the wrong tenses.

Now boost your writing skill
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