How to Understand Tense and Time – Improving Your Writing Skills

Improving Your Writing

If you want to make your writing legible, you need to have a grasp of tense and time. Here, we’ll be looking at improving your writing skills by mastering tense and time.

What Are Tenses? – Improving Your Writing Skills

Tenses are used to signify time. Specifically, tenses appear in the form of verbs:

Past / Present / Future
Ran / Runs / Will Run
Jumped / Jumps / Will Jump
Was / Am/Is / Will be

It is completely acceptable to have more than one tense in a single sentence:

Henry was in the toilet, but now he is in the classroom.

In this sentence, ‘was’ is the past tense verb, while ‘is’ acts as the present tense verb. An additional future tense can be added too:

Henry was in the toilet, is now in the classroom, and is going to be outside on the playground.

The future tense in this sentence is ‘is going to be’.

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Tense Inconsistency – Improving Your Writing Skills

It’s now clear that multiple tenses in the same sentence are not an issue so long as they are clear. Issues with tenses occur when there is an inconsistency within a sentence:

Henry was running and overtakes into first place.

This sentence is incorrect because there are two contradictory tenses at play. First, we are told that Henry ‘was running’ (past tense) and then that he ‘overtakes’ (present tense) into first place. The tense of the sentence had already been established as the past tense, and therefore the tense of the second verb must be changed:

Henry was running and overtook into first place.

This makes more sense, since it implied that while Henry was running, he overtook into first place. The previous sentence suggested that Henry was running, stopped running, and is now overtaking into first place.

The following sentence is also incorrect:

Henry was running and will overtake into first place.

This implies that Henry was running, has now stopped running, but will somehow overtake into first place. This is entirely possible – perhaps there is a break mid-race in which Henry is currently stopping, and when the race restarts he will overtake into first place. However, the sentence does not make this clear: it appears as though the race has finished but in the future Henry will overtake into first place.

The sentence should read as:

Henry was running, is currently stopping for a break, but will overtake into first place.

This extra clause fills the gap between the past tense verb and future tense verb, providing clarity to the sentence.

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