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Verb Tense: Writing Skills Success Study Guide (page 2)

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Updated on Aug 25, 2011

Consistent Verb Tense

The tense of a verb tells when an action occurs, occurred, or will occur. Verbs have three basic tenses: present, past, and future. It's important to keep verb tenses consistent as you write. A passage that begins in present tense should continue in present tense. If it begins in past tense, it should stay in past tense. Do not mix tenses.

    Wrong:

      Dan opened the car door and looks for his briefcase.

    Correct:

      Dan opened the car door and looked for his briefcase.

    Wrong:

      When we increase maintenance services, we reduced repair costs.

    Correct:

      When we increase maintenance services, we reduce repair costs.

However, sometimes a writer must show that an action occurred at another time regardless of the tense in which the passage was begun. To allow this, each of these three tenses has three subdivisions: progressive, perfect, and progressive perfect.

Present Tense Forms

Present tense shows action that happens now or action that happens routinely. The present progressive tense shows an action happening now. An auxiliary verb (am, is, or are) precedes the -ing form (progressive form) of the verb. The present perfect tense shows an action that began in the past. An auxiliary verb (have or has) precedes the past participle form of the verb. The present perfect progressive tense also shows action that began in the past and is continuing in the present. Auxiliary verbs (have been or has been) precede the verb written in its -ing form (progressive form).

Verb Tense

All the above present tense forms can be used together without constituting a shift in tense. Look at the following paragraph to see how this is done. The verbs are highlighted, and the brackets identify the tense.

I am writing [present progressive] to protest the condition of the Mississippi River, from which our city draws [present] its drinking water. For years, industrial waste has polluted [present perfect] its waters, and officials pay [present] little attention to the problem. People who live near the river have been lobbying [present perfect progressive] for protective legislation, but their efforts have failed [present perfect]. I want [present] safe water to drink.

Past Tense Forms

Past tense shows action that happened in the past. It uses the past form of the verb. The past progressive tense shows a continuing action in the past. An auxiliary verb (was or were) precedes the progressive (-ing) form of the verb. The past perfect tense shows an action completed in the past or completed before some other past action. The auxiliary verb had precedes the past participle form of the verb. The past perfect progressive tense shows continuing action that began in the past. The auxiliary verbs had been precede the progressive (-ing) form of the verb.

All of the following past tense forms can be used together in writing a passage without constituting a shift in tense. The following paragraph illustrates how this is done. The verbs are highlighted for you, and the brackets identify the tense.

Last year, local officials cited [past] a manufacturing company in our county for improperly disposing of hazardous waste. The company ignored [past] the action and continued [past] to dump its waste as they had been doing [past perfect progressive]. They had dumped [past perfect] waste the same way for years and planned [past] to continue. Several months later, the residue seeped [past] into the drinking water supply. A local environmentalist, who had been tracking [past perfect progressive] the company's dumping procedures, alerted local officials. They fined the company $3,000 for damages, but the company has never paid [past perfect] the fine.

Verb Tense

Future Tense Forms

Future tense shows action that has yet to happen. The auxiliary verbs will, would, or shall precede the present form of the verb. The future progressive tense shows continuing actions in the future. The auxiliary verb phrases will be, shall be, or would be precede the progressive form of the verb. The future perfect tense shows actions that will be completed at a certain time in the future. The auxiliary verb phrases will have, would have, or will have been precede the past participle form of the verb. The future perfect progressive tense shows continuing actions that will be completed at a certain time in the future. The verb phrases will have been, would have been, or shall have been precede the progressive form of the verb.

All the future tense forms on the following table can be used together in writing a paragraph. They do not constitute a shift in tense. The following paragraph illustrates how this is done. The verbs are highlighted for you, and the brackets identify the tense.

Starting next week, we will reduce [future] the money we spend on waste disposal. We will do [future] this because our public relations costs have skyrocketed during the year. Since no one in the community will sell [future] land to us to use for waste disposal, we will be relocating [future progressive] in a new community with a better business environment. This move would put [future] over three hundred employees out of work. It would reduce [future] the amount of consumer dollars spent at local businesses.

By this time next year, nearly one thousand people will have lost [future perfect] their jobs. Your business leaders will have been looking [future perfect progressive] for ways to replace lost revenue. Furthermore, legislators will be meddling [future progressive] in our local affairs, and the news media will have portrayed [future perfect] us all as fools.

Verb Tense

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