Verb Tense

Simple Present Tense

Simple Present tense is used to describe an action that is occurring in the present, at the moment of speaking or writing.

Simple Present: Emily writes stories with great imagination and detail.

Present Perfect

Present Perfect tense is used to describe an action which began at an unspecified time before now but continues into the present or has just been completed at the moment of speaking or writing.

Present Perfect: Emily has written stories with great imagination and detail.

Simple Past Tense

Simple Past tense is used to describe an action that occurred in the past, sometime before the moment of speaking or writing.

Simple Past: Emily wrote stories with great imagination and detail.

Past Perfect Tense

Past Perfect tense is used to describe an action which was completed in the past before another action or time.

Past Perfect: Emily had written stories with great imagination and detail.

Simple Future Tense

Simple Future tense is used to describe an action that will take place after the act of speaking or writing.

Simple Future: Emily will write stories with great imagination and detail.

Future Perfect Tense

Future Perfect tense is used to describe an action that will be completed in the future before another action or time.

Future Perfect: Emily will have written stories with great imagination and detail before she gets published.

Conditional Tense

Conditional Tense is used to describe an action that is uncertain or hypothetical concerning the past, present, or future. Conditional Tense functions with two clauses, and it operates under four different conditions

In the Zero Conditional, both clauses use simple present tense. This condition operates under the understanding that the condition can be true at all times.

Zero Conditional: Whenever it rains, I take my umbrella.

In the First Conditional, the if-clause uses simple present tense, and the main clause uses a first dimension modal (will, can, may, or shall) plus a participle.

First Conditional: If it rains, I will take my umbrella.

In the Second Conditional, the if-clause uses simple past tense, and the main clause uses a second dimension modal (would, could, might, should) plus a participle.

Second Conditional: If it were to rain, I would take my umbrella

In the Third Conditional, the if-clause uses past perfect tense, and the main clause uses a second dimension modal (would, could, might, should) plus “have,” plus a past participle.

Third Conditional: If it had rained, I would have taken my umbrella.

Written by SecretlySeverus

Why do we make tense mistakes?

There’s no easy way to answer this, because everyone is different and understands things differently. Let’s look at some of the most common examples:

1) Typos. This is very common when an author is writing in one tense consistently (past, for example) and inserts a present tense verb by mistake:

What was going on? She’s crazy!

“She’s” is a contraction of “she is” and therefore present tense. The correct form here would be: “She was crazy!”

2) A story is written in the past tense, and the author writes the following:

Yesterday, everything was normal. Today, it seemed like my world had turned upside down.

Can you spot the error? This is the most common error I encounter as a beta. In this example, the author is writing in the past tense which means that even “present tense” actions are written in the past form (such as, “I walked to the corner.”) So when you’re writing about something that happened in the past of a past tense story (or what I refer to sometimes as, the past-past tense) this is known as the Past Perfect tense. The past perfect tense allows you to indicate that something has happened in the past. The sentence above should read:

Yesterday, everything had been normal. Today, it seemed like my world had turned upside down.

How can we avoid mistakes?

Errors in writing are unavoidable — that’s why we have betas. But here are a few general rules to help you improve your own writing, and to maybe make your beta smile in the process.

1) Remember that when you’re writing a story in the past tense, nothing should be in the present tense except for dialogue. If you can keep this in mind when writing then the majority of tense problems will be solved!

2) Verb contractions (she’s, it’s, don’t, can’t, etc) do not fit automatically into the tense you are using in your story. They are also either past, present, future, or conditional tenses. Be sure you’re aware of the tense implications a contraction will have on your sentence.

3) When planning out your story or preparing an outline, try to determine in advanced which tense form you would like to use. Stories that begin in one tense and randomly switch to another after a few chapters can be confusing and throw off the entire pacing, tone, and even timeline that has been created.

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2 comments on “Verb Tense

  1. Pingback: Writing Prompt: That Was Then… « Novel Novice

  2. Pingback: Style Article—Flashbacks by @EdwardAddiction « Project Team Beta

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