Verb Tense Shift

Just as verbs need to agree with the sentence's subject, they must also agree with each other. If a sentence talks about the past, all the verbs need to remain in the past tense. Similarly, if the sentence is about the present, all the verbs need to stay in the present tense. When you have two sentences giving information about the same event, keep your verbs from both sentences in the same tense to avoid confusing the reader. Read this page on verb-tense agreement.

Verb Tense Shift

You want to be sure that you are always consistent with your verb tense. When you shift verb tenses for no reason, and this is an easy mistake to make, you can really confuse your readers.

If you're writing in the present tense, be sure you stay in the present tense. If you're writing in the past tense, be sure you stay in the past tense. The exception would be if you need to shift tenses to tell a story, but that would be purposeful shifting. It's the random, accidental shifting that causes the problems, as illustrated in this example:

She grabs my hand then flipped me like I weighed nothing. This showed what a good self-defense course has done.

Here is what a corrected version of the sentence looks like:

She grabbed my hand then flipped me like I weighed nothing. This showed what a good self-defense course has done.

You should also be aware that certain types of writing require either past or present tense. For example, research in APA format often needs to be presented in the past tense, but a literary analysis written in MLA format needs to be presented using present tense verbs. It's called the literary present tense. Below is a table of APA 7th edition verb tense recommendations for literature reviews and research papers.

If you're ever unsure about tense requirements, be sure to ask your professor.

Paper Section Recommended tense Example
Literature review (or whenever discussing other researchers' work) Past Quinn (2020) presented
Present Perfect Since then, many investigators have used
Method or description of procedure Past Participants completed a survey
Present Perfect Others have used similar approaches
Reporting of results Past Results were nonsignificant
Scores increased
Hypotheses were supported
Discussion of implications of results Present The results indicate
Presentation of conclusions, limitations, future directions, and so forth Present We conclude
Limitations of the study are

Source: Excelsior Online Writing Lab,
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Last modified: Sunday, January 8, 2023, 1:58 PM