How to Become a Good Writer: Past Tense vs. Present Tense vs. Future Tense

By Kayla McKnight

Welcome to my first installment of my “How to Become a Good Writer” series. I know this is a long title. How about H2BGW for short?

Moving on, for this first segment I will teach you how to differentiate between past, present, and future tenses! Tenses indicate the time frame of when an action was done. Let’s start with the past tense, because you can’t move forward without learning from your past.

The past tense functions as a way to place an action verb or describe a situation in the “past time.” past tense is widely used in history books or in some cases where the speaker is referring to their past. In past tense, the verb either ends with “ed” or a unique verb conjugation. Also, it should be noted that with past tense, “was” can be seen as the helping verb that assists the action.

For example:

Ex. 1: He finished his homework.

Ex. 2: He was interrupted by the television.

Ex. 3: She wrote the paper last night.

Past tense can be simple, but sometimes it’s tricky. When writing, you may write in the past tense because in your mind the action has already been completed. Your mind is aware that the action has already occurred, therefore writing in the present tense involves you to be aware of what it is your writing. So make sure you read over your work and keep the tenses consistent. I provided some pictures to illustrate:

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In my opinion, present tense the easiest to learn. For one, the only thing that changes in the sentence is the verb ending.

For example:

Ex. 1: I work at the Writing Center.

Or

Ex. 2: I have a boxer named Bayne.

Readers want to be engaged in what’s happening. What’s the best way to do that? Use present tense to make them feel the plot unfold as they turn the page. Present tense makes writing feel livelier compared to past tense.

Another tense that builds suspense, or creates excitement is the future tense. With future tense, there is always a helping verb to accompany the action. “Will” is a popular helping verb that indicates whether the passage occurs in the future or not. Another phrase is “going to.” With these helping verbs the sentence creates a mystery about what will happen next. Either way, future tense lets the readers know what the speaker is going to do; however, they do not know the end result.

For example:

Ex. 1: They will have to pass the test.

Or

Ex. 2: They will be going to a party.

The reader understands the future, but only to a certain extent because the speaker has not yet lived through it.

Tenses can be tricky, and often we subconsciously combine past tenses and present tenses in a paper. The best way to acknowledge audience awareness is by being AWARE of the tenses we use in our writing. Now, I am not going to lie—I have a natural tendency to write in past tense, and by the end of my paper I am all of the sudden in the present. I suggest reading the paper aloud, even going line by line and making sure the verb endings are consistent. To conclude my rant, here is a picture to summarize all my points:

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I mean, who doesn’t like pictures?

Until next time…

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