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Verbs
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Starter Level Checklist


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Starter Level Advice

Verbs - Present; past; future tenses - Consistent tenses

In a sentence and in a paragraph, the verbs should usually be either

  • all in the present or future tense
    or
  • all in the past tense.
    (Raimes 1998, p35)
Changing tenses without warning confuses the reader. Mistakes are usually made where a sentence is long.
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Lecturer Name: Jeanette Baker
Lecturer Description: Teaches Marketing in the Faculty of Organisation and Management

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Example
Here the change in tense creates confusion. Does it refer to 'now', or 'then'?
* Most university students are aged 18-21, on full-time courses at a university away from their home town, and worked part-time.

This is consistent. It is now clear it refers to 'now'.
Most university students are aged 18-21, on full-time courses at a university away from their home town, and work part-time.

Note. Television sports commentators often use tenses in an unusual way. Avoid this in academic work. It may confuse your reader, who may need to know when something actually happened.

Example
Instead of
He scored the goal.
They might say.
*He has scored the goal.
(This actually means 'he is in a state of having scored the goal').

Exception

You can change tenses in a sentence or paragraph where there is a good reason for it e.g. to show that something has changed over time.

You usually show ('signpost') that there is a change, to avoid confusing the reader.

Example
Here, the 'signposts' which show why the tense has changed are highlighted.
Now most students can use a computer to word-process, but in the early 1990s few could do so.

Without these signposts the reader might be confused.
*...Most students can use a computer to word-process, but ...few could do so.

© Learning & Teaching Institute, Sheffield Hallam University 2004