Have a language expert improve your writing

Run a free plagiarism check in 10 minutes, generate accurate citations for free.

  • Knowledge Base
  • Verb Tenses in Academic Writing | Rules, Differences & Examples

Verb Tenses in Academic Writing | Rules, Differences & Examples

Published on September 22, 2014 by Shane Bryson . Revised on September 18, 2023.

Tense communicates an event’s location in time. The different tenses are identified by their associated verb forms. There are three main verb tenses: past ,  present , and  future .

In English, each of these tenses can take four main aspects:  simple ,  perfect ,  continuous  (also known as  progressive ), and  perfect continuous . The perfect aspect is formed using the verb  to have , while the continuous aspect is formed using the verb  to be .

In academic writing , the most commonly used tenses are the  present simple , the  past simple , and the  present perfect .

Table of contents

Tenses and their functions, when to use the present simple, when to use the past simple, when to use the present perfect, when to use other tenses.

The table below gives an overview of some of the basic functions of tenses and aspects. Tenses locate an event in time, while aspects communicate durations and relationships between events that happen at different times.

It can be difficult to pick the right verb tenses and use them consistently. If you struggle with verb tenses in your thesis or dissertation , you could consider using a thesis proofreading service .

Check for common mistakes

Use the best grammar checker available to check for common mistakes in your text.

Fix mistakes for free

The present simple is the most commonly used tense in academic writing, so if in doubt, this should be your default choice of tense. There are two main situations where you always need to use the present tense.

Describing facts, generalizations, and explanations

Facts that are always true do not need to be located in a specific time, so they are stated in the present simple. You might state these types of facts when giving background information in your introduction .

  • The Eiffel tower  is in Paris.
  • Light  travels faster than sound.

Similarly, theories and generalizations based on facts are expressed in the present simple.

  • Average income differs by race and gender.
  • Older people express less concern about the environment than younger people.

Explanations of terms, theories, and ideas should also be written in the present simple.

  • Photosynthesis  refers to  the process by which plants  convert sunlight into chemical energy.
  • According to Piketty (2013), inequality grows over time in capitalist economies.

Describing the content of a text

Things that happen within the space of a text should be treated similarly to facts and generalizations.

This applies to fictional narratives in books, films, plays, etc. Use the present simple to describe the events or actions that are your main focus; other tenses can be used to mark different times within the text itself.

  • In the first novel, Harry learns he is a wizard and travels  to Hogwarts for the first time, finally escaping the constraints of the family that raised him.

The events in the first part of the sentence are the writer’s main focus, so they are described in the present tense. The second part uses the past tense to add extra information about something that happened prior to those events within the book.

When discussing and analyzing nonfiction, similarly, use the present simple to describe what the author does within the pages of the text ( argues , explains , demonstrates , etc).

  • In The History of Sexuality , Foucault asserts that sexual identity is a modern invention.
  • Paglia (1993) critiques Foucault’s theory.

This rule also applies when you are describing what you do in your own text. When summarizing the research in your abstract , describing your objectives, or giving an overview of the  dissertation structure in your introduction, the present simple is the best choice of tense.

  • This research  aims  to synthesize the two theories.
  • Chapter 3 explains  the methodology and discusses ethical issues.
  • The paper  concludes with recommendations for further research.

The past simple should be used to describe completed actions and events, including steps in the research process and historical background information.

Reporting research steps

Whether you are referring to your own research or someone else’s, use the past simple to report specific steps in the research process that have been completed.

  • Olden (2017) recruited 17 participants for the study.
  • We transcribed and coded the interviews before analyzing the results.

The past simple is also the most appropriate choice for reporting the results of your research.

  • All of the focus group participants agreed  that the new version  was an improvement.
  • We  found a positive correlation between the variables, but it  was not as strong as we  hypothesized .

Describing historical events

Background information about events that took place in the past should also be described in the past simple tense.

  • James Joyce  pioneered the modernist use of stream of consciousness.
  • Donald Trump’s election in 2016  contradicted the predictions of commentators.

The present perfect is used mainly to describe past research that took place over an unspecified time period. You can also use it to create a connection between the findings of past research and your own work.

Summarizing previous work

When summarizing a whole body of research or describing the history of an ongoing debate, use the present perfect.

  • Many researchers  have investigated the effects of poverty on health.
  • Studies  have shown a link between cancer and red meat consumption.
  • Identity politics has been a topic of heated debate since the 1960s.
  • The problem of free will  has vexed philosophers for centuries.

Similarly, when mentioning research that took place over an unspecified time period in the past (as opposed to a specific step or outcome of that research), use the present perfect instead of the past tense.

  • Green et al.  have conducted extensive research on the ecological effects of wolf reintroduction.

Emphasizing the present relevance of previous work

When describing the outcomes of past research with verbs like fi nd ,  discover or demonstrate , you can use either the past simple or the present perfect.

The present perfect is a good choice to emphasize the continuing relevance of a piece of research and its consequences for your own work. It  implies that the current research will build on, follow from, or respond to what previous researchers have done.

  • Smith (2015) has found that younger drivers are involved in more traffic accidents than older drivers, but more research is required to make effective policy recommendations.
  • As Monbiot (2013)  has shown , ecological change is closely linked to social and political processes.

Note, however, that the facts and generalizations that emerge from past research are reported in the present simple.

While the above are the most commonly used tenses in academic writing, there are many cases where you’ll use other tenses to make distinctions between times.

Future simple

The future simple is used for making predictions or stating intentions. You can use it in a research proposal  to describe what you intend to do.

It is also sometimes used for making predictions and stating hypotheses . Take care, though, to avoid making statements about the future that imply a high level of certainty. It’s often a better choice to use other verbs like  expect ,  predict,  and  assume to make more cautious statements.

  • There  will be a strong positive correlation.
  • We  expect  to find a strong positive correlation.
  • H1  predicts a strong positive correlation.

Similarly, when discussing the future implications of your research, rather than making statements with will,  try to use other verbs or modal verbs that imply possibility ( can ,  could ,  may ,  might ).

  • These findings  will influence  future approaches to the topic.
  • These findings  could influence future approaches to the topic.

Present, past, and future continuous

The continuous aspect is not commonly used in academic writing. It tends to convey an informal tone, and in most cases, the present simple or present perfect is a better choice.

  • Some scholars are suggesting that mainstream economic paradigms are no longer adequate.
  • Some scholars suggest   that mainstream economic paradigms are no longer adequate.
  • Some scholars have suggested   that mainstream economic paradigms are no longer adequate.

However, in certain types of academic writing, such as literary and historical studies, the continuous aspect might be used in narrative descriptions or accounts of past events. It is often useful for positioning events in relation to one another.

  • While Harry is traveling to Hogwarts for the first time, he meets many of the characters who will become central to the narrative.
  • The country was still recovering from the recession when Donald Trump was elected.

Past perfect

Similarly, the past perfect is not commonly used, except in disciplines that require making fine distinctions between different points in the past or different points in a narrative’s plot.

Sources in this article

We strongly encourage students to use sources in their work. You can cite our article (APA Style) or take a deep dive into the articles below.

Bryson, S. (2023, September 18). Verb Tenses in Academic Writing | Rules, Differences & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved April 10, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/verbs/tenses/
Aarts, B. (2011).  Oxford modern English grammar . Oxford University Press.
Butterfield, J. (Ed.). (2015).  Fowler’s dictionary of modern English usage  (4th ed.). Oxford University Press.
Garner, B. A. (2016).  Garner’s modern English usage (4th ed.). Oxford University Press.

Is this article helpful?

Shane Bryson

Shane Bryson

Shane finished his master's degree in English literature in 2013 and has been working as a writing tutor and editor since 2009. He began proofreading and editing essays with Scribbr in early summer, 2014.

Other students also liked

Tense tendencies in academic texts, subject-verb agreement | examples, rules & use, parallel structure & parallelism | definition, use & examples, unlimited academic ai-proofreading.

✔ Document error-free in 5minutes ✔ Unlimited document corrections ✔ Specialized in correcting academic texts

The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Verb Tenses

What this handout is about.

The present simple, past simple, and present perfect verb tenses account for approximately 80% of verb tense use in academic writing. This handout will help you understand how to use these three verb tenses in your own academic writing.

Click here for a color-coded illustration of changing verb tenses in academic writing.

Present simple tense

The present simple tense is used:

In your introduction, the present simple tense describes what we already know about the topic. In the conclusion, it says what we now know about the topic and what further research is still needed.

“The data suggest…” “The research shows…”

“The dinoflagellate’s TFVCs require an unidentified substance in fresh fish excreta” (Penrose and Katz, 330).

“There is evidence that…”

“So I’m walking through the park yesterday, and I hear all of this loud music and yelling. Turns out, there’s a free concert!” “Shakespeare captures human nature so accurately.”

Past simple tense

Past simple tense is used for two main functions in most academic fields.

“…customers obviously want to be treated at least as well on fishing vessels as they are by other recreation businesses. [General claim using simple present] De Young (1987) found the quality of service to be more important than catching fish in attracting repeat customers. [Specific claim from a previous study using simple past] (Marine Science)

We conducted a secondary data analysis… (Public Health) Descriptional statistical tests and t-student test were used for statistical analysis. (Medicine) The control group of students took the course previously… (Education)

Present perfect tense

The present perfect acts as a “bridge” tense by connecting some past event or state to the present moment. It implies that whatever is being referred to in the past is still true and relevant today.

“There have been several investigations into…” “Educators have always been interested in student learning.”

Some studies have shown that girls have significantly higher fears than boys after trauma (Pfefferbaum et al., 1999; Pine &; Cohen, 2002; Shaw, 2003). Other studies have found no gender differences (Rahav and Ronen, 1994). (Psychology)

Special notes

Can i change tenses.

Yes. English is a language that uses many verb tenses at the same time. The key is choosing the verb tense that is appropriate for what you’re trying to convey.

What’s the difference between present simple and past simple for reporting research results?

  • Past simple limits your claims to the results of your own study. E.g., “Our study found that teenagers were moody.” (In this study, teenagers were moody.)
  • Present simple elevates your claim to a generalization. E.g., “Our study found that teenagers are moody.” (Teenagers are always moody.)

Works consulted

We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.

Biber, Douglas. 1999. Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English . New York: Longman.

Hawes, Thomas, and Sarah Thomas. 1997. “Tense Choices in Citations.” Research into the Teaching of English 31 (3): 393-414.

Hinkel, Eli. 2004. Teaching Academic ESL Writing: Practical Techniques in Vocabulary and Grammar . Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Penrose, Ann, and Steven Katz. 2004. Writing in the Sciences: Exploring the Conventions of Scientific Discourse , 2nd ed. New York: Longman.

Swales, John, and Christine B. Feak. 2004. Academic Writing for Graduate Students: Essential Tasks and Skills , 2nd ed. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Make a Gift

when writing an essay what tense do you use

  • Walden University
  • Faculty Portal

Grammar: Verb Tenses

Most common verb tenses in academic writing.

According to corpus research, in academic writing, the three tenses used the most often are the simple present , the simple past , and the present perfect (Biber et al., 1999; Caplan, 2012). The next most common tense for capstone writers is the future ; the doctoral study/dissertation proposal at Walden is written in this tense for a study that will be conducted in the future.

Biber, D., Johansson, S., Leech, G., Conrad, S., & Finegan, E. (1999). Longman grammar of written and spoken English . Pearson. https://doi.org/10.1162/089120101300346831

Caplan, N. A. (2012). Grammar choices for graduate and professional writers . University of Michigan Press.

Simple present: Use the simple present to describe a general truth or a habitual action. This tense indicates that the statement is generally true in the past, present, and future.

  • Example: The hospital admits patients whether or not they have proof of insurance.

Simple past : Use the simple past tense to describe a completed action that took place at a specific point in the past (e.g., last year, 1 hour ago, last Sunday). In the example below, the specific point of time in the past is 1998.

  • Example: Zimbardo (1998) researched many aspects of social psychology.

Present perfect: Use the present perfect to indicate an action that occurred at a nonspecific time in the past. This action has relevance in the present. The present perfect is also sometimes used to introduce background information in a paragraph. After the first sentence, the tense shifts to the simple past.

  • Example: Numerous researchers have used this method.
  • Example: Many researchers have studied how small business owners can be successful beyond the initial few years in business. They found common themes among the small business owners.

Future: Use the future to describe an action that will take place at a particular point in the future (at Walden, this is used especially when writing a proposal for a doctoral capstone study).

  • Example: I will conduct semistructured interviews.

Keep in mind that verb tenses should be adjusted after the proposal after the research has been completed. See this blog post about Revising the Proposal for the Final Capstone Document for more information.

APA Style Guidelines on Verb Tense

APA calls for consistency and accuracy in verb tense usage (see APA 7, Section 4.12 and Table 4.1). In other words, avoid unnecessary shifts in verb tense within a paragraph or in adjacent paragraphs to help ensure smooth expression.

  • Use the past tense (e.g., researchers presented ) or the present perfect (e.g., researchers have presented ) for the literature review and the description of the procedure if discussing past events.
  • Use the past tense to describe the results (e.g., test scores improved significantly).
  • Use the present tense to discuss implications of the results and present conclusions (e.g., the results of the study show …).

When explaining what an author or researcher wrote or did, use the past tense.

  • Patterson (2012) presented, found, stated, discovered…

However, there can be a shift to the present tense if the research findings still hold true:

  • King (2010) found  that revising a document three times improves the final grade.
  • Smith (2016) discovered that the treatment is effective.

Verb Tense Guidelines When Referring to the Document Itself

To preview what is coming in the document or to explain what is happening at that moment in the document, use the present or future tense:

  • In this study, I will describe …
  • In this study, I describe …
  • In the next chapter, I will discuss …
  • In the next chapter, I discuss …

To refer back to information already covered, such as summaries of discussions that have already taken place or conclusions to chapters/sections, use the past tense:

  • Chapter 1 contained my original discussion of the research questions.
  • In summary, in this section, I presented information on…

Simple Past Versus the Present Perfect

Rules for the use of the present perfect differ slightly in British and American English. Researchers have also found that among American English writers, sometimes individual preferences dictate whether the simple past or the present perfect is used. In other words, one American English writer may choose the simple past in a place where another American English writer may choose the present perfect.

Keep in mind, however, that the simple past is used for a completed action.  It often is used with signal words or phrases such as "yesterday," "last week," "1 year ago," or "in 2015" to indicate the specific time in the past when the action took place.

  • I went to China in 2010 .
  • He completed the employee performance reviews last month .

The present perfect focuses more on an action that occurred without focusing on the specific time it happened. Note that the specific time is not given, just that the action has occurred.

  • I have travelled to China.

The present perfect focuses more on the result of the action.

  • He has completed the employee performance reviews.

The present perfect is often used with signal words such as "since," "already," "just," "until now," "(not) yet," "so far," "ever," "lately," or "recently."

  • I have already travelled to China.
  • He has recently completed the employee performance reviews.
  • Researchers have used this method since it was developed.

Summary of English Verb Tenses

The 12 main tenses:

  • Simple present : She writes every day.
  • Present progressive: She is writing right now.
  • Simple past : She wrote last night.
  • Past progressive: She was writing when he called.
  • Simple future : She will write tomorrow.
  • Future progressive: She will be writing when you arrive.
  • Present perfect : She has written Chapter 1.
  • Present perfect progressive: She has been writing for 2 hours.
  • Past perfect: She had written Chapter 3 before she started Chapter 4.
  • Past perfect progressive: She had been writing for 2 hours before her friends arrived.
  • Future perfect: She will have written Chapter 4 before she writes Chapter 5.
  • Future perfect progressive: She will have been writing for 2 hours by the time her friends come over.

Conditionals:

Zero conditional (general truths/general habits).

  • Example: If I have time, I write every day.

First conditional (possible or likely things in the future).

  • Example: If I have time, I will write every day.

Second conditional (impossible things in the present/unlikely in the future).

  • Example : If I had time, I would write every day.

Third conditional (things that did not happen in the past and their imaginary results)

  • Example : If I had had time, I would have written every day.

Subjunctive : This form is sometimes used in that -clauses that are the object of certain verbs or follow certain adjectives. The form of the subjective is the simple form of the verb. It is the same for all persons and number.

  • Example : I recommend that he study every day.
  • Example: It is important that everyone set a writing schedule.

Verbs Video Playlist

Note that these videos were created while APA 6 was the style guide edition in use. There may be some examples of writing that have not been updated to APA 7 guidelines.

  • Grammar for Academic Writers: Common Verb Tenses in Academic Writing (video transcript)
  • Grammar for Academic Writers: Verb Tense Consistency (video transcript)
  • Grammar for Academic Writers: Advanced Subject–Verb Agreement (video transcript)
  • Mastering the Mechanics: Helping Verbs (video transcript)
  • Mastering the Mechanics: Past Tense (video transcript)
  • Mastering the Mechanics: Present Tense (video transcript)
  • Mastering the Mechanics: Future Tense (video transcript)

Related Resources

Webinar

Knowledge Check: Verb Tenses

Didn't find what you need? Search our website or email us .

Read our website accessibility and accommodation statement .

  • Previous Page: Comparisons
  • Next Page: Verb Forms: "-ing," Infinitives, and Past Participles
  • Office of Student Disability Services

Walden Resources

Departments.

  • Academic Residencies
  • Academic Skills
  • Career Planning and Development
  • Customer Care Team
  • Field Experience
  • Military Services
  • Student Success Advising
  • Writing Skills

Centers and Offices

  • Center for Social Change
  • Office of Academic Support and Instructional Services
  • Office of Degree Acceleration
  • Office of Research and Doctoral Services
  • Office of Student Affairs

Student Resources

  • Doctoral Writing Assessment
  • Form & Style Review
  • Quick Answers
  • ScholarWorks
  • SKIL Courses and Workshops
  • Walden Bookstore
  • Walden Catalog & Student Handbook
  • Student Safety/Title IX
  • Legal & Consumer Information
  • Website Terms and Conditions
  • Cookie Policy
  • Accessibility
  • Accreditation
  • State Authorization
  • Net Price Calculator
  • Contact Walden

Walden University is a member of Adtalem Global Education, Inc. www.adtalem.com Walden University is certified to operate by SCHEV © 2024 Walden University LLC. All rights reserved.

when writing an essay what tense do you use

The Plagiarism Checker Online For Your Academic Work

Start Plagiarism Check

Editing & Proofreading for Your Research Paper

Get it proofread now

Online Printing & Binding with Free Express Delivery

Configure binding now

  • Academic essay overview
  • The writing process
  • Structuring academic essays
  • Types of academic essays
  • Academic writing overview
  • Sentence structure
  • Academic writing process
  • Improving your academic writing
  • Titles and headings
  • APA style overview
  • APA citation & referencing
  • APA structure & sections
  • Citation & referencing
  • Structure and sections
  • APA examples overview
  • Commonly used citations
  • Other examples
  • British English vs. American English
  • Chicago style overview
  • Chicago citation & referencing
  • Chicago structure & sections
  • Chicago style examples
  • Citing sources overview
  • Citation format
  • Citation examples
  • College essay overview
  • Application
  • How to write a college essay
  • Types of college essays
  • Commonly confused words
  • Definitions
  • Dissertation overview
  • Dissertation structure & sections
  • Dissertation writing process
  • Graduate school overview
  • Application & admission
  • Study abroad
  • Master degree
  • Harvard referencing overview
  • Language rules overview
  • Grammatical rules & structures
  • Parts of speech
  • Punctuation
  • Methodology overview
  • Analyzing data
  • Experiments
  • Observations
  • Inductive vs. Deductive
  • Qualitative vs. Quantitative
  • Types of validity
  • Types of reliability
  • Sampling methods
  • Theories & Concepts
  • Types of research studies
  • Types of variables
  • MLA style overview
  • MLA examples
  • MLA citation & referencing
  • MLA structure & sections
  • Plagiarism overview
  • Plagiarism checker
  • Types of plagiarism
  • Printing production overview
  • Research bias overview
  • Types of research bias
  • Example sections
  • Types of research papers
  • Research process overview
  • Problem statement
  • Research proposal
  • Research topic
  • Statistics overview
  • Levels of measurment
  • Frequency distribution
  • Measures of central tendency
  • Measures of variability
  • Hypothesis testing
  • Parameters & test statistics
  • Types of distributions
  • Correlation
  • Effect size
  • Hypothesis testing assumptions
  • Types of ANOVAs
  • Types of chi-square
  • Statistical data
  • Statistical models
  • Spelling mistakes
  • Tips overview
  • Academic writing tips
  • Dissertation tips
  • Sources tips
  • Working with sources overview
  • Evaluating sources
  • Finding sources
  • Including sources
  • Types of sources

Your Step to Success

Plagiarism Check within 10min

Printing & Binding with 3D Live Preview

Tenses – A Guide to Using Tenses in Academic Writing

How do you like this article cancel reply.

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

Tenses-01

Adherence to the correct tenses is essential in academic writing , directly impacting its conciseness, clarity, and readability. At times, deciding on the appropriate tense could be somewhat perplexing, entailing a careful application of language rules . Yet, the situation is not as complex as it may initially seem. As indicated by Cambridge University Press, the majority of students will only need a handful of tenses to express their ideas effectively, once they grasp the associated language rules.

Inhaltsverzeichnis

  • 1 Tenses – In a Nutshell
  • 2 Definition: Tenses
  • 3 Most commonly used tenses in academic writing
  • 4 Tenses used in different sections of a paper

Tenses – In a Nutshell

Certain verb tenses are suitable for specific situations. Here are some main takeaway points:

  • Three verb tenses will suit the majority of your academic writing needs.
  • Each tense can be used when addressing specific scenarios .
  • Using the correct tense can help to convey insight and clarity .
  • Do not hesitate to refer back to this article for future reference.

Definition: Tenses

Verbs alert the reader that a specific action is occurring or has occurred. However, these very same vehicles illustrate slightly more when found within an academic paper.

Tenses are often employed to display how the author feels about the subject being reported. They may also be leveraged to demonstrate the chronology of specific events.

Ireland

Most commonly used tenses in academic writing

Three tenses are commonly used in academic writing: the present simple, the past simple, and the present perfect. The following paragraphs introduce the functions as well as give examples.

Tenses-Most-commonly-used-tenses-in-academic-writing

The present simple

Often considered to be the most common tense, the present simple serves several functions:

  • To emphasize the primary focus of the article.
  • To reinforce what is presently known about a topic.
  • To make general observations and statements.
  • To reference previous papers as well as current tables and figures.
  • This study highlights the effects of climate change.
  • Research indicates that a gender pay gap exists.
  • Scholars agree that professional careers are regarded as the best way to earn more money.
  • This chart presents the results from prior control groups.

The past simple

Let us now examine when the past simple can be used as well as some examples:

  • Reporting findings from a previous study where the author is named.
  • Discuss what methods and/or data were utilized.
  • Highlighting the results of ongoing research.
  • Emphasizing that an event occurred in the past.
  • Smith et al. found that the initial results were spurious.
  • Quantitative analyses were employed.
  • Our team implemented a double-blind study.
  • The subjects had to report back weekly.

The present perfect

Let’s finally discuss the present perfect tense, as well as when it is most often used.

  • When introducing new subject matter.
  • Generally summarizing what has already taken place.
  • Citing prior findings without mentioning other authors.
  • Making connections between the past and the present.
  • An impressive body of research has shown.
  • Prior findings have been illustrated.
  • Others have discovered.
  • Previous research has indicated a relationship.

Tenses used in different sections of a paper

A scientific paper is made up of different sections, like the abstract or methodology . Each of these requires a certain tense. The following segments will state and explain which tense is used in which component.

Tenses in the abstract

Most experts agree that the present simple tense is best utilized within the abstract. This is a clear way to state facts and highlight the subsequent results. ㅤ

Tenses in the introduction

Introductions are normally used to present background details as well as information that is already assumed to be valid. Therefore, both the present perfect and the present simple tense can be used.

  • Depression correlates with weight gain.
  • Research indicates that a relationship exists.
  • Present perfect : Research has shown that mutations protect plants against certain illnesses.
  • Present simple : Our study shows that confirmation bias exists.

Tenses in the theoretical framework

Theoretical frameworks are intended to reinforce an existing theory, as well as why the issue in question exists. Therefore, the majority of the information should be addressed with the present simple or the present perfect.

  • Present perfect : Prior research has uncovered …
  • Present simple : The table below presents details…

Tenses in the methodology and results section

The methodology of the study and the results will always occur before a conclusion is reached. Therefore, it is best to employ the past simple tense.

  • Our team established specific parameters…
  • The subsequent studies correlated with…
  • The results seemed to reinforce…

Tenses in the conclusion

In many cases, a combination of past and present tense verbs can be used when presenting a conclusion (depending upon what is being discussed).

Tenses in the literature review

As literature reviews discuss and interpret previous findings, the past simple tense is often the best choice. ㅤ

  • Past simple : Our research indicated …
  • Present perfect : These results have shown that…
  • Present simple : Ultimately, evidence indicates that…
  • In his groundbreaking study, Smith et al. found that…
  • Longitudinal analyses confirmed that…
  • Exploratory research coincided with our ultimate findings.

What tenses are frequently seen within academic papers?

Three verb tenses represent the lion’s share of those utilized within an academic paper. The most common tenses are:

  • Present simple
  • Past simple
  • Past perfect

Why might only three tenses be necessary?

One of the main reasons behind this approach involves clarity . Superfluous text can be confusing to the reader, and it may even detract from the subject material being presented. Simplifying verb conjugations will also free up space for additional information.

Could other verb conjugations be used?

There are certain times when other tenses can be used.

One example may occur if the writer wishes to convey the importance of a prediction or possible event. In this case, the future simple tense (the results will show…) may be employed.

Are there any online tools that can assist?

Three popular options include:

  • ProWritingAid
  • GrammarCheck.me

Note that each of these provides free demonstration versions.

We use cookies on our website. Some of them are essential, while others help us to improve this website and your experience.

  • External Media

Individual Privacy Preferences

Cookie Details Privacy Policy Imprint

Here you will find an overview of all cookies used. You can give your consent to whole categories or display further information and select certain cookies.

Accept all Save

Essential cookies enable basic functions and are necessary for the proper function of the website.

Show Cookie Information Hide Cookie Information

Statistics cookies collect information anonymously. This information helps us to understand how our visitors use our website.

Content from video platforms and social media platforms is blocked by default. If External Media cookies are accepted, access to those contents no longer requires manual consent.

Privacy Policy Imprint

Writing academically: Tenses

  • Academic style
  • Personal pronouns
  • Contractions
  • Abbreviations
  • Signposting
  • Paragraph structure
  • Using sources in your writing

Jump to content on this page:

“Quote” Author, Book

In simple terms, verb tenses refer to the past, present or future. Verb tenses tell the reader when something happened, and are used to convey what is or is not known at the time of writing.

typewriter icon

If you are reporting on your own or others’ specific research activities (such as methods that were used, or results that were found) then you would generally use the past tense.

  • An experiment was conducted…
  • It was found that…
  • Brown (2010) found that…

In the example based on Brown’s research, the writer was referring to a specific result that Brown found when he conducted his research in 2010, and is therefore written in the past tense.

laptop icon

Present tense

Use the present tense if you are making general statements that draw on previous research, and usually indicates what is known at the time of writing , for example:

Example: 

  • The research shows...
  • The results of the experiment suggest that…
  • Brown’s (2010) study suggests that…

In the above example based on Brown’s research, the writer makes a reference to what is known at the time of writing , and so it is written in the present tense.

Here is an example of using both the past and present tense in your writing:

Example:  Brown (2010) conducted a survey of 1000 students. The results of his survey suggest that all his students are geniuses.

In this example the writer refers to a specific survey that Brown conducted (past tense) in 2010. The writer then conveys how the results of Brown’s survey are still considered worthy today by writing in the present tense ( suggest ).

Compare this to the following example:

Example:  Brown (2010) conducted a survey of 1000 students. The results of his survey suggested that all his students were geniuses, but his later work (Brown, 2015) suggests this is not the case.

As previously, Brown’s specific study of 2010 is referred to in the past tense. But we now find that a later study by Brown (2015) appears to be in disagreement with his earlier 2010 study. Consequently the writer now refers to the conclusions drawn from the 2010 study in the past tense ( suggested ), and it is the results of Brown’s 2015 study – which represents what is known at the time of writing - that is referred to in the present tense ( suggests ).

robot icon

Future tense

The future tense is not often used in academic writing because it tends to imply a level of certainty that academics can find uncomfortable. If you use verbs such as will or shall then be certain of your certainty! Otherwise use verbs that express possibility, such as could or may .

The exception is in research proposals where you are writing about what you intend to do - so the future tense is used.

  • << Previous: Personal pronouns
  • Next: Voice >>
  • Last Updated: Nov 10, 2023 4:11 PM
  • URL: https://libguides.hull.ac.uk/writing
  • Login to LibApps
  • Library websites Privacy Policy
  • University of Hull privacy policy & cookies
  • Website terms and conditions
  • Accessibility
  • Report a problem
  • Link to facebook
  • Link to linkedin
  • Link to twitter
  • Link to youtube
  • Writing Tips

Tense Use in Essays: Past vs. Present

2-minute read

  • 16th April 2016

It’s mostly time travellers who worry about the more convoluted aspects of grammatical tense , but the issue of tense use in academic writing is, nonetheless, controversial.

To be specific, there is much disagreement about tense use in essays : specifically, is past or present tense best? Today, we look into this tricky problem.

Present Tense

The present tense is used when discussing current events or states. It will often be the dominant tense used in academic writing due to the number of situations to which it applies:

  • Stating general principles or theories (e.g. ‘The third law of thermodynamics states …’)
  • Describing a fact (e.g. ‘Catalysts increase the rate of a reaction…’)
  • Expressing an opinion or making a claim (e.g. ‘I believe further research is required…’)
  • Analysing the results of an experiment (e.g. ‘The results show that…’)

In all these cases, the present tense shows that something applies at the current time or emphasises its relevance to the present.

The present tense can also do this in a literature review, since it frames research in terms of its current significance. This shows that you’re engaged with ongoing debate in your field of study, not simply describing out-of-date research.

The past tense is used when describing events that have already happened. In academic writing, this could be writing up a completed experiment.

Find this useful?

Subscribe to our newsletter and get writing tips from our editors straight to your inbox.

For example, the past tense can be used in methodology and results sections. Likewise, the past tense is useful when writing a case study, since this is almost always about something that has already occurred.

While you can use the past tense in a literature review, saying that someone ‘believed’ something may imply that they changed their mind. As such, the past tense can be used for discussing ‘dead’ ideas (i.e. things that no-one holds true any more) or something that someone has since disavowed.

Future Tense

The future tense is useful for discussing things that are yet to happen, such as when we commit to doing something (e.g. ‘I will continue to research this issue’).

Generally, you won’t need to do this too often in academic writing. However, the future tense can be useful in the following situations:

  • Making predictions about the future
  • Offering recommendations based on your results
  • Suggesting new avenues of research

In all these cases, the future tense will help you express yourself more clearly.

Share this article:

' src=

Post A New Comment

Get help from a language expert. Try our proofreading services for free.

3-minute read

What Is a Content Editor?

Are you interested in learning more about the role of a content editor and the...

4-minute read

The Benefits of Using an Online Proofreading Service

Proofreading is important to ensure your writing is clear and concise for your readers. Whether...

6 Online AI Presentation Maker Tools

Creating presentations can be time-consuming and frustrating. Trying to construct a visually appealing and informative...

What Is Market Research?

No matter your industry, conducting market research helps you keep up to date with shifting...

8 Press Release Distribution Services for Your Business

In a world where you need to stand out, press releases are key to being...

How to Get a Patent

In the United States, the US Patent and Trademarks Office issues patents. In the United...

Logo Harvard University

Make sure your writing is the best it can be with our expert English proofreading and editing.

  • Have your assignments done by seasoned writers. 24/7
  • Contact us:
  • +1 (213) 221-0069
  • [email protected]

Past, Present, and Future Tense in Essays: How to Switch

Past, Present, and Future Tense in Essays: How to Switch

Past, Present, and the Future Tenses in Your Essay

Past, Present, and the Future Tenses in Your Essay

Choosing the correct grammatical tense for your essay can be a challenge. You have to decide whether to use past, present, or future tense. A wrong choice impacts your essay negatively. It will lack clarity and flow. This is not a situation that you ought to find yourself in.

Most students struggle with choosing the right tense. For some, it is due to the lack of guidance on using grammatical tenses. Others are careless with their writing. The result is a poorly written essay that a reader cannot understand. However, it is a problem that you can deal with once and for all.

when writing an essay what tense do you use

Reading the instructions will enlighten you on which tense to use in writing your essay. Your tutor can also guide you on how to use grammatical tenses. You get the guidelines of when to use a particular tense. The help prevents you from choosing the wrong tense.

The type of your essay also reveals which tenses you ought to use. All essays are not the same. They have some distinct rules that create a significant difference. You must be aware of those rules and follow them to the latter. For instance, using the right tense is something you must take seriously. 

Should an Essay be in Present, Past, or Future Tense?

using verb tenses

Many students might find it challenging to choose the right tense. Some are yet to learn by heart the rules governing the use of tenses. They end up making the wrong choice.

Ultimately, the impact of their essay score is negative. Fortunately, it is a problem you can work on. 

Every essay needs to be clear and engaging, where the reader needs an easier time reading it. But, that is not the case with all students. Some find themselves using the wrong tenses.

Instead of using the present tense, they write essays in the past tense. But perhaps they do not know when to use a present, past, or future tense.

You can use present, past, and future tense in your essay. But there is a catch. Before you write your essay, you must know which tense fits it. You can either get guidance from your tutor or do your research. Above all, ensure the tense you use is consistent and clear.

Most essay writers use the present tense. It is simple and direct to the point. You can write short sentences that are easier to read and understand. The reader will use little time to read your essay. It will not be tiring to read it since the message is clear.

The present tense is common in academic writing. It allows you to write about current states of events more candidly. By using the present tense, you can easily describe theories. It will be easier to explain an event that is happening now. Generally, the present tense is ideal for writing essays.

Instances to Use Present Tense in an Essay

present tense

You do not have to write every essay in the present tense. There are instances under which it becomes a must. At that juncture, you have to play ball.

You must shun the past and future tenses to make your essay consistent. Deviating from the present tense might distort your sentence structure thereby complicating your essay.

The present tense is ideal for creating a sense of immediacy. The reader gets to experience every action as it unfolds. It is easier to grasp the information the writer is passing across. The clarity in the essay engages the reader .

This is one of the reasons why writing in the present tense is common.

Writing an essay in the present tense is much easier. You can write your essay within the shortest time possible, and meeting deadlines will not be an issue. Your essay will be simple and clear to the point, without any sophistication.

Use present tense in an essay where you refer to existing facts. The present tense shows that the fact is indeed true. It becomes easier for the reader to believe in what you are writing. Also, it describes the findings of a study in the present tense. That is also the case when expressing people’s claims and opinions .

Instances to Use Past Tense in an Essay

You must be careful with the tense you use in your essay. Each tense does come with its demands. For instance, past tense is ideal for emphasizing that people do not accept a particular idea. Use past tense to describe that idea for easier understanding.

If your essay describes historical events, you have to use past tense. It makes the description clearer to the reader. This is a clear indication that they can get a picture of the turn of events. This is very crucial for the flow of your essay.

Reading it becomes engaging and enjoyable without any sense of struggling to understand ideas.

Instances to Use Future Tense in an Essay

the future tense

Not often do students use the future tense in essays. They either use present and past tenses, the former being the most common.

But some instances permit the use of future tense. It does play a significant role.

Use future tense to describe your essay’s research predictions, methods, and aims. It becomes easier to demystify what the researcher is up to.

Besides, if you recommend research sources or state the application of study findings, then use future tense. You can easily describe something that is yet to happen or likely to occur in the future.

Can You Combine All Tenses in Essay Writing?

You can also use all tenses in your essay. However, you need to take this step with a lot of caution. Remember, the reader needs to get your message. You have to do that with some pomp to make your essay an enticing read .

Combining all tenses will certainly do that job for you.

Describe the cause and impact of interlocking events in an essay by combining all tenses. Your target audience can now get the hang of the events from a much broader perceptive. However, you have to respect time settings.

using verb tenses

It is crucial to avoid any confusion that might distort your message. Ensure you get rid of any sophistication bound to disturb the flow of thoughts in your write-up.

Combining all tenses can be a win or a loss for you. It depends on the context of your essay. Besides, you need to mind your reader.

Your essay should be on a standard that is easier to comprehend. Thus, proceed with caution. 

Make your point in a manner that captures the reader’s attention. Using all tenses can help you achieve that feat. However, the tenses should not appear haphazardly. If you are not careful, you might make it hard for your reader to understand your insinuating description.

Choosing the right tense for your essay is fundamental. It ensures that you can engage your reader in a comprehensive context easily. It starts by knowing when to use present, past, and future tense or combine them.

If your essay is about current events, it must be in the present tense. The reader gets to know what is happening at the very moment.

Use past tense to write an essay on past events. Describing those events will be much easier. You will do it with clarity hence not causing any confusion. On the other side, the future tense suits the description of events yet to occur.

You can also use the future tense to predict events that are about to happen. And if you want to polish your essay, care to combine all tenses, but do it with caution.

Watch this video to learn more about this.

YouTube video

When not handling complex essays and academic writing tasks, Josh is busy advising students on how to pass assignments. In spare time, he loves playing football or walking with his dog around the park.

Related posts

Simple Ways Of Representing Your Data Using Graphs

Simple Ways Of Representing Your Data Using Graphs

Research Paper Graph: How to Insert Graphs, Tables & Figures

using essay writing services

using essay writing services

Is using an Essay Writing Service Cheating? Is it Ethical?

Effective Ways Using Test Bank in Your Studying

Effective Ways Using Test Bank in Your Studying

Is Using a Test Bank Cheating or illegal: Can you be Caught?

Ask Betty: grammar for college writers by the Department of English at the University of Washington

Tenses in writing

Verb tenses.

The present tense is used to express anything that is happening now or occurring in the present moment. The present also communicates actions that are ongoing, constant, or habitual. For example:

Use the past tense to indicate past events, prior conditions, or completed processes. For example:

The future tense indicates actions or events that will happen in the future. For example:

Aspect allows you to be more precise in your selection of verbs. Aspect falls into two categories: continuous and perfect. To indicate the continuous aspect, add a form of the verb "to be" and a present participle to your main verb. The perfect aspect is created with a form of the verb "to have" and a past participle. The following chart shows twelve forms of the verb "to write" that result from combining time with aspect.

( aspect summary )

A participle is a verb form that can be used as an adjective.

Aspect in Detail

The continuous aspect is created with a form of "to be" and a present participle ( about participles ). For example:

The perfect aspect is created with a form of the verb "to have" and a past participle. For example:

The perfect aspect is often the most challenging to understand, so here's a brief overview.

Past Perfect describes a past action completed before another. For example, the next two sentences describe one action followed by another, but each achieves a different rhetorical effect by using different verb forms.

"Wrote" and "reread" sound equally important in the first sentence. In the second, the past perfect form "had written" emphasizes the action "reread."

Present Perfect refers to completed actions which endure to the present or whose effects are still relevant.

Future Perfect refers to an action that will be completed in the future.

One final note: the terms used to describe aspect have changed over time, and different terms are often used to describe the same aspect. It may help to know that the following terms are equivalent:

  • "simple present" (or) "present indefinite"
  • "past continuous" (or) "past progressive" (or) "past imperfect"
  • "past complete" (or) "past perfect"
  • "past perfect continuous" (or) "past perfect progressive"

Verb Tenses in Context

Conventions governing the use of tenses in academic writing differ somewhat from ordinary usage. Below we cover the guidelines for verb tenses in a variety of genres.

Academic Writing

  • Books, Plays, Poems, Movies, etc.

Historical Contrast

Research proposals, resumes and cover letters, stories/narrative prose.

1. Academic writing generally concerns writing about research. As such, your tense choices can indicate to readers the status of the research you're citing. You have several options for communicating research findings, and each has a different rhetorical effect. For example:

  • 1.3 According to McMillan (1996), the most common cause of death was car accidents.

If you choose the present tense, as in Example 1.1, you're implying that the findings of the research are generally accepted, whereas the present perfect tense in 1.2 implies not only general acceptance but also current relevance and, possibly, the continuity of the findings as an authoritative statement on the causes of death. On the other hand, the past tense in Example 1.3 emphasizes the finding at the time the research was conducted, rather than its current acceptance.

However, if you are writing about specific research methods, the process of research and data collection, or what happened during the research process, you will more commonly use the past tense, as you would normally use in conversation. The reason is that, in this instance, you are not emphasizing the findings of the research or its significance, but talking about events that occurred in the past. Here is an example:

  • 1.4 During the data collection process, Quirk conducted 27 interviews with students in his class. Prior to the interviews, the students responded to a brief questionnaire.

Books, Poems, Plays, Movies

2. When you are discussing a book, poem, movie, play, or song the convention in disciplines within the humanities is to use the present tense, as in:

  • 2.1 In An Introduction to English Grammar (2006), Noam Chomsky discusses several types of syntactic structures.
  • 2.2 In Paradise Lost , Milton sets up Satan as a hero who changes the course of history.

3. In cases where it is useful to contrast different ideas that originate from different periods , you can use the past and the present or present perfect tense to do so. The past tense implies that an idea or a theory has lost its currency or validity, while the present tense conveys relevance or the current state of acceptance.

For example, when you want to discuss the fact that a theory or interpretation has been supplanted by new perspectives on the subject:

  • 3.1 Stanley Fish (1993) maintained a reader-response stance in his analysis of Milton's L'Allegro and Il Penseroso . However, recent literary critics consider/have considered this stance to be inappropriate for the two poems.

The verb tenses used above emphasize the contrast between the old view (by Stanley Fish), which is indicated by the past tense, and the new view (by "recent literary critics"), which is indicated by the present tense or the present perfect tense. The difference between the present tense and the present perfect (i.e. between consider and have considered ) is that the present perfect suggests that the current view has been held for some time.

4. The future tense is standard in research proposals because they largely focus on plans for the future. However, when writing your research paper, use the past tense to discuss the data collection processes, since the development of ideas or experiments— the process of researching that brings the reader to your ultimate findings—occurred in the past.

5. In a resume, the past tense is used for reporting past experience and responsibilities. However, in a statement of purpose, a personal statement, or a cover letter, the present perfect tense is commonly used to relate past experience to present abilities, e.g., "I have managed fourteen employees."

6. The past tense is commonly used when writing a narrative or a story , as in:

  • 6.1 Once upon a time, there was a peaceful kingdom in the heart of a jungle . . .

Some writers use the present tense in telling stories, a technique called the "historical present" that creates an air of vividness and immediacy. For example:

  • 6.2 Yesterday when I was walking around downtown, the craziest thing happened. This guy in a suit comes up to me, and says , "If you know what's good for you . . . "

In this example, the speaker switches from the past tense in giving context for the story to the present tense in relating the events themselves.

Back to Grammar in College Writing

when writing an essay what tense do you use

Writing tenses: 5 tips for past, present, future

Understanding how to use writing tenses is challenging. How do you mix past, present and future tense without making the reader giddy? What is the difference between ‘simple’ and ‘perfect’ tense? Read this simple guide for answers to these questions and more:

  • Post author By Jordan
  • 28 Comments on Writing tenses: 5 tips for past, present, future

Writing tenses - 5 tips for past present and future

What are the main writing tenses?

In English, we have so-called ‘simple’ and ‘perfect’ tenses in the past, present and future. The simple tense merely conveys action in the time narrated. For example:

Past (simple) tense: Sarah ran to the store. Present (simple) tense: Sarah runs to the store. Future (simple) tense: Sarah will run to the store

Perfect tense uses the different forms of the auxiliary verb ‘has’ plus the main verb to show actions that have taken place already (or will/may still take place). Here’s the above example sentence in each tense, in perfect form:

Past perfect: Sarah had run to the store. Present perfect: Sarah has run to the store. Future perfect: Sarah will have run to the store.

In the past perfect, Sarah’s run is an earlier event in a narrative past:

Sarah had run to the store many times uneventfully so she wasn’t at all prepared for what she saw that morning.

You could use the future perfect tense to show that Sarah’s plans will not impact on another event even further in the future. For example:

Sarah will have run to the store by the time you get here so we won’t be late.

(You could also say ‘Sarah will be back from the store by the time you get here so we won’t be late.’ This is a simpler option using the future tense with the infinitive ‘to be’.) Here are some tips for using the tenses in a novel:

1. Decide which writing tenses would work best for your story

The majority of novels are written using simple past tense and the third person:

She ran her usual route to the store, but as she rounded the corner she came upon a disturbing sight.

When you start drafting a novel or a scene, think about the merits of each tense. The present tense, for example, has the virtue of:

  • Immediacy: The action unfolds in the same narrative moment as the reader experiences it (there is no temporal distance: Each action happens now)
  • Simplicity: It’s undeniably easier to write ‘She runs her usual route to the store’ then to juggle all sorts of remote times using auxiliary verbs

Sometimes authors are especially creative in combining tense and POV. In Italo Calvino’s postmodern classic , If on a winter’s night a traveler ( 1979), the entire story is told in the present tense, in the second person. This has the effect of a ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ novel. To rewrite Sarah’s story in the same tense and POV:

You run your usual route to the store, but as you round the corner you come upon a disturbing sight.

This tense choice is smart for Calvino’s novel since it increases the puzzling nature of the story. In If on a winter’s night a traveler , you, the reader, are a character who buys Calvino’s novel If on a winter’s night a traveler , only to discover that there are pages missing. When you attempt to return it, you get sent on a wild goose chase after the book you want.

Tense itself can enliven an element of your story’s narration. In a thriller novel, for example, you can write tense scenes in first person, present tense for a sense of danger unfolding now . Tweet This
A muffled shot. He sits up in bed, tensed and listening. Can’t hear much other than the wind scraping branches along the gutter.

Quote about verbs - Lynn Margulis

2. Avoid losing clarity when mixing tenses

Because stories show us chains and sequences of events, often we need to jump back and forth between earlier and present scenes and times. This is especially true in novels where characters’ memories form a crucial part of the narrative.

It’s confusing when an author changes tense in the middle of a scene. The fragmented break in continuity makes it hard to place actions in relation to each other. For example:

Sarah runs her usual route to the store. As she turned the corner, she came upon a disturbing scene.

This is wrong because the verbs do not consistently use the same tense , even though it is clear (from context) that Sarah’s run is a continuous action in a single scene.

Ursula K. Le Guin offers excellent advice on mixing past and present in her writing manual, Steering the Craft :

It is highly probable that if you go back and forth between past and present tense, if you switch the tense of your narrative frequently and without some kind of signal (a line break, a dingbat,a new chapter) your reader will get all mixed up as to what happened before what and what’s happening after which and when we are, or were, at the moment. Ursula K. Le Guin, Steering the Craft

In short, make sure there are clear breaks between sections set in different tenses and that actions in the same timeline don’t create confusion by using different tenses for the same scene’s continuous events.

These 10 exercises for practicing tenses provide a fun way to focus on mastering the basics.

Get a professional edit for perfect tense

Get a no-obligation quote for a manuscript evaluation, developmental editing, copy-editing or proofreading.

3: Mix the tenses for colour and variety

Le Guin raises a good point about writing tenses. Le Guin describes the downside of telling a story almost exclusively in present tense:

It all rather sounds alike…it’s bland, predictable, risk-free. All too often, it’s McProse. The wealth and complexity of our verb forms is part of the color of the language. Using only one tense is like having a whole set of oil paints and using only pink. Le Guin, Steering the Craft

Instead mix different tenses where appropriate, but signal changes between time settings:

For example:

That morning, she had run her usual route to the store. As she turned the corner, she had come upon a disturbing scene. Apart from the glass and metal sprayed across the road like some outgoing tide’s deposit, there were what looked like two stretchers, mostly eclipsed from view by a swarm of emergency workers. Now, safely home, she decided to lie down, all the while trying to get that scene out of her mind.

Mixing the tenses can help to show the cause and effect of interlocking events. The use of the past perfect to describe the scene of an accident in the example above is effective because the past perfect shows what is already complete. It gives it an irrevocable quality, the quality of a haunting, living-on-in-memory event. Finished, but not finished in the character’s mind’s eye.

Ursula Le Guin quote - verb tenses

4. Practice showing shadowy past or present actions using verb forms

In addition to simple and perfect tenses, there are different ‘moods’ that show verbs as hypothetical or possible actions. In addition to the indicative mood (‘she runs to the store’) there is also the subjunctive mood (‘If she runs to the store’) and the potential mood (‘she may run to the store’).

The different moods are useful because they can show possibilities and scenarios that might have happened, or might still happen, under different circumstances. Here are examples for correct uses for each of the tenses (in active voice):

Subjunctive mood:

Present tense: If she runs to the store… Past tense: If she ran to the store… Future tense: If she should run to the store… Present perfect tense: If she has run to the store… Past perfect tense: If she had run to the store… Future perfect tense: If she should have run to the store….

Think of this mood as setting up a possibility. For example: ‘If she runs to the store, she better be quick because we’re leaving in 5.’

The potential mood helps us show shadowy, more hypothetical, uncertain scenarios:

Present tense: She may run to the store. Present perfect tense: She may have run to the store. Past perfect: She might have run to the store.

In each of these examples, the action is a possibility and the mood (using the various forms of ‘may’) shows this.

These verb moods in conjunction with tense are useful. They help us describe situations in which a narrator or character does not have full knowledge of events, or is wondering how events might pan out. They help to build suspense in the build-up to finishing a book .

5. Practice rewriting paragraphs in different tenses

It’s often easiest to get the hang of tense by doing. Pick a paragraph by an author and rewrite in each of the tenses. Here, for example, is a paragraph from David Sedaris’ essay, ‘Buddy, Can you Spare a Tie?’:

The only expensive thing I actually wear is a navy blue cashmere sweater. It cost four hundred dollars and looks like it was wrestled from the mouth of a tiger. “What a shame,” the dry cleaner said the first time I brought it in. The sweater had been folded into a loaf-sized bundle, and she stroked it, the way you might a freshly dead rabbit. David Sedaris, ‘Buddy, Can you Spare a Tie?’ , When You Are Engulfed in Flames

Rewritten in past simple tense:

The only expensive thing I actually wore was a navy blue cashmere sweater. It cost four hundred dollars and looked like it was wrestled from the mouth of a tiger. “What a shame,” the dry cleaner said the first time I brought it in. The sweater was folded into a loaf-sized bundle, and she stroked it, the way you might a freshly dead rabbit.’

Here is the same passage in past perfect:

The only expensive thing I had actually worn was a navy blue cashmere sweater. It had cost four hundred dollars and had looked like it had been wrestled from the mouth of a tiger. “What a shame,” the dry cleaner had said, the first time I brought it in. The sweater had been folded into a loaf-sized bundle, and she had stroked it, the way you might a freshly dead rabbit.

The effect is of a character describing the defining experiences before another event (before buying an even more expensive item of clothing, for example). For example, you could write ‘Before I bought that lavish suit…’ before the paragraph.

To perfect writing tenses, make your own exercises and practice rewriting extracts from your story in each tense to see the changing effect this has on your narrative.

Do you need feedback on your use of tense in a story? Get novel help from our writing community or your own, experienced writing coach.

Related Posts:

  • How the future will impact your fantasy story characters
  • Future technology books: Q&A with author Kate Baucherel
  • Writing styles: 10 tips to master ways of writing
  • Tags how to write tense , tense and narration , writing tenses

when writing an essay what tense do you use

Jordan is a writer, editor, community manager and product developer. He received his BA Honours in English Literature and his undergraduate in English Literature and Music from the University of Cape Town.

28 replies on “Writing tenses: 5 tips for past, present, future”

A fine explanation of tenses. A subject often ignored, having been overlooked except by students of language. In short, changes in tense are great aids to tension.

Thanks, Bob! It’s true that it’s not discussed as commonly as certain other topics such as characterization.

Reading such articles clear all the confusion. Thanks!

I have question though, I am writing in past tense, all the events are happening in past tense. But, say, my protagonist is in a situation where she has to decide something and she is anticipating something, in short, it’s future for her, how do we go about that.

She was still sitting on the same bench, as she didn’t want to leave the light. She was sure that ………………………………………………………………….

What I want to write here is, she knew that she will not find any cab at this hour. a. She was sure that she will not find any cab at this hour. b. She was sure that she was not going to any cab at this hour. c. She was sure that she couldn’t get a cab at this hour.

In my current scene, I am trying to show the thought process of the protagonist and I have encountered 2 or 3 places where I have come across this situation. Am I doing something wrong? Should I not come across such situation at all if I am writing in past tense?

I understand reading helps, but at this moment, my mind is blank and I am not able to recollect anything that I (must) have read.

Please suggest.

Hi Jayendra,

Thanks for your question and the feedback. Number a. would be incorrect because ‘will’ is in the simple future tense (it would be correct in ‘She is sure she will not find any cab at this hour’). B would be correct with a few small tweaks: ‘She was sure she wasn’t going to find any cab at such a late hour’ (or ‘…any cab so late at night.’) Incidentally, ‘this’ implies present, continuous time so it is a little jarring in past tense (hence the alternatives above). c. Similarly, this option would be better as ‘She was sure she wouldn’t find a cab at such a late hour.’ ‘Would not’ is the right past tense form here, in present tense it would be ‘will not’. It implies future action in relation to the present time of the narration.

I hope that helps!

Hey Bridget, thanks for your reply. It feels silly now. If I was able to come up with “could”, why couldn’t I think of “would”! 🙂

Thank you for this article. Tense has been driving me insane as it feels like there are hundreds of exceptions when it comes to usage of “simple present verbs” in past tense narratives. It makes me want to disregard the entire subject and rely on an editor to catch any mistakes that I don’t naturally leave out.

For example. When you said, “Past perfect: Sarah had run to the store.” “Run” is a present (simple) tense verb, which would make you think that it can’t be used at all in a past tense narrative, but it clearly can if you phrase it correctly. This holds true with literally dozens of other verbs, adverbs, and other “tense” related words. I’m finding my work being hampered by this as I literally stumble over myself thinking I buggered up a word in my narrative, only to later find out it was a perfectly acceptable usage. I’m really at the breaking point over this, and I’m close to just disregarding it all together and relying on pure instinct and proofreading, then review by an editor at a later date. Then of course, there’s the whole deal with acceptable tense shifting…

Am I incorrect for thinking this way? Will this kind of mindset bar me from any chance of ever getting published or even being given an offer by an agent? Is there room in this world for easily confusable writers? I don’t know, and I can’t imagine how confusing this must be for foreign speakers, either. As I’ve been speaking english all my life and writing as a hobby for nearly a decade.

Anyway, sorry for the rant. I actually do have an actual question. How do you use simple present tense usages of “being” when writing in second person past tense? Because the phrase, “You are…(whatever character’s name) comes up quite a bit. However, there’s no way to get around the fact that you have to use “are,” in the past tense continuous, and I can’t find any info on if that is correct or not.

I have a question. Would it be incorrect if my story is in first person point of view and narrated in the past tense, but the internal monologue of my narrator is in the present tense?

Ex. “Don’t you ever go anywhere else, Red?” My name isn’t Red. I can’t remember where that nickname came from. “I go to school.” I said. I could feel him rolling his eyes at me. I think he’s done that before. “Come with me today.” I looked at him then, a little puzzled. It was a bad idea and yet I said: “Okay.”

It sounds right in my head but I feel like the tenses are too all over the place to be correct. The narrator has memory problems so I want what he’s thinking to be read but I’m just not sure if this is correct. I’m more comfortable with past tense writing but should I switch to present tense?

I have the same question!

Hi Hannah, this comment slipped by, my sincere apologies for that.

Regarding your question, the tense switching does jolt the reader out of the story. If you’re more comfortable with past tense, I’d suggest putting the internal monologue in past, too. For example:

“I go to school,” I said. I could feel him rolling his eyes at me. He’d done that before.’ Similarly, for ‘I can’t remember where that nickname came form’, you could simplify it to make past tense less clunky as: ‘Where did that nickname come from?’

I hope your story is much further along now!

I’m a translator struggling with getting the past perfect correct in the story I’m working on. I find your article very helpful. Thank you 🙂

I have one question:

That morning, she had run her usual route to the store. As she turned the corner, she had come upon a disturbing scene. Apart from the glass and metal sprayed across the road like some outgoing tide’s deposit, there were what looked like two stretchers, mostly eclipsed from view by a swarm of emergency workers.

The above example sentences describe an event that had happened in the past from the narrator’s perspective, and that’s why the past perfect is used. Okay, no problem. But why isn’t everything in the past perfect? Why is it okay to leave some parts in simple past?

“As she turned the corner” instead of “As she had turned the corner” “there were what looked like two stretchers” instead of “there had been what looked two stretchers”

This is the exact issue I’m having in my story. When I put every single verb in the past perfect, the sentences sound very heavy, especially when the section describing the past event is long. But I’m not sure which parts are okay to leave in simple past.

Thank you for the feedback and for your question. You struck the exact reason there – stylistically, to put every single verb in past perfect does read clunkier and isn’t necessary. As long as there is a past-perfect verb establishing the time-frame of events, the rest of the events that are still contextually happening in the earlier time period don’t necessarily need past perfect. For example:

‘It happened last week. I had stopped by the vet shop to get my dog’s flea tablet [past perfect – prior action is established]. I was standing at the counter waiting to pay when I saw the new vet through the back entrance.’ If you wrote ‘I had been standing at the counter waiting to pay when I had seen the new vet…’ each instance of past perfect situates the action in a time period before the ‘main action’. Whereas the scene the narrator is describing is the main event unfolding after a prior action (stopping at the vet shop) situated before this encounter by past perfect tense.

There’s a useful article explaining past perfect further here: http://www.englishlessonsbrighton.co.uk/use-past-perfect-build-narratives/

Thank you so much for your quick response, Jordan! Your explanation and the link you shared are very helpful 😀

It’s a pleasure 🙂 Glad I could help! Good luck with your story.

Hi Jordan. I have a question regarding exceptions. Are there any? I’m busy writing a short and it currently starts out as “I live on the top floor of a two storey apartment complex.” I then proceed to recollect in past tense. The entire story takes place over the course of 1 night and ends with the protagonist still living there. I think – as I’m typing this out – I should probably change it to past tense right? The rest of story is written in past tense. I should treat the entire event as a recollection rather than get caught up in the fact that the protagonist is still currently living there. It just felt like I was setting it up as a “Once upon a time I lived on the top floor…” which is not really my intention. It’s part of series so “I” will still be living there. It just seemed like a nice opener using present tense. Any ideas on how I can achieve the same effect?

Thank you for sharing this interesting question. I can’t see any reason why you couldn’t begin and end on present. As long as the cuts between present and past are clear/signaled to your reader it should be fine. For example:

‘I live on the top floor of a two-storey apartment complex. You’ll know why I’ve shared this detail soon, as it connects to what I’m about to tell you about a strange event that happened two weeks ago.

I was….’

If you bookend a section in present tense this way, with a clear transition between the tenses using narration, it should be fine. The main thing with tenses is not to hop between tenses within the same narrative time-frame (for example ‘I am running down a dark street. I heard footsteps behind me.’ Here, there’s nothing to signal the passage between present and past and it’s confusing.

I hope this helps!

Hey! I’m a self-taught proofreader, not a writer myself (haven’t a creative bone in my body, sadly), and I’m having a great deal of difficulty learning present tense. Up until now, all the stories I’ve proofread have been in past tense, so I’m trying to teach myself how to correct tense errors.

However, many of the websites I’ve come across aren’t tutorials, they’re essays about why not to use present tense in fiction! Well, that’s up to the author to decide! The issue I’m having is mostly with knowing when to allow usage of past tense to go and when to correct it.

For instance, in this sentence: “Thrown by the jump in numbers, most viewers click back in the video just to double-check that Danny had indeed jumped from #3 to #6, before shrugging and continuing to watch.” I’m thinking that “had” needs to be “has”, but I’m not 100% sure. I like to be mostly sure before suggesting a change. Thanks. 🙂

Hi Tracy! Here the past perfect tense (‘had’) is acceptable because it describes an action completed before the present narrative time-frame (e.g. ‘I’m walking to the store now which had been closed this morning’ would be correct if the narrator were walking in the afternoon). If you wrote ‘I’m walking to the store now which has been closed this morning’ this would imply that it is still morning in the time of narration, due to ‘has’ here being in the present perfect tense (describing a past action or condition (‘being closed’) stretching into the present time).

‘Has’ in your example would read a little strangely as it could imply that Danny ‘has’ (in the present, continuing moment) jumped from #3 to #6.

I would say, since the video has already been recorded, that ‘had’ makes sense because Danny’s error (jumping from #3 to #6) ‘had’ been made at the time of recording, and had been viewed prior to the viewer’s realization. So both moments are squarely in the past rather than stretching into the present.

Does that make sense? 🙂 Tense will get you!

It absolutely does, thank you! I’m going to have to go back and reread certain things now, but I definitely understand this. So things that happened prior to the time frame in the story can be past tense, even in a present tense story! Thank you again, so very much, I’m trying so hard to learn this, but I just find it difficult. xD Your explanation certainly simplified it for me, though! ^_^

This post also sums up the differences very well: https://www.dailywritingtips.com/has-vs-had/

So, in short, can I use different tenses in my work of a story writing? In direct speech inverted commas are needed.Isn’t it?

MIXING PAST AND PRESENT TENSES

The following paragraph has a mixture of past and present tense. I believe it to be grammatically wrong but, to my mind, it doesn’t jar when I read it back and it gives the reader a sense of immediacy. My question is: Is it an absolute no-no or is there a degree of artist license here?

Archie flicked on the chainsaw’s master switch and pumped the primer a few times. Resting the saw on the ground he gave the cord a good hard yank. It clacked through its gears but didn’t catch. The second pull bit and snapped back stinging his fingers as it recoiled. “Son of a….” he yelped. The third pull sprung the chainsaw into life with a metallic shrill sending out a cloud of blue smoke that wafted across the laundry. Archie let it idle in a high pitched grumble and then tested it with a few pumps of the throttle that sent the chain shinning around the blade. “Seems okay” he yelled over the noise before killing the master switch. “I guess the real test will be half way through a tree.

Thank you for sharing that, there’s a great descriptive density to it and a clear sense of scene.

I’m curious as to why you think it mixes tenses? To my eyes, it’s all in past tense. You do have a participle phrase or two (e.g. ‘Resting the saw on the ground’) that provide a present/unfolding action, but these are used correctly within past tense for the overall narration (you do use it correctly to show one action that is ongoing during another – the finite verb ‘he gave…’ after that participle phrase still keeps the tense within past as expected).

It would be mixed if you had finite verbs in different tenses for events occurring in the same time-frame, e.g. ‘He rests the saw on the ground and gave the cord a good hard yank.’ This would be jarring because there would appear to be two different time-frames for actions unfolding within the same scene, thanks to present verb ‘rests’ and past verb ‘gave’. I hope this helps!

Great article, many thanks!

Brief question – when writing in the past tense, can you still use present tense for general statements? For example:

I woke up as usual at 5:47 station time when air supply unit number five, that occupied the majority of the level below our quarters, sprang into action, producing a constant humming that would last for the next eight hours. It is never completely quiet on a space station, there are always sounds, vibrations and audible movements, and you learn to live with it. It never bothered me, it was the only life I knew.

Hi Stephan, it’s a pleasure. I’m glad you found it helpful.

Thank you for sharing your question. That does scan fine. In the first instance, there is a participle phrase which creates the sense of a presently unfolding action within the past time-frame (‘producing a constant humming…’). This is correct usage.

Then the flip to present informs the reader of a general, ongoing state of affairs which is where we would use present tense. It depends on the site in time from which the narrator is speaking. If they are no longer living in the quarters when narrating this, then perhaps ‘It was never completely quiet on the space station…’ would make more sense (past tense for recounting conditions no longer being experienced). But if they are still based at the station, then present tense narration for a general state of affairs in their environment fits, as presumably it still isn’t ever completely quiet when they’re narrating this.

I hope this helps! Thanks for the great question.

Thank you for this article. I found it helpful. Both of my main characters at one point recall their dreams. Since they are recalling them, I would write them in past tense correct?

Hi Chelsea, it’s a pleasure! Not necessarily. I find authors often use present tense for this (especially if the main narration is in past tense). It would look something like:

But then I remembered the dream I had…

I’m standing in a wide, open field. I hear someone calling from the other side …

Present tense does create a sense of the unfolding moment that suits the sense of reenacting an interesting event, so personally I would lean towards that. I hope this helps. Just remember whichever tense you’re using to have a narrative link that clarifies that the narration is now crossing over into the dream description (in my example above, it’s the words ‘But then I remembered the dream I had).

Thank you for reading our blog!

Wow, This was fantastic

Hi Danny, thank you for reading our blog and for your feedback!

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Purdue Online Writing Lab Purdue OWL® College of Liberal Arts

Verb Tense Consistency

OWL logo

Welcome to the Purdue OWL

This page is brought to you by the OWL at Purdue University. When printing this page, you must include the entire legal notice.

Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.

This handout explains and describes the sequence of verb tenses in English.

Throughout this document, example sentences with nonstandard or inconsistent usage have verbs in red .

Controlling shifts in verb tense

Writing often involves telling stories. Sometimes we narrate a story as our main purpose in writing; sometimes we include brief anecdotes or hypothetical scenarios as illustrations or reference points in an essay.

Even an essay that does not explicitly tell a story involves implied time frames for the actions discussed and states described. Changes in verb tense help readers understand the temporal relationships among various narrated events. But unnecessary or inconsistent shifts in tense can cause confusion.

Generally, writers maintain one tense for the main discourse and indicate changes in time frame by changing tense relative to that primary tense, which is usually either simple past or simple present. Even apparently non-narrative writing should employ verb tenses consistently and clearly.

General guideline: Do not shift from one tense to another if the time frame for each action or state is the same.

Explains is present tense, referring to a current state; asked is past, but should be present ( ask ) because the students are currently continuing to ask questions during the lecture period.

CORRECTED: The instructor explains the diagram to students who ask questions during the lecture.

Darkened and sprang up are past tense verbs; announces is present but should be past ( announced ) to maintain consistency within the time frame.

CORRECTED: About noon the sky darkened , a breeze sprang up , and a low rumble announced the approaching storm.

Walk is present tense but should be past to maintain consistency within the time frame ( yesterday ); rode is past, referring to an action completed before the current time frame.

CORRECTED: Yesterday we walked to school but later rode the bus home.

General guideline: Do shift tense to indicate a change in time frame from one action or state to another.

Love is present tense, referring to a current state (they still love it now;) built is past, referring to an action completed before the current time frame (they are not still building it.)

Began is past tense, referring to an action completed before the current time frame; had reached is past perfect, referring to action from a time frame before that of another past event (the action of reaching was completed before the action of beginning.)

Are installing is present progressive, referring to an ongoing action in the current time frame (the workers are still installing, and have not finished;) will need is future, referring to action expected to begin after the current time frame (the concert will start in the future, and that's when it will need amplification.)

Controlling shifts in a paragraph or essay

General guideline: Establish a primary tense for the main discourse, and use occasional shifts to other tenses to indicate changes in time frame.

  • Rely on past tense to narrate events and to refer to an author or an author's ideas as historical entities (biographical information about a historical figure or narration of developments in an author's ideas over time).
  • Use present tense to state facts, to refer to perpetual or habitual actions, and to discuss your own ideas or those expressed by an author in a particular work. Also use present tense to describe action in a literary work, movie, or other fictional narrative. Occasionally, for dramatic effect, you may wish to narrate an event in present tense as though it were happening now. If you do, use present tense consistently throughout the narrative, making shifts only where appropriate.
  • Future action may be expressed in a variety of ways, including the use of will, shall, is going to, are about to, tomorrow and other adverbs of time, and a wide range of contextual cues.

Using other tenses in conjunction with simple tenses

It is not always easy (or especially helpful) to try to distinguish perfect and/or progressive tenses from simple ones in isolation, for example, the difference between simple past progressive ("She was eating an apple") and present perfect progressive ("She has been eating an apple"). Distinguishing these sentences in isolation is possible, but the differences between them make clear sense only in the context of other sentences since the time-distinctions suggested by different tenses are relative to the time frame implied by the verb tenses in surrounding sentences or clauses.

Example 1: Simple past narration with perfect and progressive elements

On the day in question...

By the time Tom noticed the doorbell, it had already rung three times. As usual, he had been listening to loud music on his stereo. He turned the stereo down and stood up to answer the door. An old man was standing on the steps. The man began to speak slowly, asking for directions.

In this example, the progressive verbs had been listening and was standing suggest action underway at the time some other action took place. The stereo-listening was underway when the doorbell rang. The standing on the steps was underway when the door was opened. The past perfect progressive verb had been listening suggests action that began in the time frame prior to the main narrative time frame and that was still underway as another action began.

If the primary narration is in the present tense, then the present progressive or present perfect progressive is used to indicate action that is or has been underway as some other action begins. This narrative style might be used to describe a scene from a novel, movie, or play, since action in fictional narratives is conventionally treated as always present. For example, we refer to the scene in Hamlet in which the prince first speaks (present) to the ghost of his dead father or the final scene in Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing , which takes place (present) the day after Mookie has smashed (present perfect) the pizzeria window. If the example narrative above were a scene in a play, movie, or novel, it might appear as follows.

Example 2: Simple present narration with perfect and progressive elements

In this scene...

By the time Tom notices the doorbell, it has already rung three times. As usual, he has been listening to loud music on his stereo. He turns the stereo down and stands up to answer the door. An old man is standing on the steps. The man begins to speak slowly, asking for directions.

In this example as in the first one, the progressive verbs has been listening and is standing indicate action underway as some other action takes place. The present perfect progressive verb has been listening suggests action that began in the time frame prior to the main narrative time frame and that is still underway as another action begins. The remaining tense relationships parallel those in the first example.

In all of these cases, the progressive or -ing part of the verb merely indicates ongoing action, that is, action underway as another action occurs. The general comments about tense relationships apply to simple and perfect tenses, regardless of whether there is a progressive element involved.

It is possible to imagine a narrative based on a future time frame as well, for example, the predictions of a psychic or futurist. If the example narrative above were spoken by a psychic, it might appear as follows.

Example 3: Simple future narration with perfect and progressive elements

Sometime in the future...

By the time Tom notices the doorbell, it will have already rung three times. As usual, he will have been listening to loud music on his stereo. He will turn the stereo down and will stand up to answer the door. An old man will be standing on the steps. The man will begin to speak slowly, asking for directions.

In this example as in the first two, the progressive verbs will have been listening and will be standing indicate ongoing action. The future perfect progressive verb will have been listening suggests action that will begin in the time frame prior to the main narrative time frame and that will still be underway when another action begins. The verb notices here is in present-tense form, but the rest of the sentence and the full context of the narrative cue us to understand that it refers to future time. The remaining tense relationships parallel those in the first two examples.

General guidelines for use of perfect tenses

In general the use of perfect tenses is determined by their relationship to the tense of the primary narration. If the primary narration is in simple past, then action initiated before the time frame of the primary narration is described in past perfect. If the primary narration is in simple present, then action initiated before the time frame of the primary narration is described in present perfect. If the primary narration is in simple future, then action initiated before the time frame of the primary narration is described in future perfect.

Past primary narration corresponds to Past Perfect ( had + past participle) for earlier time frames

Present primary narration corresponds to Present Perfect ( has or have + past participle) for earlier time frames

Future primary narration corresponds to Future Perfect ( will have + past participle) for earlier time frames

The present perfect is also used to narrate action that began in real life in the past but is not completed, that is, may continue or may be repeated in the present or future. For example: "I have run in four marathons" (implication: "so far... I may run in others"). This usage is distinct from the simple past, which is used for action that was completed in the past without possible continuation or repetition in the present or future. For example: "Before injuring my leg, I ran in four marathons" (implication: "My injury prevents me from running in any more marathons").

Time-orienting words and phrases like before, after, by the time , and others—when used to relate two or more actions in time—can be good indicators of the need for a perfect-tense verb in a sentence.

  • By the time the senator finished (past) his speech, the audience had lost (past perfect) interest.
  • By the time the senator finishes (present: habitual action) his speech, the audience has lost (present perfect) interest.
  • By the time the senator finishes (present: suggesting future time) his speech, the audience will have lost (future perfect) interest.
  • After everyone had finished (past perfect) the main course, we offered (past) our guests dessert.
  • After everyone has finished (present perfect) the main course, we offer (present: habitual action) our guests dessert.
  • After everyone has finished (present perfect) the main course, we will offer (future: specific one-time action) our guests dessert.
  • Long before the sun rose (past), the birds had arrived (past perfect) at the feeder.
  • Long before the sun rises (present: habitual action), the birds have arrived (present perfect) at the feeder.
  • Long before the sun rises (present: suggesting future time), the birds will have arrived (future perfect) at the feeder.

Sample paragraphs

The main tense in this first sample is past. Tense shifts are inappropriate and are indicated in bold .

(adapted from a narrative)

Inappropriate shifts from past to present, such as those that appear in the above paragraph, are sometimes hard to resist. The writer becomes drawn into the narrative and begins to relive the event as an ongoing experience. The inconsistency should be avoided, however. In the sample, will should be would , and rise should be rose .

The main tense in this second sample is present. Tense shifts—all appropriate—are indicated in bold.

(adapted from an article in the magazine Wilderness )

This writer uses the present tense to describe the appearance of a dragonfly on a particular July morning. However, both past and future tenses are called for when she refers to its previous actions and to its predictable activity in the future.

Click here for exercises on verb tense.

  • Support LUC
  • Directories
  • KRONOS Timecard
  • Employee Self-Service
  • Password Self-service
  • Academic Affairs
  • Advancement
  • Admission: Adult B.A.
  • Admission: Grad/Prof
  • Admission: International
  • Admission: Undergrad
  • Alumni Email
  • Alumni Relations
  • Arrupe College
  • Bursar's Office
  • Campus Ministry
  • Career Centers
  • Center for Student Assistance and Advocacy
  • Colleges and Schools
  • Commencement
  • Conference Services
  • Continuing Education
  • Course Evaluations IDEA
  • Cuneo Mansion & Gardens
  • Dining Services
  • Diversity and Inclusion
  • Emeriti Faculty Caucus
  • Enterprise Learning Hub
  • Executive and Professional Education
  • Faculty Activity System
  • Financial Aid
  • Human Resources
  • IBHE Institutional Complaint System
  • Information Technology Services
  • Institute of Environmental Sustainability
  • Learning Portfolio
  • Loyola Health App
  • Loyola University Chicago Retiree Association (LUCRA)
  • Madonna della Strada Chapel
  • Media Relations
  • Navigate Staff
  • Office of First Year Experience
  • Office of Institutional Effectiveness
  • President's Office
  • Rambler Buzz
  • Registration and Records
  • Residence Life
  • Retreat & Ecology Campus
  • Rome Center
  • Security/Police
  • Staff Council
  • Student Achievement
  • Student Consumer Information
  • Student Development
  • Study Abroad
  • Summer Sessions
  • University Policies

Writing Center

Loyola university chicago, using present tense, the literary historical present tense.

Some teachers in the humanities will tell you to use present tense when quoting, which can be confusing; weren’t these sources written in the past? Shouldn’t you use past tense? To make sense of this, try using the “Book Approach” when discussing literary or historical texts or discussing the context of authors’ lives.

Take this quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” as an example:

“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

Consider that, as you read, the author is still “alive” in the sense that they are communicating with you. The following sentence demonstrates a technique called the “literary present” or the “historical present”:

Describing the need for whites and blacks to unite for social transformation, King explains, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

Even if you are summarizing, you can still use the “literary present” or “historical present” because you are responding to your received understanding of the author’s words:

In this work, King describes the need for whites and blacks to unite for social transformation, seeing such a duty as imperative, even if the consequences of racism do not immediately affect everyone.

Now, if you are discussing fact about the author’s life, you are describing actions in the past or the past-present. Your words, without quotes, refer to a statement of fact:

“While incarcerated in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 for peacefully protesting racial inequality, civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. employed many kinds of rhetoric to convince local white ministers to support his peaceful mission to achieve rights for African-Americans.”

  The APA Exception

Remember that APA format does not use the “historical present,” even when quoting, instead using the past or present-past tense to summarize an author’s words or introduce a quote. It’s a good idea to check with your instructor, especially in a science class, before writing an essay to see what tense you should use when quoting a source.

  • Undergraduate
  • Graduate/ Professional
  • Adult Education

Loyola University Chicago

Writing Studio

How (and why) do i write in literary present tense.

In an effort to make our handouts more accessible, we have begun converting our PDF handouts to web pages. Download this page as a PDF:  How (and why) do I write in literary present tense? Return to Writing Studio Handouts

Literary works, paintings, films, and other artistic creations are assumed to exist in an eternal present. Therefore, when you write about writers or artists as they express themselves in their work, use the present tense.

Past or Present Tense? A Basic Guideline

You should use the past tense when discussing historical events, and you should use the literary present when discussing fictional events.

Context matters , though, so take a look through the more granular guidelines below and keep in mind that expectations and conventions around the tense we use to write about textual sources we are engaging or analyzing may differ between disciplines (for instance, in a history class you might be told to write about texts using past tense that you would be expected to discuss in the ‘literary present’ in an English class.).

Taking a Closer Look: Context-Based Guidelines

1. when commenting on what a writer says, use the present tense..

  • Example: “Dunn begins his work with a view into the lives and motivations of the very first settlers.”
  • Example: “Through this anecdote, Richter illustrates common misconceptions about native religion and shows why missionary attempts were less than successful.”

2. When describing an author’s work, however, use the past tense.

  • Example: “In 1966, Driss Chraïbi published La Civilisation, ma Mère! “

3. When you are writing about a certain historical event (even the creation of a literary or artistic work), use the past tense.

  • Example: “Henry Fielding wrote in the eighteenth century.”
  • Example: “Picasso produced a series of sculptures.”

4. When discussing events in a literary work (novel, story, play, or poem) always use the present tense, unless there is a shift in the time frame within the world of the text.

  • Example: “Evelyn then rips into the carefully wrapped package and finds the greatest gift she has ever received. Her eyes fill with tears as she gazes at the jewel, but Philip does not know that these tears are the results of more than surprised joy. Evelyn is suffering from guilt as she compares this present to the shoddy gift that she bought* for her beau.”

*“ Bought ” is in past tense because the buying of the present occurred before the described set of events.

  • Example: “In Michelangelo’s painting, Christ judges the world.”
  • Example: “Johnson’s characters journey to Cairo.”
  • Example: “Plato argues without much conviction.”
  • Example: “Paul writes about the hardships he has endured.”

5. Sometimes a sentence must employ both present and past tense.

  • Example: “The first part of the poem, which she completed in 1804, describes the effects of isolation from society.”
  • Example: “Aeschylus’ drama is concerned with what happens to Orestes after he has killed his mother.”

Final Tips and Reminders

Remember: it is important to stay consistent..

Moving between verb tenses can be confusing for your reader. Examine your changes of tense very carefully and make sure there is a logical reason for them.

Style Tip: Keeping Sentence-Level Tense Shifts Manageable

If you need to shift tense more than three times in a single sentence, consider breaking up the sentence into a couple of shorter sentences to maintain reading ease.

Last revised: 8/10/2007 | Adapted for web delivery: 07/2021

In order to access certain content on this page, you may need to download Adobe Acrobat Reader or an equivalent PDF viewer software.

Bat Bing

  • Admissions Essays
  • Books and Manuscripts
  • Business Proofreading and Editing
  • Dissertations
  • Editing Tools
  • Personal Statements
  • Professional Writing
  • Proofreading and Editing
  • Thesis Proposals
  • Uncategorized
  • Working From Home
  • Writing Fiction
  • Writing Guides

What Tense Should I Use in Writing?

when writing an essay what tense do you use

Get 400 words proofread and edited for free

When writing, people are often confused about what tense they should use. Should I write this MLA history paper in past tense? Should I write my short story in present or past tense? How about a resume: should I write my job entries in present or past? And these people are right to be confused because what tense you should use varies widely depending on your writing style and your purpose.

Academic (Four Main Styles)

APA/Harvard: Per APA (and its non-American variant, Harvard), you should primarily use past tense, especially in literature reviews where you’re talking about authors’ past studies. It should be:

“Johnson (2008) argued . . .”

“Johnson (2008) argues . . . .”

Get a free sample proofread and edit for your document. Two professional proofreaders will proofread and edit your document.

The same is true for your Results and Method sections, but APA makes an exception for Discussion sections (where you examine your conclusions and the implications of the study), which can be in present tense if it better conveys your meaning.

MLA: This style is a bit more straightforward. Per MLA, you should be almost always using present tense:

“In To Kill a Mockingbird , Atticus Finch argues . . .”

If you need to differentiate time, you should use present perfect tense:

“For many years, Scout has been worrying about . . . .”

If you must, you can use some past tense, but keep it to a minimum.

Chicago: This style is a bit more lenient. Per Chicago, you can use either present or past (Though it’s best to use present when discussing literature and past when writing about history.), but make sure you stay consistent. If you switch, make sure you need to, such as:

The Romans used various military strategies, some of which are still in use today.

AP: AP, which is used by news media, is also more flexible. There is no set tense; instead, you should be endeavoring to use present/past/future as necessary to make sure the events you are describing are as clear as possible. AP also recommends using time words (today, tomorrow, March 17, etc.) to anchor your piece and further reduce ambiguity.

When talking about your job experience in resumes, the rule is simple: Use present tense for current positions:

Lead team in HVAC solutions

And use past tense for past positions:

Led team in HVAC solutions

Business Plan

Professors and potential investors have different views on what tense a business plan should be written in, but definitely you should be using either future or present tense. Some people argue that you should always write a business plan in future tense because you’re talking about your future plans.

But there’s another school of thought that recommends using present tense instead because this will allow your plan to stay current as you develop it and you develop your business. In other words, as you develop your business, you develop your plan, and it stays current with what you’re doing.

when writing an essay what tense do you use

Above all, fictional writing needs to be consistent in its tense. Just as above, don’t switch unless you must. (BTW, fictional writing is done in Chicago Style.)

Everything Else

For everything else, such as business letters, admission essays, and e-mails, and especially in more informal contexts, just use your best judgment and write in whatever tense feels right to you. Go with your instincts and remember that, unless you’re writing in a formal academic context, you have more leeway to do whatever you like.

Just remember, for all styles and purposes, always be consistent. Try to pick one tense and stick with it throughout your piece. If you have to switch tenses, make it very obvious why you are doing so, and at least try to start new paragraphs for new tenses.

That’s it, I hope you have/had/will have good luck in your writing!

ProofreadingPal.com Proofreading Services Commercial

Get a Free Sample

We will get your free sample back in three to six hours!

We proofread documents 24/7 Support 888-833-8385

when writing an essay what tense do you use

Customer Service

Get in touch.

ProofreadingPal LLC 105 Iowa Ave., Ste. 214 Iowa City, IA 52240

Call Us 888-833-8385

Live Customer Support Hours Sun.–Thur. 8 a.m. to midnight CT Fri. and Sat. 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. CT

Submit Documents 24/7

when writing an essay what tense do you use

© 2010 - 2020 ProofreadingPal LLC - All Rights Reserved.

The Vocative Comma Is Important, People!  ·  September 25, 2022

8 Tips to Make Your Writing Sound More Formal  ·  August 29, 2022

Worlde Tips and Tricks  ·  March 10, 2022

Worlde Tips and Tricks  ·  February 25, 2022

Top 4 Misspelled Words  ·  November 5, 2021

How to Capitalize Medicine  ·  October 1, 2021

How to Capitalize Medicine  ·  August 18, 2021

4 Fixes for Comment Boxes in MS Word  ·  January 17, 2021

How to Avoid Wordiness  ·  July 15, 2020

Write an Effective Blog Post  ·  June 9, 2020

Proofreading Services Rates  ·  April 19, 2020

How to Make Your Writing More Inclusive  ·  March 5, 2020

How to Make Your Writing More Inclusive  ·  February 27, 2020

Guide to Olde English  ·  December 27, 2019

Guide to Olde English  ·  December 26, 2019

Common Apostrophe Errors  ·  December 19, 2019

Guide to Olde English  ·  December 18, 2019

Capitalization in APA, Chicago, MLA, and AP  ·  August 27, 2019

Avoiding Common Capitalization Errors  ·  July 31, 2019

Using the Present Tense with Works; or, Othello Still Exists

It is customary to use the present tense when discussing a literary work:

Othello is a play by Shakespeare. It begins on a street in Venice, where Roderigo and Iago are arguing .
Some of the themes of Othello are racism, love, jealousy, and betrayal.
Like other Shakespearean tragedies, Othello has five acts.
The play ends with Othello’s murder of Desdemona and with the revelation of Iago’s motives.

Likewise, use the present tense to describe the actions of characters and the movement of plot:

In act 3 Iago persuades Othello that there is reason to doubt Desdemona’s faithfulness, and in the final act Othello confronts Desdemona and then strangles her to death.

The rationale for using the present tense when discussing a work is that the work exists in the present just as it existed earlier: Othello always has five acts and always ends with the same actions.

The principle applies to works of all sorts, from literary criticism to films to websites:

William Hazlitt’s Characters of Shakespeare’s Plays contrasts expressions of passion and violence in Othello and Macbeth .
A 1965 film version of Othello stars Laurence Olivier.
The blog Bard Film analyzes references to Shakespeare in popular films.

By extension, you may also use the present tense when the subject is not the work itself but the work’s author, if the work is implied. In the following examples, “in Othello ” is implied:

[In Othello ] Shakespeare gives Iago, an archetypal villain, an important role.
By identifying Othello as a Moor, Shakespeare introduces both racial and religious issues [in Othello ].

Acceptable Uses of the Past Tense

If you’re primarily discussing the historical context of a work, however, use the past tense:

By identifying Othello as a Moor, Shakespeare introduced both racial and religious issues to early modern playgoers.

Use care when choosing between the past and present tense. A good rule of thumb is to consider whether the principal context of your discussion is textual or historical.

When the context is clearly historical, the choice of the past tense is obvious:

Othello was first performed in 1604, at Whitehall Palace in London.
Shakespeare composed Othello about fifteen years after Marlowe wrote Tamberlaine .

Aim for Consistency

Above all, aim for consistency and try to avoid frequent shifts in tense, which can be jarring for readers. It’s easy to shift tenses without realizing it. Here’s an example that uses tenses inconsistently:

For the plot of Othello , Shakespeare adapts a sixteenth-century Italian tale, while Christopher Marlowe based his play Tamberlaine on the life of an Asian emperor.

In this sentence about the sources of Elizabethan dramatists it would be better to keep the verb tenses consistent and use adapted and based .

Here’s another example of tense shifting:

The details of Othello’s narrative come from medieval and early modern travel books, some of which described fantastic creatures.

The author uses the present tense for the main text under discussion, but for the other texts—the travel books—switches to the past tense. The switch is understandable: the travel books inspired Othello’s narrative in the past, when the narrative was created. Using the present tense consistently, however, would accurately reflect the status of all the texts mentioned in the sentence as works that exist in the present: The details of Othello’s narrative come from medieval and early modern travel books, some of which describe fantastic creatures.

A word of caution for copyeditors: if an author uses the past or present tense in a consistent manner when discussing works, pause before you follow an impulse to change the tenses, especially if such an intervention would be extensive. The author may have sound reasons for his or her choices, and you would do better to query before you impose one tense over another. If you encounter frequent shifting of tenses for no discernible reason, revising for consistency is a good idea.

marian 06 October 2019 AT 07:10 PM

When quoting literature that is originally written in the past tense, which tense should be used to introduce the text - present or past?

Example for essay on Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome: When Ethan and Mattie return from town, they, “passed into the kitchen, which had the deadly chill of a vault after the dry cold of the night."

Writing an academic essay for a Literature course, I should write in the present tense and I should be consistent with tense. Which rule applies here?

Your e-mail address will not be published

Erika Suffern 07 October 2019 AT 08:10 AM

The way you have written it is correct. Don't change the verb tenses in quoted material.

Veronica M. Schuder 12 December 2020 AT 04:12 PM

The second use of this word, which occurs when Mrs Mallard sits down and “abandoned herself” (756), offers an alternative meaning.

That sounds wrong. Can I change the tense to present with brackets: “abandon[s] herself” (756). ?????

Erika Suffern 14 December 2020 AT 09:12 AM

The short answer is yes. For additional guidance, please see our post on changing verb tenses in quotations: https://style.mla.org/using-brackets-to-change-tense/

Professor Rosalind Horowitz 10 March 2021 AT 12:03 PM

In the study of ancient Judaic literature, for example, Rashi, a brilliant commentator of texts, we always use the present tense to show that the scholarship is not archaic but still relevant and useful to current life. It is a way of putting the text inside the contemporary world.

Sara 16 June 2022 AT 05:06 PM

When writing about a text in MLA should you write in simple present or present continuous? or does it not matter?

Join the Conversation

We invite you to comment on this post and exchange ideas with other site visitors. Comments are moderated and subject to terms of service.

If you have a question for the MLA's editors, submit it to Ask the MLA!

  • Link to facebook
  • Link to linkedin
  • Link to twitter
  • Link to youtube
  • Writing Tips

Should You Use Past or Present Tense When Citing Researchers’ Work?

Should You Use Past or Present Tense When Citing Researchers’ Work?

2-minute read

  • 18th July 2022

There’s a lot that researchers have to think about when writing papers.

Not only do you have to actually write the paper, research intensely, and structure your argument well, the details of how you should present your writing can take up a lot of time and brain power.

One of those nitpicky details is presenting the work of other researchers. Should you use the past or present tense? Luckily, unlike many other aspects of academic writing, the answer to this question is simple.

With every major style guide for academic writing (e.g., MLA , Chicago , AP ) except one, you should use the present tense when you’re citing researchers’ work in your papers.

Appleby (2005) claims that around 40% of birds can migrate.

The exception to the rule is the APA style guide. If your school follows the APA style guide, you can use either the past or present tense when citing the work of researchers. It’s your choice.

So, in short, if you stick to the present tense, you won’t go wrong. However, if you want to use the past tense, make sure your school accepts the APA style guide.

Find this useful?

Subscribe to our newsletter and get writing tips from our editors straight to your inbox.

Appleby (2005) claimed that around 40% of birds could migrate.

We know how important it is to get every paper perfect. Proofed is a research paper proofreading and editing service that helps researchers get their papers right every single time.

With a team of expert editors dedicated to your project, Proofed will check and edit your work for any issues with spelling, grammar, tone, accuracy, formatting, clarity, and more.

Choosing Proofed means that your research papers will be clear, accurate, and easy for your readers to digest, helping you hit those all-important top marks.

Get 500 words proofed and edited by Proofed free of charge today!

Share this article:

Post A New Comment

Got content that needs a quick turnaround? Let us polish your work. Explore our editorial business services.

3-minute read

What Is a Content Editor?

Are you interested in learning more about the role of a content editor and the...

4-minute read

The Benefits of Using an Online Proofreading Service

Proofreading is important to ensure your writing is clear and concise for your readers. Whether...

6 Online AI Presentation Maker Tools

Creating presentations can be time-consuming and frustrating. Trying to construct a visually appealing and informative...

What Is Market Research?

No matter your industry, conducting market research helps you keep up to date with shifting...

8 Press Release Distribution Services for Your Business

In a world where you need to stand out, press releases are key to being...

How to Get a Patent

In the United States, the US Patent and Trademarks Office issues patents. In the United...

Logo Harvard University

Make sure your writing is the best it can be with our expert English proofreading and editing.

IMAGES

  1. Essay Format

    when writing an essay what tense do you use

  2. How To Write An Essay Fast: Ultimate Guide To Last Minute Essay Writing

    when writing an essay what tense do you use

  3. How To Learn English Grammar Tenses Pdf

    when writing an essay what tense do you use

  4. How to Write an Essay in 9 Simple Steps • 7ESL

    when writing an essay what tense do you use

  5. How to Write an Essay: 4 Minute Step-by-step Guide

    when writing an essay what tense do you use

  6. What are Narrative Tenses? Definition and Examples

    when writing an essay what tense do you use

VIDEO

  1. Essay Writing

  2. Hindi to English Translation/Hindi to English Story/Translate into English/English Translation

  3. Opinion Essay/IELTS Writing Task 2/ IELTS Academic/ Essay Structure/ Essay Templates

  4. A Gentle Chen Style Tai Chi Journey for Deep Relaxation

  5. Present Indefinite Tense || Do, Does का प्रयोग || With Example in Hindi

  6. Past Perfect Tense Day 16 : Had + Past Participle Verb 3rd Form

COMMENTS

  1. Verb Tenses in Academic Writing

    The different tenses are identified by their associated verb forms. There are three main verb tenses: past , present , and future. In English, each of these tenses can take four main aspects: simple , perfect , continuous (also known as progressive ), and perfect continuous. The perfect aspect is formed using the verb to have, while the ...

  2. The Writing Center

    This handout provides the overview of three tenses that are usually found in academic writing. Background. There are three tenses that make up 98% of the tensed verbs used in academic writing. The most common tense is present simple, followed by past simple and present perfect. These tenses can be used both in passive and active voice.

  3. What tense should be used when writing an essay?

    Quick answer: In general, when writing most essays, one should use present tense, using past tense if referring to events of the past or an author's ideas in an historical context. An exception to ...

  4. Verb Tenses

    The present simple, past simple, and present perfect verb tenses account for approximately 80% of verb tense use in academic writing. This handout will help you understand how to use these three verb tenses in your own academic writing. Click here for a color-coded illustration of changing verb tenses in academic writing.

  5. Tense Use in Academic Writing: Past, Present and Future

    The main thing you need to know is that the form of the verb in a sentence changes depending on when the action described occurs. As such, by modifying a sentence to adjust the tense, we can change its meaning: Present Tense: Alfred burns the cakes. Past Tense: Alfred burned the cakes. Future Tense: Alfred will burn the cakes.

  6. Verb Tenses

    Most Common Verb Tenses in Academic Writing. According to corpus research, in academic writing, the three tenses used the most often are the simple present, the simple past, and the present perfect (Biber et al., 1999; Caplan, 2012). The next most common tense for capstone writers is the future; the doctoral study/dissertation proposal at ...

  7. Tenses ~ A Guide to Using Tenses in Academic Writing

    Tenses - In a Nutshell. Certain verb tenses are suitable for specific situations. Here are some main takeaway points: Three verb tenses will suit the majority of your academic writing needs.; Each tense can be used when addressing specific scenarios.; Using the correct tense can help to convey insight and clarity.; Do not hesitate to refer back to this article for future reference.

  8. Tenses

    In the above example based on Brown's research, the writer makes a reference to what is known at the time of writing, and so it is written in the present tense. Here is an example of using both the past and present tense in your writing: Example: Brown (2010) conducted a survey of 1000 students. The results of his survey suggest that all his ...

  9. Tense Use in Essays: Past vs. Present

    For example, the past tense can be used in methodology and results sections. Likewise, the past tense is useful when writing a case study, since this is almost always about something that has already occurred. While you can use the past tense in a literature review, saying that someone 'believed' something may imply that they changed their ...

  10. Past, Present, and Future Tense in Essays: How to Switch

    Before you write your essay, you must know which tense fits it. You can either get guidance from your tutor or do your research. Above all, ensure the tense you use is consistent and clear. Most essay writers use the present tense. It is simple and direct to the point. You can write short sentences that are easier to read and understand.

  11. Ask Betty : Tenses

    6. The past tense is commonly used when writing a narrative or a story, as in: 6.1 Once upon a time, there was a peaceful kingdom in the heart of a jungle . . . Some writers use the present tense in telling stories, a technique called the "historical present" that creates an air of vividness and immediacy.

  12. Writing Tenses: 5 Tips for Past, Present, Future

    2. Avoid losing clarity when mixing tenses. Because stories show us chains and sequences of events, often we need to jump back and forth between earlier and present scenes and times. This is especially true in novels where characters' memories form a crucial part of the narrative.

  13. Writer's Web: Verbs: Past Tense? Present?

    It should appear in the present tense, "twists," or the other verbs should be changed to the past tense as well. Switching verb tenses upsets the time sequence of narration. "The Literary Present". When you quote directly from a text or allude to the events in a story (as in a brief plot summary), you should use "the literary present."

  14. Go Ahead and Use Multiple Tenses in Your Writing

    The flexible use of tenses brings the reader the joy of being "in the present" for many moments while, in other moments, gaining the benefit of the insights and reflection that only a past-tense narrator can provide. Here's an example from a wonderful essay by Tim Hillegonds, "And Then We Are Leaving," published in the literary ...

  15. Verb Tense Consistency

    Also use present tense to describe action in a literary work, movie, or other fictional narrative. Occasionally, for dramatic effect, you may wish to narrate an event in present tense as though it were happening now. If you do, use present tense consistently throughout the narrative, making shifts only where appropriate.

  16. PDF Tutorial #25: Writing About Literature: Correct Verb Tense

    Instructions: Using Principle II, write one sentence that describes something that happened. before the beginning of a literary work that you have recently read. Then write a sentence about the author's life. Make sure you use the correct verb tense in each sentence. Part Three: Using Present Perfect in a Literature Essay.

  17. Using Present Tense: Writing Center: Loyola University Chicago

    The APA Exception. Remember that APA format does not use the "historical present," even when quoting, instead using the past or present-past tense to summarize an author's words or introduce a quote. It's a good idea to check with your instructor, especially in a science class, before writing an essay to see what tense you should use ...

  18. How (and Why) Do I Write in Literary Present Tense?

    3. When you are writing about a certain historical event (even the creation of a literary or artistic work), use the past tense. Example: "Henry Fielding wrote in the eighteenth century.". Example: "Picasso produced a series of sculptures.". 4. When discussing events in a literary work (novel, story, play, or poem) always use the ...

  19. PDF Strategies for Essay Writing

    provide when you are writing a paper. Here are some useful guidelines: o If you're writing a research paper, do not assume that your reader has read all the sources that you are writing about. You'll need to offer context about what those sources say so that your reader can understand why you have brought them into the conversation.

  20. What Tense Should I Use in Writing?

    For everything else, such as business letters, admission essays, and e-mails, and especially in more informal contexts, just use your best judgment and write in whatever tense feels right to you. Go with your instincts and remember that, unless you're writing in a formal academic context, you have more leeway to do whatever you like.

  21. Using the Present Tense with Works; or, Othello Still Exists

    It is customary to use the present tense when discussing a literary work: Othello is a play by Shakespeare. It begins on a street in Venice, where Roderigo and Iago are arguing.. Some of the themes of Othello are racism, love, jealousy, and betrayal.. Like other Shakespearean tragedies, Othello has five acts. The play ends with Othello's murder of Desdemona and with the revelation of Iago ...

  22. Should You Use Past or Present Tense When Citing Researchers ...

    With every major style guide for academic writing (e.g., MLA, Chicago, AP) except one, you should use the present tense when you're citing researchers' work in your papers. Appleby (2005) claims that around 40% of birds can migrate. The exception to the rule is the APA style guide. If your school follows the APA style guide, you can use ...