Chapter 5-12: Tense Shifts
There are three main verb forms for showing tense in a sentence. These are simple, perfect and continuous. It is important to be able to identify these forms as well as the tense they belong to, to help understand the meaning of a sentence.
If actions happen at the same time in the sentence or paragraph, the tenses will stay consistent. Professional writers call this "tense consistency."
A tense shift is required if an action, event or state occur during different periods of time in a sentence or paragraph.
Let's look further into tense shifts and consistency with the examples below:
Incorrect tense shift: Sarah completed her assignment, takes the bus and went to the market.
In the above sentence, the verbs "completed" and "went" are in the past tense, whereas "takes" is in the present tense. The sentence shows an unnecessary tense shift from past to present and then back to the past. This sentence is talking about what she did during the day. We need to change the verb in the present tense "takes" to the past tense " took" to make the sentence correct.
Correct sentence: Sarah completed her assignment, took the bus and went to the market.
Incorrect tense shift: After John gets home from the office, he cooked dinner.
In the above sentence, the verb "gets" is in the present tense, whereas "cooked" shows a past tense. There is a tense shift in the sentence from present to past. For this sentence we are talking about a daily routine or something John does consistently. Routines are always written in the present simple tense. We will change "cooked" to "cooks" to make the tense consistent in the sentence.
Correct sentence: After John gets home from his office, he cooks dinner.
Incorrect tense shift: Alice wants to go for a walk but had a lot of work to do at home.
In the above sentence, the verb "wants" is in the present tense, whereas "had" is in the past tense. There is a tense shift in the sentence from present to past. Again, we will keep this in the present tense since it is something she wants to do in that moment. Change "had" to "has" to make the tense consistent in the sentence.
Correct sentence: Alice wants to go for a walk but has a lot of work to do at home.
Can, could, will, would, must, might and should are all examples of modal verbs. They are used to emphasize, make a request, show a probability of an event, give advice or make a suggestion.
Modal verbs do not change and should remain consistent in a sentence or a clause. When using the past tense, use could, would and might. In the present use will, can or may.
When using modal verbs and tense shifts you will also need to consider conditionals. There are 4 conditionals and they all have a specific purpose and format.
0 conditional: For things that are always or generally true.
Structure: If + Present tense, present tense.
1st Conditional: Real situation with a probable outcome.
Structure: If + Present tense, Will + verb (future)
2nd Conditional: Hypothetical situation.
Structure: If + Past tense, Would + verb
3rd Conditional: Changing a past situation and the result of that situation.
Structure: If + Past perfect, Would+ present perfect
Incorrect tense shift: If the employees don't end the strike in two days, they would face major consequences.
This sentence is talking about an event that will likely happen, which means it is in the first conditional. The first part of the sentence is in present tense which is consistent with the first conditional format. The second part needs to be changed from would to will to make the sentence correct.
Correct sentence: If the employees don't end the strike in two days, they will face major consequences.
Incorrect tense shift: If Emma had known she can't complete the project in time, she will reject the offer.
In the above sentence, we are talking about changing the results of a past event which is the third conditional. First, Change can't to couldn't since it is a past event. Next, change 'will reject' to 'would have rejected' to match the structure of the third conditional.
Correct sentence: If Emma had known she couldn't complete the project in time, she would have rejected the offer.
Logical tense shifts
A tense shift is necessary when talking about events or states that happened at different times.
I am still terrified of the mountains even though I was a child when I fell from a cliff and hurt myself.
The above sentence shows a tense shift from past to present. The sentence indicates an incident in the past that still has an effect on a person in the present.
Edward loves the cat which his mother gave him on his last birthday.
There is a tense shift from present to past in the above sentence. The sentence shows the current feelings of Edward based on a past event.