Sunday, September 30, 2012

Grammar Corner - The tense you didn't know about!

I'm not talking of past tense, present tense, or even future tense. But rather, paragraph tense, or formally named tense consistency. When I was a sophomore in my Beginning Fiction Writer's course, there was a rule that was hounded into my mind.
Particularly the idea of -ed vs -ing and -ed vs -s 
But what about them!  What is so important about prefixes and suffixes, especially these two? That was what I wanted to know! Apparently a great deal! A common grammatical error that writers stand to make on a regular bases is forgetting their verb tense.  It is not something that many people - I know I don't - think about, because it just does not feel natural. However, for writing, natural isn't always how one goes and gets published.

So what can you do?

Stay consistent!  This very easy idea is actually very hard to execute when writing.  I myself have gone through several of my previous texts in order to check my own consistency. I will spare you the pain of such an experience.  How can you remain consistent? Make sure that if you have a paragraph/page/book that uses the -ed verb tense, keep it that way! Or if you have a paragraph/page/book that uses the -ing verb tense, stay consistent. This one little rule may surprise you in how often it is misused.

Keep in mind this does directly correlate to past, present, or future tense, and as that can change in a paragraph, well, so will your verb tense. Let's make it more complicated!

Let me give you an example so this is easier to grasp. This is a short excerpt from my own short story, "Shoes". Lo and behold I made this mistake more than fifty times in the first draft.
ex 1)"..."Chatty?" he asked, looking down at his older partner..."
ex 2)"..."Chatty?" he asked as he looked down at his older partner."
See the difference there? That small edit changed the entire tone of the sentence, and created consistency, whereas the other sentence led me into a five comma run on!

This is just a brief look at this rule, but for more on verb tense, I have provided a link below that discusses the real nitty gritty of the rule!
Verb Tense Consistency


  1. Thank you! I am dreading going through some of my old stuff and seeing exactly how miserably I have failed in syntax consistency but yay for leaning something new and putting it to use!

    1. You're welcome, and I really hope this helps! I can tell you, the revision processes and trying to pull out every one of these tense mistakes is a nightmare! However, I have been noticing that by keeping the tenses consistent, it really does help with the flow of the writing! :D Of all of the rules from Beginning Fiction Writing, this is the one that has stuck with me the most!

  2. Damn, now I have to go through and see if I make the mistakes or not. Why do you have to be so annoyingly helpful? :)

  3. Man, for some reason I never think of how intricate tenses are. Now you have me all paranoid. :P I'm guilty of example one on a regular basis.

  4. Nice and awesome article! Thanks for sharing!