#GrammarSeries – Learn how the ‘tense shift’ works


Hello Sparkle Writers. Today we going to teach you about tense shift.

Tense shift refers to the change from one verb tense to another (usually from past to present, or vice versa) within a sentence or paragraph. 

A writer may temporarily shift from past tense to present tense in order to enhance the vividness of a narrative account. If not done properly however, inconsistent verb tense can be particularly irritating to your reader and they may conclude that you failed to proofread your work, even if you did.

It’s not ideal to start your sentence with present tense and somewhere along the line, you complete it with past tense without reason.

Look at this example; can you detect what’s wrong with it?

I told him that he can drop by anytime and I would be happy to help him.

The correct sentence will look like this;

I told him that he could drop by anytime and I would be happy to help him.

If you notice, the first sentence had the present and past tense muddled up and the second sentence has just the past tense.

Here are a few rules to follow when constructing your sentence to avoid this error;

  • Use the single present to discuss general truths, habitual actions, works of literature and an authors idea or argument.

Clark believes this is a significant problem and suggests various solutions.

  • Use the simple past to describe events that happened at a specific time in the past and are now finished.

I graduated from Coventry University when I was twenty one.

  • Use the present perfect tense for events that happened in the indefinite past.

The president has announced his new cabinet member.

  • Use the past perfect in conjunction with simple past tense to establish a relationship between two completed events

My mother had already finished her studies when she met my father.

Although tense shift is generally not acceptable, there is always an exception to the rule. Next week we will discuss the various situations that can allow for tense shift. Until then, keep your grammar in check.


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