Tip Thursday: Verb Tenses


I’ve been working with my son on verb tenses and I realized how confusing it could get, so I decided to do a post on verb tense.
Verb Tense

Verb tenses give a hint to the reader when your story took place (i.e.  past, present, future.  Futurue will probably only take place in dialogue.  I can’t imagine writing an entire story in future tense.  :D) 
Most stories are written in past tense, but some recent stories have been written in present tense (my latest for example.  Hunger Games trilogy for a better example.)  It’s important to learn tenses because you must stick to the same tense for the entire story.  The only exceptions are: internal thoughts and dialogue are written in present tense, even if you’re in past. And flashbacks are allowed to be in past tense during a present tense story (though it can pull your reader out if you don’t have a good transition.)
Types of Verb Tenses:
  • Present Tense
  • Present Continous Tense
  • Past Tense
  • Past Participle Tense
  • Future Tense

Present tense shows an action is taking place now (i.e. the present), but does not say when the action(s) will end.
We go to the store.
They study at the university.
You usually use present tense to discuss a book, poem, or an essay for review, even if written in past tense.
Bella is not happy when she moves from Arizona to Washington state in Twilight.

Present continuous tense shows something is happening in the present, but will have a definite end.
We are going to the store now.
They are studying at the university.

The past tense shows that something was completed in the past.
We went to the store yesterday.
They studied at the university in 1980.

Past participle tense shows something was done in the past before another action takes place. Usually, past participle and past tense are used in the same sentence.
We had gone to the store when she arrived.
They had studied at the university before they found jobs.

The future tense shows something will happen in the future.   (Usually only used in dialogue, but I mention it, because it’s important to remain consistent in your tenses, even in dialogue.)
We will go to the store later today.
They will study at the university in the coming September.

15 Responses to “Tip Thursday: Verb Tenses”

  1. aardvarkian.com says:

    >Nice one, Jess. Thanks.

  2. Pam Harris says:

    >Wow, very helpful! I'm switching the tense in one of my manuscript so this will definitely be my guide. 🙂

  3. Eleven Eleven says:

    >I always think of Back the Future II when dealing with verb tense. That time line Doc drew on the chalkboard to show the alternate present reality? I use that sort of thing in my head (and sometimes on paper) to tackle the more complicated tense issues. When you start out in past tense, flashbacks and predicting the future from that vantage point can get confusing fast. Not to mention what you could have been doing in a continuous fashion if events leading up to the current past tense situation were different.

    Okay, my brain hurts. I'll stop now. 🙂

  4. jasouders says:

    >Thanks, Jimbo and Pam. I'm glad you found it useful.

    11/11: That made my head explode. LOL. 😀

  5. Kristal Lee says:

    >Great post! I recently read a paranormal romance for a book review that is written in 1st person present tense. It was strange at first, but it worked well for the story.

  6. Ezmirelda says:

    >Nice post!
    I'm pretty familiar wih verb tenses because of studying Latin. You have to memorize and translate evey single kind there is. You mentioned active verb tenses but there's also the Passive voice which I've been told not to use. "I was hit" is active, and "I was being hit" is passive.

  7. jasouders says:

    >Ezmirelda: yes you're absolutely correct. Passive voice is bad. I have to constantly remove them from my MSs. Thanks for pointing that out. 😀

  8. Anonymous says:

    >hi jess can u explain about your picture,and can you give me the formula about tense..,thanks
    nice to see your blog.,and maybe we can be friends

  9. jasouders says:

    >Hi Anonymous: I'm not exactly sure what you're asking, but I'll be happy to help where I can.

  10. Rosangela Taylor says:


    You said: "I was hit" is active, and "I was being hit" is passive. — As I understand, both are passive because the subject is suffering the action. The active voice would be: "I hit" – where the subject (I) performs the action.

    Rose Taylor

  11. jasouders says:

    >Actually, Rose, in her instance, she is correct. In past tense, it's hard to avoid "was." So I was hit is active, because she was the one being hit. If she hit someone, then yes, your example is correct, but that is not the case.

    It is, however, possible, to rearrange the sentence to make it more active. Such as. They hit me. Or she hit me. It removes the was completely and is probably better altogether because it tells WHO did the action.

  12. Rosangela Taylor says:

    >Hey jasouders,

    Tks for replying. I completely understand your point about avoiding using passive voice. This is one aspect of the subject. The other aspect is to correctly identify what is passive and what is active voice.

    Please take a look at this: In a sentence using active voice, the subject of the sentence "performs" the action expressed in the verb. Using passive voice, the subject "suffers" the action of the verb.

    In the example Ezmirelda gave us:

    "I was hit" (she said was active, and you agreed),observe that "I" is subject and "I" did not hit myself (if I had hit myself, then it would be active). I was hit by someone else. So, someone did the action, not the subject present in the sentence. The subject "I" suffered the hitting, so the voice is passive since the verb was not executed by "I", the subject.

    Yes, sure it would be better to say "So and so hit me". Then it would be passive voice because So and So is the subject doing the hitting on me.

    You said: "So I was hit is active, because she was the one being hit." If "she was the one being hit" she did not "did the hit", therefore it cannot be active! 🙂

    This is not my "personal opinion", it's grammar, backed up by grammar laws! Please take a look at this page:


    and see the example about "President Kennedy was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald" — same structure of "I was hit". Absolutely passive voice!

    Surely, both examples of Ezmirelda are passive voice, and yes, we can always (and should as much as possible)transform passive voice into active, for a smoother reading!

    You all have a great weekend! 🙂


  13. jasouders says:


    Yes. "I was hit" is passive. You are absolutely correct and I miss-stated. But I think you're misunderstanding what I said. You gave the example, "I hit" as being active. In Ezmerelda's example, someone hit HER. Not her hitting SOMEONE. So your example would be wrong. The active voice of her example would be: "HE hit me." instead of "I was being hit" or "I was hit" by him.

    What I meant when I wrote earlier is there are circumstances that using "was" is acceptable. And it's too long to get in here in the comments. Since this wasn't the point of this post at all, I see I need to do a post on passive and active voice.

  14. Rosangela Taylor says:


    I'm not trying to hit you (eheheh), really! It's not my intention to go further on this talk… I just wanted to clear some probable misunderstanding that can happen to all of us, right? Especially when we are tired, or having a blurry vision of things.

    I was giving examples of active and passive voice, especially to Ezmerelda, or other readers who could be confused by the theme. If I used "I" and not "He" in my example, does not really matter, since both are subjects doing the action (which characterizes an active voice). I could have used "We" or "They" as the doers of the action in order to suggest an active voice.

    You said: "You gave the example, "I hit" as being active. In Ezmerelda's example, someone hit HER. Not her hitting SOMEONE. So your example would be wrong. The active voice of her example would be: "HE hit me." instead of "I was being hit" or "I was hit" by him." — Sorry, Jasouders, my example as far as being an active voice example, is NOT wrong. I didn't mean to use her example (that someone hit her) — it actually does not matter if someone hit or if she hit. Both are the subjects and THAT was my point.

    You think it's wrong because it's not fitting Ezmerelda's text, but I was not correcting her story (I don't care who hit who), I was just giving example of what would be an active voice. "I" could be the subject, "he" could be the subject, "she" could be the subject, "we" could be the subject. That's all what I was trying to say.

    But yes… you are right…. maybe you do need to go deeper in passive and active voice. It's still a gray area for many.

    Have fun! 🙂

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