Inconsistent tenses

Consistency of tenses is one of the most common problems ESL students face. The tense form used in a sentence indicates the time of the action mentioned in the sentence. English tenses are a bit complex. For example, we do not always use future tense forms to talk about the future. In the same way, sometimes we use present tenses to talk about the past. This can confuse an ESL student. Sometimes it doesn’t really matter which tense you use. For example, if you are writing a story, you can use either present tense or past tense. In this case, you just need to maintain consistency of tenses.

Mistakes in the use of tenses can be due to a variety of reasons. Sometimes students don’t know how to construct certain tense forms. Sometimes they don’t know whether they should use the present or past tense.

Here are some general guidelines

The simple past tense is common in story-telling. This tense is also used when we are telling people about past events.

  • Once upon a time there lived a princess. She was very beautiful. One day the princess decided to roam about the country.

Note that all verbs are in the past tense.

The present perfect tense is the most normal tense for giving news of recent events.

  • There has been an explosion near the castle.

Note that after using the present perfect tense to announce a piece of news, we usually change to simple past or past continuous tenses to give the details.

  • There has been an explosion near the castle. Eye witnesses said that the bomb had been placed in a car parked outside the castle. At least sixteen people died in the explosion and scores of others were severely injured.

If you begin writing in the past, do not change to the present. In the same way, if you begin writing in the present do not change to the past.

  • Fifty years before Jesus was born, Romans landed in Britain. They fought the Britons and captured much of their land.