Verb Consistency

Verb consistency is important to ensure harmonious and clear sentences.  What if your friend tells you this:

  • I’m so happy today because my mother was coming back from abroad. She was supposed to be home yesterday afternoon but the flight will be delayed. She arrived late evening.

As you can see from the above example, the shift in tenses would obviously cause chaos to the meaning of the message. You’ll wonder whether his mother is already back from abroad, or she is coming back this evening.

In a single sentence, the verb tense that you use is straight forward. You would know whether it should be in the present tense, the past and so on. It is also easy to point out the errors. However, it’s not as easy to spot a verb tense error in a paragraph, or more. There will be inconsistencies. Take a look at these paragraphs and see if there are errors in tenses.

  • Kamal Prasad Sharma, aged 12, was a student at Saraswati Secondary School in a small village not far from Kathmandu. He was afraid when he saw a computer for the first time. He didn’t dare enter the room, thinking the computer would harm him. However, things are changing now. The E-library has helped him with his studies.

How many errors did you find, or is the paragraph error-free? Here’s the corrected version:

  • Kamal Prasad Sharma, aged 12, is a student at Saraswati Secondary School in a small village not far from Kathmandu. He was afraid when he saw a computer for the first time. He didn’t dare enter the room, thinking the computer would harm him. However, things have changed now. The E-library has helped him with his studies.

Explanation for the first error:

The sentence is factual. The boy, Kamal, is a student at Saraswati Secondary school. There is nothing to indicate that he is not studying there anymore. Besides, the second sentence indicates the past when Kamal first saw the computer.

Explanation for the second error:

Athough you see the word “now” in the sentence, don’t be fooled into thinking that the present continuous tense should be used. Therefore, it is wrong to say, “…things are changing now” because in reality, they have already changed. This is shown in the next sentence about the E-library which also uses the present perfect tense.

Identifying inconsistencies:

The question is, how do you know which tense to use in long paragraphs (in a text) to ensure that tenses do not shift incorrectly?

  • Read the entire text to get a grasp of the timelines (in each paragraph).
  • Once that’s done, tackle each paragraph carefully.
  • Do not attempt to shift tenses before you even read the text once.

This guide is good for learning Writing; however, it doesn’t mean that it cannot be used in spoken English. Remember the first example I gave earlier about your friend’s mother? That is a good example of its usage in the verbal form.

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Posted on July 10, 2009, in Grammar and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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