Do verbs make you tense?

Reading time: About 2 minutes

Do you ever get tense over tenses?  I’m talking about verb tenses— and the the time or state they express. But, honestly, there’s no need to get upset…

Most of us know that there are present, past and future tenses and we can identify them pretty easily.

Fewer people know that there are many other subtypes — such as present progressive (He is frowning), present perfect progressive (He has been frowning) and conditional progressive (He would have been frowning).

Unless you’re a copy editor — or an English teacher — you don’t need to fuss about the names of these tenses. But you need to make sure you’re using the right one. Last week I was editing a client’s work and I discovered a big mistake.

My client was describing a piece of company history that had occurred 25 years ago. And, at the same time, he mentioned another company event that had taken place nine weeks later. (He meant nine weeks later, 25 years ago. I know, this sounds a bit strange, but his story was both interesting and relevant.) Oddly, he’d used the present tense to describe both of these events.

Methodically, I worked my way through the story, changing all the presents to the past. But here’s where I ran into a conundrum. At one point he’d said: Then the [name of newspaper] wrote an editorial saying it will take a long time “for this change to occur…”

All of a sudden, he’d used the future tense, “will.” Wrong, I knew. I struggled for a brief moment before deciding to change it to the conditional: Then the [name of newspaper] wrote an editorial saying it would take a long time “for this change to occur…”

This not only made the timeline much clearer it also demonstrated how tricky it can be to deal with tenses.

If you run into a similar problem, don’t guess. Find a copy editor — or someone who’s really good with tenses — to help you get it right.

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