Dun Writin’—Now Whut? A series by Susan Uttendorfsky – Owner of Adirondack Editing – (22 Tenses)



What are tenses? They are a term applied to a verb, which is an action word in writing. Merriam-Webster online states that in grammar, a tense is “a … form of a verb expressing a specific time distinction.”

When you look at the different tenses of a verb, you are said to be “conjugating” the verb. Big word, eh? (A helpful site for conjugating any English verb is http://conjugator.reverso.net/conjugation-english.html.)

For an example, we’ll use the verb “to walk.” The differing tenses, or conjugations, of “to walk” are: walk, walks, walked, walking. You can also use “helper” verbs to indicate more tenses: am walking, is walking, have walked, had walked, will be walking, etc.

I walk” is present tense. That means it’s being done right now.

I walked” is past tense. That means it has been done in the past.

I will be walking” or “I will walk” is future tense. That means it will be done at a later time.

There are other tenses, but these are the simplest and most commonly used ones.

Most books are written in past tense, and the active verbs are therefore written in past tense:

  • She walked to the store and bought some groceries.

Sometimes books are written in the present tense. This is an example:

  • She walks to the store and buys some groceries.

Whatever style you use, you may find that occasionally you make an error and mix your tenses in a sentence:

  • She walked to the store and buys some groceries.

This can most often happen in books that use present tense, since it’s more natural to talk about things in past tense, but it sometimes happens in books that use past tense, too. Dialogue can be written in a mixture of past, present, and future tense, which can be confusing:

Let’s walk to the store and buy some groceries,” said Barbara.

But we just went yesterday.” Sylvia whined. “We will walk tomorrow and then we will buy what we need.”

As you can see, the tenses are mixed in the dialogue sentences, but they fit the situation. Barbara says, “Let’s walk,” which is present tense. She wants to go now. Whiny Sylvia says they just “went” yesterday. Since it happened previously, that’s past tense. She wants to go tomorrow—“we will walk”—which would be the future tense. “Walk” doesn’t have a different form for the future tense, so Sylvia has to add the helper verb “will” to indicate future tense.

Mixed tenses that are incorrect would generally be found in narrative writing, not dialogue. Science fiction, fantasy, or historical writing that has time changes can be very confusing when it comes to keeping tenses on track!

We’re Dun for today, so keep on Writin’!


Susan Uttendorfsky

Owner, Adirondack Editing





8 thoughts on “Dun Writin’—Now Whut? A series by Susan Uttendorfsky – Owner of Adirondack Editing – (22 Tenses)

  1. Reblogged this on Pukah Works and commented:
    I’m not sure I want to know how bad you cringed typing that sentence with the incorrect tense. I’ll admit to being prone to mixing tenses, and I’ll admit my betas and front line editor have patiently hit me over the head with a rather solid clue-by-four about it too. (Owwie… headache time?)

    Definitely a post to keep on hand!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hahaha, Kat! I try not to use a two-by-four… As I said, I find this problem most of them time when the writer is either trying to write in present tense (which is very difficult), or when they’re talking about a flashback as if it happened in present tense. That can get a little convoluted, especially if the flashback in present tense is also speaking of something in the past… Yikes!

      Liked by 2 people

      • “I will be with you” she said yesterday, as she walks into the store. ::Laughs:: Yeah. I remember those days. At least THAT big of a tense tangle is long in my past. Most of my issues are that I keep trying to pull past tense into the present. (Role play is done in the present, though the story is in past. My poor front line.)

        Liked by 2 people

    • Present tense can be hard to write in, but I’ve read some novellas in first person present tense that blew me away! It’s difficult, though, especially in first person, since the reader can’t know anything the writer doesn’t know. Thanks for commenting! 🙂



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