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Parts of Speech

Learn more about English parts of speech, such as prepositions and articles, to help you become a more confident writer.

Avoiding incorrect shifts in verb tense

You will use many different tenses within your writing and shifts between tense are fine, as long as they accurately represent the action described by the passage. Where learners sometimes encounter difficulties is when they mix verb tenses within a sentence or description.

For example, "the tide is high and it flooded the road". 

  • "is" indicates simple present tense; "flooded" indicates simple past tense. Choose the correct tense and use that tense throughout the sentence: the tide was high and it flooded the road.

For more information, examples, and self-test exercises, please refer to The OWL at Purdue: Verb Tense Consistency.

Verb tense in signal phrases and to describe action

Deciding the appropriate verb tense usually comes down to using the one that best reflects the time period of the action described in the text.

Signal Phrases

The choice of using present or past tense in signal phrases for paraphrases or quotations largely depends on the discipline in which authors are writing or the style guide they’re following.

  • Present tense: Lee (2015) argues that…
  • Past tense: Lee (2015) argued that…

According to APA Style, "the past tense is appropriate when expressing an action or a condition that occurred at a specific, definite time in the past, such as when discussing another researcher's work" (American Psychological Association [APA], 2020, p. 118). When expressing "a past action or condition that did not occur at a specific, definite time or to describe an action beginning in the past and continuing to the present", use the present perfect tense (e.g, Lee (2015) has used...).

Using the past tense to refer to other researcher's work reflects that the quotation or paraphrase presents the author’s thinking at the time of writing the text, which happened in the past. The published text may not reflect the author’s current thinking, so putting the signal phrase in present tense makes a claim that can’t be investigated within the source material. If you’re unsure of which tense to use in signal phrases, please check with your instructor, supervisor, or journal editor.

Describe Action in Text

The APA Style manual provides suggestions on which verb tense is appropriate for various sections of a thesis, major project or journal article:

  • Past or present perfect tense: "Literature review (or whenever discussing other researchers' work)" (APA, 2020, p. 118), "method" (APA, 2020, 118), and "description of procedure" (APA, 2020, 118)
  • Past tense: "Reporting of results" (APA, 2020, p. 118)
  • Present tense: "Discussion of implications of results" (APA, 2020, p. 118) and "presentation of conclusions, limitations, future directions, and so forth" (APA, 2020, p. 118).

As much as possible, try to be consistent with your chosen verb tense within a section "to ensure smooth expression" (APA, 2020, p. 118). If the verb tenses suggested above don't make sense for the purposes of your document, please check with your instructor or academic supervisor to get their opinion on the best approach for your document.

Reference

American Psychological Association. (2020). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.). https://doi.org/10.1037/0000165-000