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Website of author and professional editor Rachelle M. N. Shaw. Find information about her books, her editing services, and her blog, From Mind to Paper: On Writing and Editing.

From Mind to Paper: On Writing and Editing

From Mind to Paper is a blog for writers, editors, and those interested in the English language. It covers a multitude of writing topics, from punctuation and grammar to plot development, character development, and world building. In addition to in-depth articles about various writing topics, this blog also has a number of series posts, which are currently being transformed into a nonfiction series on writing.

The Grammar Grind: Tenses, Part 1

Rachelle M. N. Shaw

Tenses are a distinction of the various verb forms that express duration of an action and when it took place. Not only do they guide a reader through a narrative, but they also help enrich the writing and make it more complex. Most people master the simple and perfect tenses rather easily, but the others can be a struggle. Including the conditional tenses, there are a total of 18 tenses in the English language. This article will discuss the present and past tenses and all the variations thereof. Each tense can be written using an affirmative statement, a negated statement, and a question.

Simple Present
The simple present tense is used to indicate an action that is currently taking place. This can be a one-time occurrence, a repeating occurrence, or one never happening at all. The auxiliary verb door does is sometimes used, especially in the case of a question.

Example 1: She writes.
Example 2: She does not write.
Example 3: Does she write?

Present Progressive (Present Continuous)
The present progressive tense is used to indicate an action that is taking place during the current time and the currently time only. In other words, the action has a limited duration. The –ing form of the main verb is always used along with the corresponding auxiliary verb am, is, or are.

Example 1: She is writing.
Example 2: She is not writing.
Example 3: Is she writing?

Present Perfect
The present perfect tense is used to indicate an action that is still going on or has recently stopped. If it is signifying a finished action, that action has an influence on the present and often immediately precedes an action taking place in the present time. The perfect tense form of the main verb is used in conjunction with the auxiliary verb has or have.

Example 1: She has written a book.
Example 2: She has not written a book.
Example 3: Has she written a book?

Present Perfect Progressive (Present Perfect Continuous)
The present perfect progressive tense is used to indicate an action that has recently stopped or is still going on. Emphasis is on duration of the action. If it is signifying a finished action, that action has an influence on the present. The –ing form of the main verb is used along with corresponding auxiliary verbs have been or has been.

Example 1: She has been writing since she was a young girl.
Example 2: She has not been writing since she was a young girl.
Example 3: Has she been writing since she was a young girl?

Simple Past
The simple past tense is used to indicate an action that took place at an earlier time. It is often used to speak of an action that occurred in the more recent past, though that is not always the case. The auxiliary verb did is sometimes used, especially in the case of a question.

Example 1: She wrote a book.
Example 2: She did not write a book.
Example 3: Did she write a book?

Past Progressive (Past Continuous)
The past progressive tense is used to indicate an action that happened at a very specific point in the past. That action is also considered to have a limited duration. The auxiliary verb wasor were is used in conjunction with the –ing form of the main verb.

Example 1: She was writing.
Example 2: She was not writing
Example 3: Was she writing?


Past Perfect
The past perfect tense is used to indicate an action that took place far in the past before another event in the past. It is sometimes interchangeable with (and preferable to) the past perfect progressive tense. The perfect tense form of the main verb is used in conjunction with the auxiliary verb had.

Example 1: She had written.
Example 2: She had not written.
Example 3: Had she written?

Past Perfect Progressive (Past Perfect Continuous)
The past perfect progressive tense is used to indicate an action that took place before a certain time in the past. It is sometimes interchangeable with the past perfect tense. Emphasis is on the duration of the action. The –ing form of the main verb is used in conjunction with the auxiliary verbs had and been.

Example 1: She had been writing all weekend.
Example 2: She had not been writing all weekend.
Example 3: Had she been writing all weekend?