When we write and speak, we often write or say more than just one sentence. We may write or say several sentences together that tell a story. We talk about events from a specific time: the past, present or future. The tense we use tells our listener when an activity occurred. Generally, we maintain the same tense when talking about an event because we tend to talk about one event at a time. When we talk about different events or actions in our story, we sometimes refer to other time periods. This is when it is OK to change the tense in a sentence.
The following are guidelines for you to follow that will help you understand when verbs in a sentence need to stay the same tense and when they can change.
1. If the actions in the sentence occur in the same time period, the tense has to stay the same.
Let's look at the following examples: Example 1: Incorrect: Doris lives near the beach, and didn't drive much. In this sentence, we are talking about a current situation (Doris lives near the beach), but the problem is that the second part of the sentence is in the past tense (didn’t drive much). Because both activities occur during the same time period, they must both match, which means that they both must be in the present tense.
So, the sentence should be: Doris lives near the beach and doesn’t drive much. Now the verbs “lives” and “doesn’t drive” describe a current situation, which makes them consistent.
Example 2: Incorrect: Mary jogged and walked in the marathon, and her friends watch her. Let’s take a look at why this sentence is incorrect. In the first part of the sentence, the verbs “jogged” and “walked” are in the past tense because the activities occurred in the past. The problem is that in the second part of the sentence, “her friends watch her” it is in the present tense. Mary’s friends can’t watch her jog and walk now because the events already occurred. This means that all of the verbs must be in the past tense to be consistent.
The sentence should say: Mary jogged and walked in the marathon, and her friends watched her. Now, all three verbs (jogged, walked, watched) are in the past tense, making them consistent.
Example 3: In the following example, we have two options from which to choose. Option 1: "John had wanted to come with us last week, but stayed home instead." Option 2: "John wanted to come with us last week, but stayed home instead."
Let’s take a look at why the above sentences are correct.
In option 1, we have two activities that happened in the past, but different tenses are used. The first activity, “John had wanted to come” is in what we call the “past perfect tense”. This tense is used to describe an event that happened before another one. The second part of the sentence, “but stayed home” refers to the activity that occurred after the first one ended. We used two different tenses to tell us the order in which the two events took place.
In option 2, both verbs “wanted” and “stayed” are in the simple past tense. Because we know that the specific time that John wanted to come with us was last week, and we know the activity he did instead, it is clear which activity happened first. Therefore, we have the option of using the simple past tense for both actions.
2. If the actions in the sentence refer to different time periods, then the verb tense can change
Let's look at some examples Example 1 Incorrect: My kids loved our new pool, which was installed last week. Let's take a look at why this sentence is incorrect. The verbs “loved” and "was installed" are both in the past tense. The way it is worded right now, the sentence tells us that my kids loved the pool in the past and it was installed in the past. But that's not what we really want to say. What we really mean is that my kids love the pool right now, and they can only love it after it is installed.
Here's how the sentence should read: "My kids love our new pool, which was installed last week." Now it is clear that first my pool was installed, and then my kids can love it.
Example 2: The following two sentences show you the two options you have for constructing them correctly. Option 1: Before we watched the movie, my friends went out to buy some pizza. Option 2: Before we watched the movie, my friends had gone out to buy some pizza.
Let’s take a look at why we have two different options for this sentence. Option 1: In option 1, we have two activities which occurred in the past. In the first part of the sentence, "before we watched the movie", the verb "watched" is in the simple past tense. In the second part of the sentence, "my friends went out to buy some pizza", the verb "went out" is also in the past tense. In this sentence, the word “before” tells us that buying pizza happened first, and then watching a movie happened after that. So, in this instance, we can use the simple past tense for both activities. Option 2: In option 2, we have two activities, the first part "before we watched the movie" in the past tense, and the second part "my friends had gone out to buy some pizza" in the past perfect tense. This tells us that buying pizza came first and watching the movie came second.
Even though "before" tells us which activity happened first, you may sometimes see additional clarification made by the past perfect tense in "before" sentences.
3. Constructing sentences using “when”, “if”, and “as soon as" as conditions Sentences using "when", "if" and "as soon as" can be used as conditions when we want to talk about something that may occur in the future.
In the case of conditions in a sentence, we can have two parts:
The condition makes up one part of the sentence
and the resulting action makes up the second part of the sentence.
Part 1: The condition Let's take a look at the three following conditions. All should stay in the present tense "when" as in "when we arrive at the beach" "if" as in "if it doesn't snow" "as soon as" as in "as soon as you give me permission"
Part 2: The second part of the sentence uses the future tense and describes something that will happen as a direct result of the condition occurring. Look at the following examples:
We will have so much fun.
We will have our meeting on time.
I will do it.
Let's put the two parts described above together to create some sentences! Remember that these sentences are used to describe conditions that occur together. Keep in mind that parts 1 and 2 are interchangeable; part 2 could come first and part 1 second, or part 1 could be first and part 2 second. When:
condition first: When we arrive at the beach, we will have so much fun. future event first: We will have so much fun when we arrive at the beach.
condition first: If it doesn't snow, we will have our meeting on time.
future event first: We will have our meeting on time, if it doesn't snow.
As soon as:
condition first: As soon as you give me permission to make the phone call I will do it. future event first: I will do it as soon as you give me permission to make the phone call.