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21.12.2011 14:26    Comments: 0    Categories: Grammar      Tags: verb tenses  stories  narrative prose  grammar  

Use the past tense to indicate past events, prior conditions, or completed processes. For example:

I voted last week.
Ancient Romans believed basil was poisonous.
The fortress crumbled to ruin during the last century.


The present tense is used to express anything that is happening now or occurring in the present moment. The present also communicates actions that are ongoing, constant, or habitual. For example:

I'm working on an essay for my English class.
Brevity is the soul of wit.
John loves music.
I run four miles every morning.


The past tense is commonly used when writing a narrative or a story, as in:

  • 1. Once upon a time, there was a peaceful kingdom in the heart of a jungle . . .

Some writers use the present tense in telling stories, a technique called the "historical present" describe something that happened in the past in which a writer tries to parachute the reader into the midst of an unfolding story. The present tense is used to creates an air of vividness and immediacy. For example:

  • 2. Yesterday when I was walking around downtown, the craziest thing happened. This guy in a suit comes up to me, and says, "If you know what's good for you . . . "

In this example, the speaker switches from the past tense in giving context for the story to the present tense in relating the events themselves.

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