3 Tutorials that teach Verb Tense Consistency
Take your pick:
Verb Tense Consistency

Verb Tense Consistency

Author: Gavin McCall

This lesson teaches the subject of verb tense consistency.

See More
Fast, Free College Credit

Developing Effective Teams

Let's Ride
*No strings attached. This college course is 100% free and is worth 1 semester credit.

28 Sophia partners guarantee credit transfer.

281 Institutions have accepted or given pre-approval for credit transfer.

* The American Council on Education's College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE Credit®) has evaluated and recommended college credit for 25 of Sophia’s online courses. Many different colleges and universities consider ACE CREDIT recommendations in determining the applicability to their course and degree programs.


Verb Tense Agreement

Video Transcription

Download PDF

Welcome to English Composition. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.

What are we going to learn today? Today, we'll be learning about verb tense consistency, looking at what that means and how it works in practice. Then we'll cover irregular verbs, the tricky ones that even experienced writers sometimes have to pause over.

First, let's define the terms we're working with, just so there's no confusion later. A verb is a word that defines action or indicates a state of being, and tense means the indication of the time in which something occurred. So verb tense therefore means the time in which an action occurs.

For example, the most common simple tenses are past, present, and future. In English, verbs must agree with the sentence's tense unless they're used to indicate a meaningful shift in time within the sentence. And verbs should be consistent throughout a narrative or piece of writing, unless there's a meaningful shift in time within the text.

If, for example, I was telling you what I did yesterday and I started by saying how I got up, made breakfast, and went to work, all the verbs agree with the past tense of the sentence. But if I then say that I ate lunch, go back to work, and get a promotion, you notice the inconsistency immediately, right?

For native speakers of English, this should just sound funny. But for those whose first language or dialects don't make this an intrinsic, automatic rule, remember to pay special attention to the form of verbs you use in writing as, even for native speakers, it's easier to mix up tenses in written English than it is spoken English since we often begin writing a sentence with one idea or plan in mind and end with another.

Most often when verb inconsistencies like the one I just modeled occur, it's because the writer doesn't realize that he or she has shifted tense, usually between past, present, and future. Careful attention and proofreading will help this. That, and practice.

Now, let's look at some examples of verb inconsistency as this, like many aspects of grammar, is one of those things that's easier to see than to explain. This first sentence, "Tomorrow he turned 15 years old," should be pretty obviously incorrect. And we know what needs to change. The verb "to turn" needs to agree with the future tense indicated by tomorrow.

Hence, "Tomorrow he turns 15 years old." And how about this one? "They left for Mexico next week." That should not only sound wrong, but it should look illogical. This one, it's also pretty obvious what needs to be done. Make the verb "to leave" agree with the rest of the sentence. "They leave for Mexico next week."

And here's one that's a little more complicated. "Even now, years after the breakup, she still loved him." Can you spot the problem? It's at the end. "She still loved him" doesn't fit with the rest of the sentence. So changing that, "Even now, years after the breakup, she still loves him."

Now, sometimes writers will make a difference sort of mistake when the verbs in their sentences seem like they're supposed to change tense, but in actuality they shouldn't. Take this, for example. "Even though I bought the boat last year, I still dreamt about it."

This should sound wrong when you hear it spoken, but chances are you might not have noticed if it was just in text. Both verbs are in the past tense, so at a quick glance, everything seems OK. Still, the second verb should be in present, since the speaker is saying about how he or she still dreams about the boat even now.

"Even though I bought the boat last year, I still dream about it." And this sentence. "Last night's game was intense, as you can tell by how I smelled right now." This should seem pretty obvious, but you might be surprised how often writers can mix up sentences like this, mistakenly thinking that since the game was last night, so too is the smell.

On the contrary, "Last night's game was intense, as you can tell by how I smell right now." And try this last example. "Every time I see footage of the day the Titanic sunk, I got chills." In this sentence, it's the last verb that shouldn't be past tense, but is.

In part, no doubt, since writers tend to think of events like the Titanic sinking as belonging only to the past. But even though it did sink a long time ago, what we're actually talking about here are present tense chills that the writer is getting. Thus, "Every time I see footage of the day the Titanic sunk, I get chills."

As you can see, most verb tense consistency problems are easy enough to spot if you just focus on the sentence. Looking at an entire text, the strategy is exactly the same. Isolate each sentence, read it out loud if you can, and most of these problems will make themselves known.

Unfortunately, especially for second language learners, English is full of verbs that don't follow the standard pattern for verb formation. We call these irregular verbs, and some of the most common examples are think, come, say, drive, choose, bring, go, get, rise, see, make, take, and write.

Of course, this is by no means a complete list. All I can say is to be on the lookout for others that don't shift in the same way as most verbs. Most often, the inconsistency comes from the fact that these verbs don't end with "ed" in the past tense.

For example, the regular verb ask becomes asked in past tense. But choose becomes chose. Make becomes made. Write becomes wrote. You get the idea.

These all follow different rules for tense changes. It's beyond the scope of this lesson to go over all the rules and exceptions that these irregular verbs represent, but let me just say that should trust your ears. Writing something like "choosed" should just sound wrong. And even if you're not sure, look up a verb in its proper tense usage, even if you suspect you're not using it properly. Worst case, you learn something.

What did we learn today? We learned about verbs and tense consistency, looking at how verbs change to suit the past, present, or future tense of sentences. And then we saw how some verbs don't play by the same rules. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.

Terms to Know
Irregular Verb

A verb that does not follow the standard pattern for verb formation.


Indication of the time in which something occurred.


A word that defines actions or indicates a state of being.