Choosing the right verb tense depends on the perspective the writer adopts in connection with time. Usually, current events are narrated in the present tense (e.g. “I am at the office right now.”). Past events are narrated in the past tense (e.g. “I was at the office yesterday.”) but a “past event” could also be coded in the present perfect tense (e.g. “I have been at the office the whole day”) when it still has some present relevance. Here is a list of frequently used tenses:

 

Tense

Example

Simple Present

I study English.

Present Progressive/Continuous

I am reading a book.

Simple Future

I will eat pasta tomorrow.

Future Progressive/ Continuous

I will be staying with my sister tomorrow.

Simple Past

He visited London last year.

Past Progressive/ Continuous

I was working on a project when she came.

Present Perfect Simple

You have lived in New York and Singapore.

Present Perfect Progressive/ Continuous

I have been listening to you for an hour.

Past Perfect

She had finished her homework when John came.

Past Perfect Progressive/ Continuous

She had been studying hard until he came.

 

Past tense VS. Present perfect tense

In example 1, the simple past (“was”) could only be correct if the problem of unhealthy eating no longer existed. As this problem, which started in the past, still affects people now, the present perfect form (“has been”) should be used instead.

 

WRONG
RIGHT

The problem of unhealthy eating was of major concern over the past few years.

 The problem of unhealthy eating has been of major concern over the past few years.

 

Present tense VS. Past tense

In example 2, the simple present tense cannot be used as the reclamation started in the past. The past tense should be used as the action (i.e. start a healthy) happened at a specific time (i.e. January 2013) in the past.
 Similarly, in examples 3 and 4, the simple present tense cannot be used to describe completed actions at a specific time in the past. The simple past tense should be used instead.

 

WRONG
RIGHT

In January 2013, the government start a
healthy eating project.

In January 2013, the government started a healthy eating project.

 

Present tense VS. Present perfect tense

In example 5, the present perfect tense should be used, because the sentence describes an action (i.e. order) that started in the past (i.e. since 1852) and has continued up till now.
 Similarly, in examples 6-8, the present perfect tense should be used as the actions that happened in the past have continued up to now.

 

WRONG
RIGHT

The Hong Kong Government orders restrictions on unhealthy snacks.

The Hong Kong Government has ordered restrictions on unhealthy snacks.

 

Past perfect tense VS. Present perfect tense

The past perfect tense describes an action that happened before another action in the past. To describe actions that happened in the past and have continued up to now, as in example 9, the present perfect tense should be used.

 

WRONG
RIGHT

 Recently, there had been an increase in the amount of people being diagnosed with an obesity-related illness.                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Recently, there has been an increase in the amount of people being diagnosed with an obesity-related illness.

 

Present tense VS. Future tense

The verb tense is inconsistent in this example. The future tense is used at the beginning (i.e. “will”) but the simple present tense is misused in the middle (i.e. “increases”).

 

WRONG
RIGHT

Not only will the massive amounts of pollution affect people’s respiratory systems, it also increases the rates of cancer and early death among adults. 

Not only will the massive amounts of pollution affect people’s respiratory systems, it also will increase the rates of cancer and early death among adults.

 

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