Tense in narrative: Activity 1

Activity 1: Tense consistency

Look at the following short passages. For each one, identify where the tense changes incorrectly, and then write a correct version which continues with the tense used at the start of the passage.

  1. Thousands of heads turned to stare at Mark. Everyone was waiting for his answer. His palms are sweaty and his heart is thumping. He opens his mouth but can't get a word out.
  2. The sun is low in the sky and the shadows are long. A chill breeze is blowing. The children shivered in their light clothes. They were a long way from home.
  3. Nina jumped off the bus and ran all the way to Kate’s house. When she gets there, Kate is waiting for her in the garden. They both start to talk at once.

Answers

This passage starts in the past tense, with turned (a simple past) and was waiting (a past progressive). Then it suddenly changes to present tense with are and continues in the present tense:

  • Thousands of heads turned to stare at Mark. Everyone was waiting for his answer. His palms are sweaty and his heart is thumping. He opens his mouth but can’t get a word out.

The corrected version of the passage should read as follows:

  • Thousands of heads turned to stare at Mark. Everyone was waiting for his answer. His palms were sweaty and his heart was thumping. He opened his mouth but couldn’t get a word out.

Notice that, in a sentence that has tense with more than one verb, it is always the first verb that is marked for tense. For example, we can have was thumping (past progressive) or is thumping (present progressive). The change of tense is marked on the first verb (was/is).

Here are the corrected versions of the second and third examples:

  • The sun is low in the sky and the shadows are long. A chill breeze is blowing. The children shiver in their light clothes. They are a long way from home.
  • Nina jumped off the bus and ran all the way to Kate’s house. When she got there, Kate was waiting for her in the garden. They both started to talk at once.

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