Verb Tenses

We may not have it all together, but together we have it all.

This statement appeared in our local newspaper recently: Louisiana Tech’s bulldog mascot dies of heatstroke after worker left him outside. This sort of mixing of tenses drives me up a wall.

My favorite television show of recent years has been The Closer. I love the show, and I particularly love the way Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick) thinks her way through all the twists in the clues that have the rest of those around her lost in a fog. I hate the fact that this week’s episode was the last we’ll get to see of this great series.

That said, the dialog in the show frequently makes me want to scream. They’ll say something like, “He came in through the window and takes her and throws her against a wall.” Really? He entered past tense and proceeds to do things present tense.

This must result from the ignorance of the writers and not the actors, because all of them do it. I really don’t understand such glaring grammatical errors as this.

You don’t change tenses of the verbs you use in the same paragraph—much less in the same sentence. This seems so simple, but I see it violated all the time.

Our newspaper statement could have said, Louisiana Tech’s bulldog mascot dies of heatstroke after worker leaves him outside. No one would have a problem with that. Or it could have said, Louisiana Tech’s bulldog mascot died of heatstroke after worker left him outside. That would also be grammatically correct, although if it was a headline or sub-headline (I don’t remember whether it was or not) the editor probably would want it in present tense.

Remember, we must use whatever tense we start in throughout a paragraph. My father used to say, “You can’t change horses in the middle of the stream.” That same principle applies to verb tenses. We need to be consistent.

What are your pet peeves among grammatical errors? What points of grammar bother you because you’re not sure what is correct? Let me know, and I’ll try to address them.


For more information about David N. Walker, click the “About” tag above.

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Contact him at or tweet him at @davidnwalkertx


About David N. Walker

David N. Walker is a Christian husband, father and grandfather, a grounded pilot and a near-scratch golfer who had to give up the game because of shoulder problems. A graduate of Duke University, he spent 42 years in the health insurance industry, during which time he traveled much of the United States. He started writing about 20 years ago and has been a member and leader in several writers' groups. Christianity 101: The Simplified Christian Life, the devotional Heaven Sent and the novella series, Fancy, are now available in paperback and in Kindle and Nook formats, as well as through Smashwords and Kobo. See information about both of these by clicking "Books" above.
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13 Responses to Verb Tenses

  1. Pingback: Tall Tale Tuesday: Color Me Wild « Ellie Ann

  2. Hey, David – You are at it again. I’m also a tense changer and my critique partner has threatned to toss me in the river (but she needs me to keep her roses alive). She also needs my knowledge of ‘crime in government.’ [Bet you thought there wasn’t any.]


  3. Karlene says:

    My eyes are crossing because I’ve just landed from Amsterdam and catching up on emails. But had to read today’s lesson. Thank you! So, I’m thinking we need to give our writers credit on one of my favorite shows. (So sad it’s over too!)

    That type of grammar in the show doesn’t bother me. Why? People in the real world don’t speak grammatically correct. They think while the speak, they add fragments, they have what writers call “voice” of the character. So, I’m not so sure their language and poor grammar wasn’t intentional.

    I had one editor, edit my character’s grammar making it formal. But people don’t talk that way. So… in my world, and book, dialogue can be whatever it is. Because… that is the “voice” of the character. If everyone spoke formally, we would all be robots. I like the flavor of language, be it bad grammar or not. With that said, it has to be consistent with each voice.


  4. Such a good point, David, but all I can think of is that poor bulldog! So sad!


    • Sounds like something Amy Shojai would say. You must be a big-time pet lover. I was so focused on the grammar I didn’t even think about the dog. That was sad, now that you mention it.


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  6. Sharon K. Walker says:

    I’m pretty good at grammar, but what you spoke about today gives me trouble sometimes. I really have to think it through. What really bugs me is different “than” when it should be different “from.” Also what are the rules regarding punctuation in the vicinity of quotes?


  7. Changing of tenses is my nemesis when I write. It’s not that I’m ignorant, I just can’t see the change when it happens. The sad part is I don’t see it when I to the proofing immediately after. When you are posting to someone, I don’t want to wait for three days to let things settle in my mind before proofing again. Any suggestions?


    • I’m not sure what to tell you. I usually glance back over what I’ve written before moving on. If that doesn’t catch it, oops. I’m more likely to skip over typos than grammatical errors, so don’t be surprised when you see me type “to” where I meant “the” and other such silliness. BTW, you just gave a subject for another post. Thanks.


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