All terms

What is tense?

A way of indicating the time period in which a verb's action or state occurs.

Tension in Tenses: Understanding the Time-Defining Verb Forms

Tenses are one of the basic building-blocks of all language as we know it. But the tense doesn't have to be a source of stress or strife in your writing! Simply put, a tense is a verb form that denotes the time during which the action or state happened. Whether it's past, present, or future, these forms can help to anchor your sentences in time and give them the proper context.

But of course, it wouldn't be English if it weren't a little tricky. There are many different tenses (such as past perfect, present continuous, and future perfect progressive) that can be used to convey subtle nuances of meaning and emphasis. It's important to use them correctly, or else you risk confusing your readers or giving them the wrong impression. But with a little practice and study, you can learn to wield the power of tenses with confidence, creating vivid stories that flow naturally and logically.

Showcasing Tense: Two Examples of Time-Defining Writing

Tenses can be used to great effect in literature, conveying everything from urgency to nostalgia to suspense. Here are just a couple of examples of how authors have used tenses in their work to create powerful storytelling.

In the Past Perfect: Ian McEwan's Atonement

One of the signature narrative devices in McEwan's 2001 novel was his use of the past perfect verb form to convey the sense of something being irretrievably lost. By placing his characters in the past and looking back at events with a kind of melancholy regret, he created a haunting and affecting mood that lingered long after the last page was turned.

Present and Accounted For: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah

Adichie's 2013 novel uses the present tense as the central narrative device, making the reader feel as though they are experiencing events and emotions in real-time. By eschewing the past tense, she creates a sense of immediacy and intimacy that draws us closer to her characters and their struggles, making the emotional highs and lows hit all the harder.