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Skip to 0 minutes and 8 secondsIt is important to choose the right tense of verb when you are writing. This is an extract from the introduction to Bayliss’s journal article, which we looked at earlier, The verbs have been highlighted. Notice that a range of tenses have been used. There are Present perfect, Past simple, Present continuous and Present simple forms. And notice also that two, or more, different tenses may be used in the same sentence. And some of these are Active forms of the verb and some are Passive. The introduction starts with verbs in the Present perfect tense.

Skip to 0 minutes and 48 secondsThis tense makes a connection between past and present, and is often used at the start of academic essays to refer to something that started in the past, here “two decades” ago, and which still has a present effect. Notice that “has been placed “ is a Present perfect passive form. People place emphasis on something, so here “emphasis” becomes the subject of the sentence and we use a Passive form. Present continuous forms are also commonly used in introductions to this kind of essay. Their use is similar to Present perfect in these contexts, but Present continuous emphasises that the action or state is still continuing. Where we are writing about a changing, evolving situation, we prefer Present continuous to Present simple.

Skip to 1 minute and 45 secondsHowever, grammar is complex and there are often exceptions. Here we use Present simple, rather than Present continuous, and this is because the verb “remain” is not usually used in the Continuous form. In this sentence, Past simple tenses have been used because they refer to specific periods of time in the past, “in the early 1980s” and “for a long period”, and they do not relate to the present. Notice that “was anticipated” is Past simple passive verb form. When you write, ask yourself the following questions;Does the verb relate to the present, past or future? If the action or state started in the past, is there a present effect?

Skip to 2 minutes and 37 secondsDoes the verb relate to a completed action or state in the past with no present effect? Should I use an Active or Passive form?

Skip to 2 minutes and 50 secondsWhile you read, try to develop your awareness of how different tenses are used, in the same way as has been described in this video. In the next Step you will practice selecting the most suitable verb forms depending on the context.

Verb tenses

In this video Jonathan explains why it is essential to use correct verb tenses in your academic writing.

To help you identify the correct verb tense, Jonathan recommends you ask yourself the following questions as you are writing, and when you are proof-reading your essay:

  • Does the verb relate to the present, past or future?

  • If the action or state started in the past, is there a present effect?

  • Does the verb related to a completed action or state in the past with no present effect?

  • Should I use an active or passive form?

You can view the text from the video in this PDF document.

© Extract from Bayliss, K. (2003). Utility privatisation in Sub-Saharan Africa: A case study of water. The Journal of Modern African Studies, 41(4), 507-531. doi:10.1017/S0022278X03004415. 2003 Cambridge University Press.

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This video is from the free online course:

An Intermediate Guide to Writing in English for University Study

University of Reading

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