English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

This is more about the suggestion I am asking here. Please share your ideas/experience which will help me. I am working as a project manager and want to present most of the time about project or technology. I used mixed tenses for the same kind of information which suits sometimes correctly and interpreted the meaning sometimes incorrectly.

share|improve this question
Can you give some examples of sentences which have been interpreted incorrectly? – Steve Melnikoff Nov 26 '10 at 9:27
up vote 10 down vote accepted

The important thing to remember is not to mix tenses in the same context. But using the various tenses when each is appropriate is not something to fear. Consider:

We have had some troubles in the past, but the new project will continue until it is completed successfully. Our former tech lead had difficulty getting the last project finished on time, so he has been replaced. Our new manager, Pam Worthington, comes to us fresh from her success with the B-team's project, in which she demonstrated skill and leadership. I hope everyone will welcome her to the team, and that by this time in the second quarter we will have entered into a new spirit of cooperation.

This paragraph romps through all the tenses I could stuff into a few sentences, but each is used to make a necessary point. There is no confusion about what happened, is happening, or is expected to happen.

Tenses can be mixed incorrectly, however. Consider the second sentence in this example:

I went to see Tom yesterday. He comes to the door and tells me he's sick, so I went home right away so I won't catch his cold.

You might hear people mix tenses like this all the time in spoken speech, and the meaning would be understood. But even though a reader or listener might be able to figure out your meaning, your job as a writer is to make your meaning clear and immediate. In this case the second sentence should be improved to something like the following:

I went to see Tom yesterday. He came to the door and told me he was sick, so I went home right away because I don't want to catch his cold.

You will notice that there is still a slight mixing of tenses here. " ... I went home ... because I don't want to catch his cold." There is nothing wrong with this mixture, because I am describing an action taken in the past to prevent a continuing danger. A similar construction would be: "I refused dessert because I am dieting."

In sum, use tenses freely and mix them when you must, but make sure to be consistent and not arbitrary. Switching in and out of tenses capriciously breaks the flow and obstructs comprehension.

share|improve this answer
+1 Very comprehensive answer. – Steve Melnikoff Nov 26 '10 at 20:55
Thanks for the response. It gives me an idea how to use. – sankar Nov 27 '10 at 17:17
You've probably asked this, Sankar, because you've been told that, for English, there is a Sequence of Tenses/Tense Concord that must be followed. As Robusto has shown, such is simply not the case. We use the "tense" we need to state what we want to say. – Dan Apr 20 '11 at 19:27
If I were your editor, I would still make you change I went home right away because I don't want to catch his cold to ... because I didn't want to catch his cold. I might let you get away with am dieting because was dieting might lead the reader to think you have since stopped dieting, but I would consider it informal at best. If I were being a stickler I'd suggest something like ... because I wanted to stick to my diet. – Old Pro May 9 '12 at 18:16
@OldPro: Noted. But I think the present tense is acceptable here as a shorter way of including the information that the condition of not wanting to catch his cold is still current. – Robusto May 9 '12 at 19:40

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.