Is there a rule about consistency within a paragraph, of using past tense and past participle in alternate sentences? In my writing class, I notice some writers mix the two freely. Since I see this usage so often, I tend to see them as equivalent. Example:

"Jane sat down on the park bench. She had come to meet with her friend. She ate her lunch sandwich slowly, enjoying the sunshine. She had brought the sandwich in a brown paper bag. She carefully refolded the bag and put it in her pocket."

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    I believe you are asking about past perfect, not past participle. – Brian Hitchcock Mar 13 '15 at 5:31
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    Welcome to ELU. I think a paragraph can theoretically consists of sentences each in a different tense. Why the objection? Are you a native English speaker? Have you visited our English Language Learners yet? – Kris Mar 13 '15 at 6:16

Here the paragraph contains a mix of the past (she ate etc) tense and the pluperfect (she had brought). This is a fairly standard usage I believe which helps to place the different events in some kind of chronological order, the pluperfect ones having happened before the normal past ones. It is a little strange that they jump from one to the other in your passage but there is nothing really weird going on. The pluperfect allows you to talk in the past tense and retain an idea of 'before'.


You can use a lot of tenses in a paragraph till it sounds logical and consistent. The paragraph is not a grammatical category, and the grammatical rules are not applied. The sentence is a grammatical category, therefore, the correspondence between tenses is vital.

  • Sometimes I am surprised about down-voting. Grammar is the study of the classes of words, their inflections, and their functions and relations in the sentence. – Darius Miliauskas Mar 13 '15 at 12:24
  • The statement that "the grammatical rules are not applied" for tenses with the same paragraph is totally absurd, and deserves down-voting. Grammar is not confined within a sentence. – Peter Shor Apr 26 '15 at 22:24
  • It was about categories. Moreover, in another sense the meaning is that these grammatical rules are not applied for paragraphs. bbc.co.uk/skillswise/topic-group/sentence-grammar. Do you know any grammar rule which is applied for the paragraph? – Darius Miliauskas Apr 26 '15 at 22:40
  • I'm confused about what you mean. Are you saying that if they're two different sentences, you can mix tenses any way you want? Would you find the following acceptable? "Jane sat down on the park bench. She comes to meet with her friend." Or are you saying you shouldn't mix tenses in the same sentence, so you don't like "Jane sat down on the park bench because she had come to meet with her friend" – Peter Shor Apr 26 '15 at 22:44
  • Yes. The first sentence has the meaning that she sat in the past there. The second sentence means that she always comes to sit there (it is a law). It is a very tiny meaning. The writer wanted to say that she sat there as well as it is the rule for Jane's world. Read it: english.stackexchange.com/questions/232228/… – Darius Miliauskas Apr 26 '15 at 23:02

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