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Osceola Writing Center

Inconsistent Verb Tense

English has many verb tenses, but just 3 main categories: past, present, and future. If you use these inconsistently in your paper, it can make it hard for your reader to understand exactly what you mean, or in the least it can be distracting.


In general, the most common verb tense used for research papers is the present tense. However, when necessary and appropriate, it is perfectly fine to have other tenses in your paper as well (past & future).

Using verb tenses inconsistently is when you go back and forth between tenses when you shouldn't. Take a look at this example:

In The Matrix, Keanu Reeves' character, Neo, did not think that he was "the one," especially after The Oracle told him that he was not. However, when he fights Mr. Smith, he realizes that he might actually be The One. At the end of the movie, Neo decided to accept who he was and go after the programs that made the matrix.

In the example, it goes from past to present and then back to past. However, the events being discussed are all part of the same chronological sequence, so it would be better to either stay in the past, or stay in the present.


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