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Understanding the six tenses that are possible in English grammar will permit you to not only choose the correct tense, but also to accurately and correctly depict time within your writing.

The six tenses are:

  1. Simple present
  2. Present perfect
  3. Simple past
  4. Past perfect
  5. Future
  6. Future perfect

Simple verb tenses describe an action occurring in the chosen time frame.

  • Simple present: describes an action happening now, in the present.
    • e.g. they speak
  • Simple past: describes an action that occurred and finished in the past.
    • e.g. they spoke
  • Simple future: describes an action that will occur in the future
    • e.g. they will speak

Perfect verb tenses describe an action that started in the past and either still continues or the effect of the action still continues.

  • Present perfect: describes an action that started in the past and is still continuing
    • e.g. they have spoken for 2 hours
  • Past perfect: describes an action that started in the past and was complete when another action started; includes "had" and the past participle.
    • e.g. they had spoken before they made a decision
  • Future perfect: describes an action will be complete by a certain point in time
    • e.g. they will have spoken by 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday.

APA Re: Verb Tenses

Within a thesis, the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th edition) suggests the following tenses for the associated section:

  • Past tense (e.g., "Smith demonstrated") or present perfect tense (e.g., “Smith has demonstrated”) is “appropriate for the literature review and discussion of procedure if the discussion is of past events” (APA, 2010, p.66).
  • Use past tense for the results (p.66).
  • Use present tense “to discuss the results and to present the conclusions. By reporting conclusions in the present tense, you allow readers to join you in deliberating the matter at hand” (p.66).

See section 3.18 in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th edition) for more information on verb tenses.

For more information regarding the types of tenses, please refer to The OWL at Purdue: Verb Tenses.

For a list of irregular verbs and their correct present, past, and past perfect forms (e.g. be, was/were, been), please refer to The OWL at Purdue: Irregular Verbs.

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