When and how writers mix tenses in one story?

 When and how writers mix tenses in one story?

When and how writers mix tenses in one story?
When and how writers mix tenses in one story?

A lot of expert writers recommend not to mix English tenses such as present simple and past simple. Beginner writers will mix them in the wrong way which leads to distraction to the reader. These are the quotes of writers, let's read what they say.

These quotes are taken from quora

The questions are: 

Can you mix the past and present tense in a story?

Evelyn Elwell Uyemura, MA Linguistics & Teaching English as a Foreign Language, Northeastern Illinois University (1985)
Answered September 15, 2020

Yes, sure. You can mix them in a single sentence, and often do:

“I love you,” he said. (present + past)

“I love you too. You are my soulmate,” she replied. (present + past)

“Will you marry me?” he asked. (future, just for good measure.)

Oh why stop there:

“Yes,” she said. “I have always dreamed of this day.”(present perfect + past)

He had always dreamed of it too, but now that the words were out of his mouth, he began to wonder if she really was the right person for him. Maybe he should have waited. (past perfect, past, perfect modal.)

You can mix any number of verbs in a narrative—as long as there’s a reason for them!

Gary Turner, MA (Cantab) Natural Sciences, University of Cambridge (1979)
Answered September 15, 2020

Yes. For example, you could write the main story in the present tense but have “flashback” episodes set in the past.

Should I use past tense or present tense when describing a place?

Evelyn Elwell Uyemura, MA Linguistics & Teaching English as a Foreign Language, Northeastern Illinois University (1985)
Answered November 1, 2019

Either one, depending on the context.

A. If you are describing a place just to tell us about it, and if it still exists, then present tense would make the most sense.

B: But if this is part of a story and the story is written in past tense, then of course the description will also be in past tense.

C: Or if you are describing a place that you visited last year, and you are putting yourself in the scene, it would all be past tense.

Case A: The Statue of Liberty is located in the mouth of New York Harbor, between New York and New Jersey. It can be seen by taking the Staten Island ferry from the southern tip of Manhattan—and the ferry ride is free. The Statue gleams a bright blue-green in the sun.

Case B: He walked to the southern tip of Manhattan and looked across the water at the Statue of Liberty. It was gleaming in the sun, and he thought of all the immigrants who had looked upon it with hope.

Case C: We walked to the tip of Manhattan and waited for the Staten Island Ferry. From the free ferry, we could clearly see the Statue of Liberty, which gleamed a blue-green color in the sun.

Alexis Van, MA English & Teaching English as a Foreign Language (2008)
Answered February 10, 2018

Present is used to describe facts. So you could describe much of it in present tense if you are describing things that are generally true about the place: it is so clean (if it is generally clean), the buildings are so tall, the museums are beautiful, the food is delicious, the traffic is crazy.

Past can be used when describing how it was when you visited it, so essentially your memories, especially if your memories vary from the general truth. For example, it was so cold, it very dirty (if it is generally thought to be clean), it flooded, we ate at the most charming restaurant.

Can we use both past and present tenses in a novel?


Edward Anderson, 7 years of Grammar School

Answered August 30, 2016

Yes, as long as your readers can follow the story. Often, you’ll use past, present and future tense in the same sentence, such as:

Marie turned [past] to Louis and said [past], “This bread tastes [present] stale; tomorrow I will ask [future] M’sieu Le Chef des Patisseries to bake some of that cake the peasants are always clamoring [present progressive] for.”

Okay, I’m no Ernie Hemingway, but you get the idea. Yes, it is allowed—it is actually somewhat expected—to use both past and present tense in a novel or almost any other piece of creative fiction. Except your timecard: that’s a bit of creative fiction that is usually expected to be in the past, unless you’re intended, as I once was, to turn it in the day before the pay period ends. 

Is it normal to use both past and present tense when writing a novel in the first person? 

Leigh Clayborne, Freelance Content Marketing Writer | SEO | Hubspot Cert.
Answered March 8, 2018

Yes. For example, most of a first person book may take place in the present. But there will be times when the narrator needs to refer to something they did last year or discuss a tragic event in the past.

I think what Neil Sarver is trying to point out is that you shouldn’t be switching back and forth unnecessarily.

They should only be relaying short points in time that clearly relate to the present moment.

To avoid showing not telling, you should also be careful not to fall into the trap of having the narrator explain something that just happened in the past tense.

Instead, the narrator should be living that moment in the present.


Glen Robinson, Author of 20 books, including sci-fi, steampunk and Christian suspense.

Answered March 8, 2018

The only situation I would find myself in where I would use both past and present tense when writing in the first person would be if the story is generally told in the present tense. Then in some situations—during flashbacks, most likely—you would go into past tense to signify that you were talking about something that happened in an earlier time. To do it any different than that, from my perspective, would be confusing.

Jean Rafenski Reynolds, Published 11 books and numerous articles

Answered March 7, 2018

Sure! Your narrator is probably going to be talking about what’s happening now and what happened in the past.

You need to study published novels to find out what novelists do and see how they solve problems. You can go to your local library, pull novels off the shelves, and study the strategies the authors used. It’s a great way to build your writing skills. 


How to Choose a TENSE for Your STORY?

I am writing a Wattpad story for the first time and I'm not a native English speaker. Should I mix present and past tense in the reporting verb?

Kaykay Spurgeon, Combating ADHD, potential writer, avid believer in logic.
Answered May 11, 2020

Without an example to go by, I'm a little lost, but I'll try to answer you to the best of my ability.

Reporting verbs are most often used in the past tense. Even if you're trying to convey that someone has just finished speaking, we use the past tense because they have technically finished talking.

“I can't believe it's Monday already,” she said.

If you're trying to say that someone says something often, you actually can use present tense for that, since it's a repeating action that hasn't ended yet.

Like Mom always says, “Don't play with your food.”

You could make it past tense too if you want to say that she finally gave up saying it.

Like Mom always said, “Don't play with your food.”

If you're talking about someone else talking, just use the past tense both times.

“She told me it was her birthday,” she said.

You know, the more I explain English the less I understand it.

How to use Present Simple in a short story?


Read more about short stories:

English short stories| The land of love By Mr.Zaki Badr | learn English


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