#Prowrite: Verb Tenses and Subject-Verb Agreement

One of my real pet-peeves when reading is when there’s a problem with tenses or subject-verb agreement. It doesn’t matter how good your storyline is. If you make these fundamental errors, your reader will switch off.

Shifting Verb Tense

If you shift verb tense (for example, from past to present tense) in a sentence or passage without a good reason, you may confuse your reader.

EG:

Incorrect: After he joined the union, Sam appears at a rally and makes a speech.

This example is incorrect because “joined” is past tense, while “appears” is in present tense. You must ensure you stick to the same tense throughout your work, unless you’re shifting for a specific reason. Even then, within individual sentences, the verbs should all be the same tense.

Here’s the correct version of the example:

Correct: After he joined the union, Sam appeared at a rally and made a speech.

To proofread for verb tense errors, circle all verbs in your writing. Look at the verbs in sequence and check that you haven’t changed tense unintentionally.

Subject-Verb Agreement

Make sure that the subject and verb of each clause or sentence agree—that is, that a singular subject has a singular verbband a plural subject has a plural verb.

When other words come between subject and verb, you may mistake the noun nearest to the verb—before or
after—for the verb’s real subject.

EG:

Incorrect: A central part of my life goals have been to go to law school.

Correct: A central part of my life goals has been to go to law school.

Incorrect: The profits earned by the cosmetic industry is not high enough.

Correct: The profits earned by the cosmetic industry are not high enough.

*

These are tips I recommend you use when proofing a piece of work before submitting to your readers. The fewer errors there are, the less likely your reader is to be drawn out of the story!

prowrite

Ziv Gray View All →

#Queer writer of #YAFantasy and #YALGBT content. Blogger of all things #YA and writing help.

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