Generally, an essay is told in present tense or past tense. Choosing which tense to use
depends on what you are trying to do in your essay. Follow these guidelines to keep verb
tenses in your essay under control.
- Past tense
Past tense is usually effective when telling a story...of something in the past...specific
examples, anecdotes and other experiential sections of the essay are generally in past tense.
- Ex.: Yesterday, I was late for class. I had 15 minute to be on campus, yet I hadn't eaten.
I entered the drive-through at Burger King to get a hamburger, but there was a van in front of
me; they took 7 whole minutes just to place the order, and another 4 to get the food and pay
for it. Needless to say, I was late, even though my order really only took about three minutes.
- Present tense
Present tense is generally used for discussing generally held beliefs, truth, or facts.
When making a point about human tendencies, present tense is the appropriate choice.
- Ex.: People tend to want everything immediately. That is why fast food is so popular today.
Americans eat millions of hamburgers every year. However, sometimes fast is not fast enough.
- Future tense
Future tense is used for predictions, projections and future events. It is used sparingly
in essays, but has a particular place and usefulness in college essay of all types.
- Ex.: Next time I will be sure to give myself more time. I will not be late to class again.
Updated November 30, 1999
© Mr. Thomas T. Eiland