This is a question from my English exercise book:

Choose the best answer A, B, C or D to complete the following sentences.

In the article, he ____ that the problems in the refugee camps are getting worse.

A. wrote B. had written C. writes D. has written

I checked the source and found it was from Cambridge Dictionary (link). Would it be correct if I use the past simple tense 'wrote' in this case to indicate the action already finished / completed in the past? I don't understand why the present tense 'writes' is used in this case. Could you explain the purpose of this?

  • The present tense is used in the "that" clause; one purpose of the exercise may be to help you notice and understand agreement in tense. Also, it's conventional to use the present tense in journalism and, as noted in some commentary below, in the humanities. (Note, by the way, that all of the options yield a grammatically correct sentence in English.) – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Nov 2 '16 at 18:45

Although wrote would be grammatical, the convention when referring to what an author wrote in an article, especially a recent one, is to use the present, writes.

The author writes that ...

P.S. Many native speakers, if they did not learn about this convention in school, would say "wrote". What governs the choice of tense here is not grammar but literacy.

  • 2
    +1 But not just literacy. Present tense is conventional in the humanities, where works are deemed to be present to readers, but APA style calls for past or perfect in referring to even the most recent works. In the soft sciences, apparently, you're out-of-date as soon as you publish. – StoneyB on hiatus Nov 2 '16 at 13:15
  • 1
    Publish and perish? – Tᴚoɯɐuo Nov 2 '16 at 14:05

I think this was a terrible test question. All four choices result in a grammatically correct sentence. Both "writes" and "wrote" are commonly used by fluent English speakers. The other two could be appropriate depending on the context.

  • 1
    doquan0 says it's an exercise question, not a test question, so that's a relief. Still it doesn't give me much confidence in the person writing the tests, if they think this is an acceptable exercise. – Andrew Nov 2 '16 at 16:30
  • 1
    @Jay The exercise asks for the best answer, not one that results in a grammatically correct sentence. Agreement in tense is a pretty basic lesson for new learners. – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Nov 2 '16 at 18:40
  • @P.E.Dant "Agreement in tense" doesn't mean that all the verbs in a sentence have to be in the same tense. They may very well not be if events happen at different times. For example, "Yesterday I decided that next Monday I will wear my blue shirt." Surely you would not say that that should be, "Yesterday I will decide that next Monday I will wear my blue shirt" to make the verbs have the same tense. – Jay Nov 3 '16 at 6:19
  • @Jay Of course. All verbs in a sentence need not agree in tense. I have always suspected that to be so! (...Ahem...) That's not my point. My point is that recognition of that agreement was the "teaching point" of this exercise. I think that was the objective here: it was what the OP was meant to consider. Just my opinion, of course; but I'm right! – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Nov 3 '16 at 6:27

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.