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First, my teacher taught us to use present verb tense in a summary, but sometimes I just really want to use past tense.

for example (sociology essay,informal tho)

A black female student is physically and verbally abuse by other students. Students bully her because she is academically advanced. Bullies call the victim’s racial names like “oreo” "white girl" and "wanna be white girl." Bullies try to push her down a flight of stairs, hit her with a bookbag, chip two of her teeth. Victim’s parents decide to remove her from the school and place her in home school because of things get so bad. Victim’s parents also inform district officials, but nothing change.

Victim’s parents decide to remove her from the school and place her in home school because of things get so bad.

Victim’s parents decided to remove her from the school and place her in home school because of things got (or gotten?) so bad.

Victim’s parents also inform district officials, but nothing change.
Victim’s parents also informed district officials, but nothing changed.

like it happened in the past (well for the first one I kinda get it , because it happens after the bully,) the second one, changed, I feel like it happened (after they informed them) like I'm just so confused


A Summary of “The Real Reason Why Highway Deaths Are Down” by Robert Reich

In the article “The Real Reason Why Highway Deaths Are Down” the author, Reich, points out the real reason why highway deaths are down. The U.S. has a 3.9 percent drop in traffic fatalities since 2006. According to Reich, the real reason why highway deaths are down is the economy. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters credits the decline to safer vehicles. Reich argues that safer vehicles is not the reason, because the cars on our roads are basically the same. Some say that our roads are safer. Reich states that our roads did not abruptly improve, one major bridge even caved in. Reich concludes that economy is the real reason why highway deaths are down, because when the economy is going down, fewer people are on the roads due to high gas prices, another explanation is when unemployment rises, fewer people commute to work. (this is the summary I wrote seriously)

Reich states that our roads did not abruptly improve (this is the one I want to use)
Reich states that our roads are not abruptly improve (in present tense)

The first sentence, I feel like it is better, because it happened The second sentence is just weird, like weird....

...one major bridge even caved in.
...one major bridge even cave in.

Wouldn't that be weird? since the bridge DID cave in.

Really need help with these. It has always been a problem for me about past/present tense. (I am not asking for homework help, I already finished it, well...I don't know honestly, just have to give some example)

  • You are not summarizing a narrative there with the bullies, but writing a narrative. Use past tense when writing a narrative. Use present tense when summarizing a narrative someone else has written. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Apr 3 '18 at 10:44
  • With the Reich essay, we refer to the essay or to the essayist using the present tense Reich states but we use normal past tenses when referring to past events that are cited in the essay, either roads did not improve or roads had not improved. The past perfect in that context would signal reported speech. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Apr 3 '18 at 10:48
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Your teacher is talking about the customary practice of using the present tense when summarizing someone else's text:

In the movie Star Wars, we open with Princess Leia chased and captured by the evil Darth Vader. Before she is caught two of her robots escape with the stolen Death Star plans, and crash on the planet below. Eventually they meet up with Luke Skywalker and Ben Kenobi, who recruit the smugglers Han Solo and Chewbacca to help them get to the planet Alderaan to deliver the plans.

However, someone else's text can include past references, which you should not shift to the present tense

In his essay, the author claims that Chamberlain had the best intentions when he made peace with Germany in 1937, since he wanted to avoid war as long as possible, but he severely misjudged the full scope of Hitler's military ambition. However the author goes on to say that ...

It's common to mix various tenses in a single essay, depending on the time frame when they happen. While this may be confusing at first, you should quickly become used to it, and automatically fit the pieces where they belong in time.

  • So for my Reich essay, I am using someone else's text which I should use past tense instead of present tense? – Jason Yi Apr 3 '18 at 23:33
  • @JasonYi You should use the present tense unless referring to statements where Reich himself uses the past tense, e.g. "Reich states that the roads did not suddenly improve." – Andrew Apr 3 '18 at 23:50

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