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Can anyone please explain to me the concept of verb shifting? And if possible, please give an example where the story is based in the past, and has suddenly changed tenses. Cheers ! Here is an extract of a text I would like to know about.

They were lucky enough to have escaped the clutches of the Giant. However, they had suffered a tremendous loss. Their resources were reduced to ashes and now, they have just lost their leader. Without their leader, they were nothing.

Ok, so Im trying to imply that this short story is based in the past, is the phrase 'have just' correct? If it is, why?

  • Your question is difficult to answer given its current scope. What made you ask it? Can you narrow it down to a specific example of verb shifting? Or something you think is verb shifting? – JMB Sep 29 '14 at 13:31
  • Ok! Sorry! Here it is : They were lucky enough to have escaped the clutches of the Giant. However, they had suffered a tremendous loss. Their resources were reduced to ashes and now, they 'have just' lost their leader. Without their leader, they were nothing. Ok, so Im trying to imply that this short story is based in the past, is the phrase 'have just' correct? If it is, why? And of course, it is wrong, kindly explain why :D And while you're at it, help me understand verb shift :-) – Timothy Ong Sep 29 '14 at 13:35
  • A common example where the story is based in the past, and has suddenly changed tenses is called the storytelling present. You start telling a story or describing an event in the past tense and then switch to the present tense (including present perfect) in order to make the events more vivid. – user6951 Sep 29 '14 at 14:10
  • Your question would be more appropriate for a fiction writing site, because it probably involves the use of past-tense as a narrative mode. When past-tense narrative mode is used, then past-tense is used to describe events that are occurring as a scene is dynamically unfolding before the reader's eyes: the past-tense verbs are not used to indicate past time, but rather, they are used to describe what is currently happening in the scene. BUT, if the writer is using present-tense narrative mode (or a narrator where the present-tense is for the narrator's present) then that is something else. – F.E. Sep 29 '14 at 18:14
  • Thanks!! Do you have a link to a good fiction writing site? :D – Timothy Ong Oct 1 '14 at 13:42
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Yes, this is an example of verb tense shifting. This is because in the middle of our paragraph told in the past, we are suddenly confronted with a present perfect (have just). This is an incorrect use, since we are talking about the same timeframe as the rest of the paragraph. It should be "had just".*

Verb tenses demand some consistency; a story in the past should likely be entirely in the past. The future in the future and so on.

Often, it seems verb tense shifting refers to the erroneous act of conjugating a verb in an inappropriate tense. Here is one such example:

[Source](http://www.towson.edu/ows/tenseconsistency.htm)Verb Tense Shift

Often, of course, it is legitimate to use a variety of tenses in a single paragraph, or even a sentence. The important factor, is that they are appropriate tenses.

Yesterday, I was eating the cake which I had made the day before, when I dropped a big chunk on the floor.

The above example shows usage of a variety of past tenses, appropriately used to describe the action they pertain to.

It is also common to see past and present (and other combinations) used together. Consider:

The children are playing in the tree house they built themselves.

In short, one's use of tenses must be consistent with the time reference and other verb tenses around it. This article has some very nice examples.

*"now" can be misleading. In this case, it means "at that point" (in the past).

  • Ok thank you!! Before that, is the word 'today' acceptable in an essay based in the past? Example," With his close-cropped hair, unlined face and pale eyes, he'd always looked around fifty years old but today, he looked at least seventy" Note that event happened in the past. – Timothy Ong Sep 29 '14 at 15:13
  • Yes, it is, as long as your commentary has reached that point in time. If you needed to be extra careful and use a past reference, you could use "that day". – JMB Sep 29 '14 at 15:15

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