Say I'm writing a book with three sections: A, B, and C. Say I am currently writing section B and I want to refer to things I wrote in sections C and A. How would that be written grammatically? Do I use past tense for A and future tense for C?

In section A we saw that blah blah blah. In section C we will see that blah blah blah.

Note that the text in question is intended to not necessarily be read in order. So even though by the laws of nature A comes before B comes before C, when reading the text the reader could technically read C before B before A without any problem in comprehension (hence my confusion as to tense usage in my case).

  • I think many tenses can be used. For example, if you want to refer to section A, you can use 4 tenses: past simple, past continuous, past perfect or past perfect continuous, each one of those has a way to cover your needs when talking to the past. There are many ways to introduce them. As for section C, you can use more tenses, like future continuous, going to, future perfect or future perfect continuous. As you can see, either you choose whatever you want or stick to the tense you like according your needs.
    – Schwale
    Nov 18, 2015 at 19:29
  • So even though a reader could read section B before section A I would still use a past tense when referring to section A (in Section B)? So I would say something like "In section A we saw" even though the reader might not have even read A yet? Nov 18, 2015 at 19:31

1 Answer 1


My recommendations:

  1. Cast all your references to other sections in the simple present tense; use past or (where appropriate) present perfect for references to matters treated earlier in the current section, and future for references to matters still to be treated in the current section.

  2. Do not speak of what your readers "see" but of what you the author utter: "show", "say", "suggest", "demonstrate", and so forth.

  3. Make sure your first- and second-person pronouns have consistent reference. Use first-person pronouns only to refer to the author or authors, and second-person pronouns to refer to your readers. Avoid using we to refer to both parties, which may be momentarily confusing.

If you follow these recommendations you will be able to refer consistently to any part of the work. Supposing that the current section is B,

In Section A I (or we) show that . . .
In Section C I (or we) demonstrate that . . .
I (or we) mentioned (in B.2, above) that . . .
I (or we) have already established (in B.2) In B.6, below, I (or we) will demonstrate that . . .

In effect, you treat your own texts beyond the current section as external sources, exactly as you treat references to works by other authors.


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