Why Do You Need To Use Correct Tenses?

So why are tenses so important?

Why do we need to take care whether the action we are referring to ends with an -ed or -ing?

Moreover, what impact does the incorrect tense have at all? The message gets across anyway, right? Wrong!

Consider these two sentences:

  1. I’m having pizza for lunch.

  2. I had pizza for lunch.

Without complicating the explanation (for now) with reference to context (which is important to understand the message accurately, let’s see what each of these sentences indicate.

In the first example, the sentence ‘I am having pizza for lunch‘ is in present continuous tense. Usage of ‘am’ along with the ‘-ing’ form of the verb (here have is used as a substitute for eat) is indicative of present continuous tense. Present Continous tense is used to refer to actions that are ongoing at the time of speaking or will occur in the future.

In this particular example, it either means the action of eating pizza is in progress when the speaker makes the statement or the speaker will eat pizza during lunch that day. To understand which of the two meanings is applicable a reference to context may be helpful.

In the second example, it indicates the action of eating pizza is completed and hence this sentence is simple past tense. Here, the verb ‘had’ (past tense of ‘have’) is used as a substitute for ‘ate’, and so is not be confused with the ‘had’ of perfect aspect.

Now consider this :

Example 1a:

Joan: Let’s meet at Pizzeria Place at 11?

Karen: I’m having pizza for lunch. Can we meet someplace else?

Example 1b:

Joan: What are you eating?

Karen: I’m having pizza.

Example 2:

Mike: What’s for dinner? I’m famished.

Cassie: There’s some pizza leftover from today’s bake sale. I could reheat that.

Mike: I had pizza for lunch. I’ll prefer some soup instead.

Here, the meaning of the two sentences is quite evident because of the preceding dialogue.

Of course, context is important to communicate the message accurately. More important than the context, however, is the tense.

When used correctly, the tense communicates the meaning of the sentence on its own and helps specify the timing of action and the intentions of the speaker.

There are some verbs that shouldn’t be used in present continuous form at all. Some of these are ‘love’, ‘admire’, ‘know’. And yet, using them in perfect continous tense is common.

One famous example of popular but incorrect usage is the slogan of McDonald’s ‘I’m loving it.’ Although catchy, the sentence is incorrect as the verb love should always be in present tense.

Consider this now:

Example 3

Mike: What’s for dinner? I’m famished.

Cassie: There’s some pizza leftover from today’s bake sale. I could reheat that.

Mike: I have pizza for lunch. I’ll prefer some soup instead.

In this example, the sentence ‘I have pizza….’ is in simple present tense even though the speaker talks about a past event, i.e. lunch (it’s dinner time now).

Would it not confuse you while reading (or listening to) this conversation as to what the sequence of events might be, and hence, hamper your reading experience?

To ensure a smooth reading experience one should take care to present the correct sequential flow of events and occurrences, and hence, use the right tense.

 

For more on tenses, check out my course – English Language for Creative Writers.


Do you find tenses confusing? What is the one incorrect usage of tenses that puts you off most? Share your thoughts and doubts on tenses using the comment box below.

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13 thoughts on “Why Do You Need To Use Correct Tenses?

  1. Getting tenses right is such an important part of effective communication, and one where the best of us slip up sometimes. This is a very helpful post, and I’m sure your course will be fabulous. All the best!

    Like

  2. I’m happy to read your grammar post, Piyusha! All of us make mistakes when it comes to English…more so because it is not our primary language! I’m sure this will surely help. Looking forward for the next post.

    Like

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