Inappropriate Tense Shifts
Verb tense helps readers understand when something
happened, when it will happen, or that it is happening. If
your tense choice is inappropriate, your readers may find the time
frame in your paper confusing. Likewise, if you go back and
forth between two tenses, even though you appear to be writing about
one time period, readers will be confused.
set the museum on fire while they are both still in it.
Jarrod tried to stop Wallace, but was unsuccessful.
This excerpt from a student paper
about a film starts in past tense (set), switches to present
(are), and then switches back to past (tried, was)
again--even though the present tense verb does not describe
something that happened after the three past tense actions.
Since this student wrote his paper after
watching the film, he could have described the whole episode in
past tense and avoided inappropriate tense shifts:
Wallace set the museum
on fire while they were both still in it. Jarrod
tried to stop Wallace, but was unsuccessful.
However, it might be more appropriate
to put the entire passage in present tense. In academic
writing, scholars often use present tense when discussing a film,
a work of literature, an essay, or some other creative work:
Wallace sets the museum
on fire while they are both still in it. Jarrod
tries to stop Wallace, but is unsuccessful.