Use of the wrong tense


Using the third person singular after does instead of the infinitive without to.

(a) To ask questions:

  1.   Don’t Say: Does  the gardener waters  the flowers?
  2. Say: Does the gardener water the flowers?

(b) To make negatives:

  1. Don’t Say: The man doesn’t waters the  flowers.
  2. Say: The man doesn’t water the flowers.

After the auxiliary does use the infinitive without to, and not the third person of the present.

Note: The answer to a question beginning with Does is always in the present tense, third person: Does he like the cinema? Yes, he likes the cinema; or Yes, he does.

Using the past tense after did instead  of the  infinitive without to.

(a) To ask questions:

  1. Don’t Say:  Did you went  to  school  yesterday?  
  2. Say: Did you go to school  yesterday?

(b) To make negatives:

  1. Don’t Say: I  did not went to school  yesterday.
  2. Say: I did not go to school yesterday.

Use the present infinitive without to, not the past tense after the auxiliary did.

Note: the answer to a question beginning with did is always in the past tense: Did you see the picture? -Yes, I saw the picture; or Yes, I did.

Using the third person singular after can, must, etc., instead 6f the infinitive without to.

  1. Don’t Say: Ian can speaks English very well.
  2. Say: Ian can speak English very well.

After the verbs can, must, may, shall, and will, use the infinitive without to, and not the third person of the present.

Using will/’ll instead of would/’d in a subordinate clause.

  1. Don’t Say:  He said (that) he will/’ll come tomorrow. 
  2. Say: He said (that) he would/’d come tomorrow.

 Will/’ll changes to would/’d in subordinate causes, when the verb in the main clause is in a past tense.

Wrong sequence of tenses.

  1. Don’t Say: Rachel asked me what I am doing.
  2. Say: Rachel asked me what I was doing.

When the verb in the main clause is in the past tense, use a past tense in subordinate clauses.

 Note: This rule doesn’t apply (1) to verbs within quotations, (2) to facts that are true at all times. We say:

  1. She said, ‘I am waiting for your answer’
  2. He said that London is a great city

Using can instead of could in a subordinate clause.

  1. Don’t Say: Ben thought he can win the prize.
  2.   Say: Ben thought he could win the prize.

Can changes to could in subordinate clauses, when the verb in the main clause is in the past simple tense.

  • Using the past simple tense after to + the infinitive.
  1. Don’t Say: He tried to kicked the ball away.
  2. Say: He tried to kick the ball away.

Don’t use the simple past tense after to.

Using the past simple tense after an auxiliary verb, instead of the past participle.

  1. Don’t Say:  I’ve forgot to bring my book.
  2. Say:  I’ve forgotten to bring my book.

Use the past participle (and not the past tense) with the auxiliary verb have an its parts.

Using may instead of might in a subordinate clause.

  1. Don’t Say:  Last Sunday Alisa told me that she may come.
  2.   Say: Last Sunday Alisa told me that she might come.

 May changes to might in subordinate clauses, when the verb in the main clause is in the past simple tense.

 Note: The conjunction that is never preceded by a comma.

Using the present perfect instead of the simple past tense.

  1. Don’t Say: I have seen a good film yesterday.
  2. Say: I saw a good film yesterday.

Use the simple past tense (and not the present perfect) for an action complete in the past at a stated time.

Note: When a sentence has a word or a phrase denoting past time, like yesterday, last night, last week, last year, then, ago, etc., always use a simple past tense.

Using the simple past tense instead of the present perfect.

  1.  Don’t Say: I saw the Parthenon of Athens.
  2. Say: have seen the Parthenon of Athens.

If we are speaking of the result of a past action rather than of the action, we must use the present perfect tense. When somebody says, I have seen Panthenon, he or she is not thinking so much of the past act of seeing it, as the present result of that past action.

Using must or ought to to express a past obligation.

  1. Don’t Say: You ought to come yesterday.
  2. Say: You ought to have come yesterday.
  3. Or: You should have come yesterday.

Don’t use must and ought to as past tenses. To express a past duty (which wasn’t done) use the perfect infinitive without to after ought to or should, or expressions such as had to, was obliged to.

Note: In indirect speech use must and ought to as past tenses: He said he must do it.

Using the simple past tense with a recent action, instead of the present perfect.

  1. Don’t Say:  The clock struck.  
  2.  Say: The clock has struck.

If we are speaking of an action just finished, we must use the present perfect instead of the simple past tense. For example, immediately after the clock strikes, we shouldn’t say The clock struck, but The dock has struck.

Using the simple present instead of the present perfect after a since clause of time.

  1. Don’t Say:  Since he came, we’re happy.
  2. Say: Since he came, we’ve been happy.

The verb after a since clause of time is generally in the present perfect tense.

Using the simple present instead of the present perfect.

  1. Don’t Say: I’m at this school two years.
  2.  Say: I‘ve been at this school two years.

Use the present perfect (and not the simple present) for an action begun in the past and continuing into the present. I’ve been at this school two year means I’m still here.

Using the simple present instead of the present continuous.

  1. Don’t Say: Look! Two boys fight.
  2. Say: Look! Two boys are fighting.

Note: We also use the present continuous for the future when something is pre-arranged or expected with some certainty: Lorna is arriving tomorrow at six. Tom and I are eating out tonight

Using the present continuous for a habitual action, instead of the simple present.

  1.           Don’t Say:  Every morning I’m going for a walk.
  2.           Say: Every morning I go for a walk.

Use the simple present (and not the present continuous) to express a present habitual action.

Note: Use the present continuous to express a habitual action with the word always or with a verb denoting a continuous state: He is always talking in class; He is living in London.

Using the verb  to use for the present habitual action.

  1. Don’t Say: I use to get up at six every morning.
  2. Say: I get up at six every morning.
  3. Or: I’m accustomed to getting up at six, etc. 

The verb to use doesn’t express a habit in the present. / use means /employ: I use a pen to write with.

Note: Used to expresses a past state or habit and it usually refers to some old situation which no longer exists: I used to see him every day; My father used to play football very well.

The continuous form of the tense misused.

  1. Don’t Say:  I’m understanding the lesson now.
  2.  Say: I understand the lesson now.

As a rule, verbs denoting a state rather than an act have no continuous forms, like understand, know, believe, like, love, belong, prefer, consist, mean, hear, see, etc.

Using the past continuous for a habitual action, instead of the simple past tense.

  1. Don’t Say: Last year I was walking to school every day.
  2. Say: Last year I walked to school every day.

Use the simple past tense to express a habit in the past, and not the past continuous

Note: Use the past continuous tense to describe events in the past happening at the time another action took place: I was walking to school when I met him.

Using the past perfect instead of the simple past tense.

  1. Don’t Say:  I’d  finished  the  book  yesterday
  2. Say: I finished the  book yesterday.

Don’t use the past perfect unless there is another verb in the past tense in the same sentence.

Using the past tense instead of the past perfect.

  1. Don’t Say: The train already left before I arrived.
  2. Say: The train had already left before I arrived.

Use the past perfect when the time of one past action is more past than that of another. Put the action which was completed first in the past perfect and the second action in the past tense.

Note: Don’t use the present tense and the past perfect in the same sentence. It would be incorrect to Say: My brother says that he had not gone to the cinema last night.

Using the future in a clause of time, instead of the present tense.

  1. Don’t Say: I’ll see you when I shall come back.
  2. Say: I’ll see you when I come back.

If the verb in the main clause is in the future, the verb in the time

clause must be in the present tense

Using the present tense after as if or as though instead of the past.

  1. Don’t Say: Janine talks as if she knows everything.
  2. Say: Janine talks as if she knew everything.

Use the past tense after the phrase as if or as though. He talks as if he knew everything, means He talks as he would talk if he knew everything.

Note: Use the subjective were with the verb to be after as if: He acts as if he were a rich man

Using the future in the if clause instead of the present tense.

  1. Don’t Say: If he’ll ask me, I will/’ll stay.
  2. Say: If he asks me, I will/’ll stay.

Use the present tense in a future conditional in the if clause and the future tense in the main clause

Note: But the future tense may be used in an if clause expressing a request: If you will/’ll give me some money I will/’ll buy you a drink.

Using the past conditional of wish instead of the present indicative.

  1. Don’t Say: I would wish to know more English.
  2. Say: I wish (that) I knew more English.

Use the present tense of wish to express a present meaning, followed by a that clause containing a past tense.

Using a wrong tense with a counterfactual condition.

  1. Don’t Say: If he would/’d have asked me, I would/’d stay.
  2. Say: If he had/’d asked me, I would/’d have stayed.

Express a counterfactual (that didn’t happen) condition by the past perfect and use the past conditional in the main clause. This use of the past perfect doesn’t indicate a time but an impossible happening.

Using a wrong tense with an improbable condition.

  1. Don’t Say: If he would/’d ask me, I would/’d stay.
  2. Say: If he asked me, I would/’d stay.

Express an improbable condition by the past tense and use the conditional in the main clause. This use of the past tense doesn’t indicate a time but a degree of probability.

Mixing up the tenses.

  1. Don’t Say: They asked him to be captain, but he refuses.
  2. Say: They asked him to be captain, but he refused.

If you begin with a verb referring to past time, keep the verb forms in the past. The same rule applies to tenses throughout a composition.

Have another look at …

Using the infinitive instead of a finite verb.

  1. Don’t Say: Sir, to go home to get my book?
  2. Say: Sir, may I go home to get my book?

The infinitive simply names an action without reference to person, number or time. Therefore, it can’t make sense without the help of a finite verb.

Use of certain tenses


1. Use the Simple Present for habitual or frequent actions, and use the Present Continuous for actions taking place at the present moment.

Example:  I read the newspaper every day. I’m reading an English book (now).

2. Use the Simple Past when a definite time or date is mentioned, and use  the Present Perfect when no time is mentioned.

Example:  I did my homework  last night.  I’ve done my homework (so I can watch TV – or whatever – now).

3. Express habitual or repeated actions in the past either by the  Simple  Past or by the phrase  used to.

Example: I went (or I used to go) to the cinema every week last year.

Note: Don’t use the Past Continuous (/ was going) for a past habitual action, but for an action in the past continuing at the time another action took place: I was going to the cinema when I met him.

4. The only correct tense to use is the Present Perfect if the action began in. the past and is still continuing in the present.

Example:  I‘ve been in this class for two months.

5. Be very careful NOT to use the future but the Present tense in a clause of time or condition, if the verb in the main clause is in the future.

Example: I will/’ll visit the Parthenon when I go (or if I go) to Athens.

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