mixed tenses

mixed tenses

Postby kenttony on Fri Apr 03, 2015 3:56 pm

Dear Professor,

Something regarding tenses has been troubling me these two days. I have been asked to write an article about a friend who was chosen as the best leader in an English camp organised last week. My main concern is that I have no idea which tense I should use whenever I want to describe my friend or give reasons on why he was chosen. Take the following paragraph from an sample essay, for example.

"There were so many reasons why he was chosen as the best group leader and one of them is that he was responsible. He is also a caring person who always made sure his group members were safe all the time."

I realize that my friend, as a matter of fact, is still alive and he is indeed caring and responsible. But all I've learned before tells me that "past tense" is a must if I want to narrate an event which has already happened in the past, particularly when a specific time is mentioned. If I change the above paragraph to the following situation, will that be a terrible mistake?

"There are so many reasons why he was chosen as the best group leader at the end of the camp. One of reasons is that he is a responsible and caring person. Being responsible for others, he made sure his group members were safe all the time when an activity was carried out. He made everyone work together and he knew how to handle tough situations. That proves that he is a responsible person and someone who deserves a special reward for all his commitment. Not only during the English camp, but also at home, he performs his duty as a son without any flaws. He always helps his mother with household chores and also his little sister with her homework. From the way he treated others, we all know that he is indeed an extremely caring person. "

Please correct my mistakes, Professor and enlighten me with a few more examples on tense shifting. I do need your help. I have learned a lot from this website and your blog. Your consideration for everyone of us here is very much appreciated. Thanks.

Re: mixed tenses

Postby prof on Tue Apr 07, 2015 10:47 pm

You appear to have grasped the basic point of when to use mixed tenses in this case.

When we describe what the friend did at the camp we use the past tense.(e.g. 'He showed leadership and helped others.') This is because the time at the camp is over, and the things that happened there are in the past,so we use the past tense for these events.

However, when we describe the friend's character we use the present tense if that person's character has not changed since he was at the camp. If he is a kind person now and he was a kind person at the camp, we use the present tense. In part this is because if we use the past (e.g. 'He was kind to other children at the camp') this might suggest that he is not usually kind although he was on that occasion.

While there are no mistakes in your suggested paragraph, remember that there is a tense in English which is specifically designed for this situation. This is the present perfect, which we use for things which happened in the past but which are still true now.

So in your paragraph you could say, for example 'That [what happened at the camp] has proven that he is a responsible person', 'he has performed his duty', and 'From the way he has treated others, we all know that he is indeed an extremely caring person'.
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