Tenses – Guide, Conditionals & Use in Academic Writing

26.09.22 Tenses Time to read: 11min

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Tenses-01

Adherence to the correct tenses is essential in academic writing, directly impacting its conciseness, clarity, and readability. At times, deciding on the appropriate tense could be relatively perplexing, entailing a careful application of language rules. Yet, the situation is not as complex as it may initially seem. As indicated by Cambridge University Press, the majority of students will only need a handful of tenses to express their ideas effectively, once they grasp the associated language rules.

Tenses in a nutshell

Tenses are used to express when an action happens: in the past, present, or future. They convey the timing and duration of events in a clear and structured way.

Definition: Tenses

Tenses are grammatical constructs that express the time at which an action or event takes place. In English, verb tenses are used to indicate whether an action occurs in the past, present, or future. They also convey additional information about the action, such as whether it is ongoing, completed, or habitual. As mentioned before, they can be divided into three main categories, which each have four aspects or subcategories: simple, continuous (also known as progressive), perfect, and perfect continuous. These subdivisions allow for a nuanced expression of time and aspect, which enables both speakers and writers to convey the exact nature of an action.

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The 12 tenses

There are a total of 12 time forms in English, each conveying details about the time and nature of the action. In this section, we will introduce you to all types and subtypes of tenses by dividing them into past, simple, and future. After this, we’ll provide you with a downloadable PDF document, that encompasses all time forms.

The present

The English language has four subcategories for the main category “present.” Each one will be explained below, along with numerous examples and how to form them.

Present simple, or simple present, is used to describe everyday actions and general truths. It’s the most basic of the English tenses for English learners, as it is often formed with just the root verb with no additions. The only mistake one can make, is to forget the suffix “-s” or “-es,” which is added to the verb when the subject is in third-person singular.

  • If the verb ends in –o, -ch, -sh, -th, -ss, -gh, or -z you add “-es.”
  • If the verb ends in a consonant and -y, you drop the -y and add “-ies.”

Structure

Subject + infinitive (+ “s” or “es” for 3rd person singular)

Examples

  • She writes a letter every day.
  • They play soccer on weekends.
  • He eats breakfast at 7 AM.

Present continuous, or present progressive, describes actions that are happening right now or around the current time. For this tense, auxiliary verbs are needed.

  • For singular first-person pronouns, you use “am.”
  • For third-person personal pronouns, you use “is.”
  • For plural personal pronouns, you use “are.”

Structure

Subject + am/is/are + verb+ing

Examples

  • She is writing a letter now.
  • They are playing soccer at the mument.
  • He is eating breakfast right now.

Present perfect is used to describe actions that were completed at some point before now, often with relevance to the present. It is formed with the auxiliary verbs have/has and the past participle of the verb, which is the second past form. More information can be found in our article on present perfect, which includes common temporal adverbs used with this tense, and our article on verb conjugation. More specifically, present perfect is used to describe actions that:

  • are ongoing, but started in the past
  • were completed very recently
  • were completed multiple times before and are likely to be completed again

Structure

Subject + have/has + past participle

Examples

  • She has written three letters today.
  • They have played soccer many times.
  • He has eaten breakfast already.

Present perfect continuous, or present perfect progressive, describes actions that started in the past and are still ongoing or have recently stopped. It is often used to emphasize the duration of the activity. It is formed by using the auxiliary verb have/has, been, and the -ing form of the verb.

Structure

Subject + have/has been + verb+ing

Examples

  • She has been writing letters all morning.
  • They have been playing soccer for two hours.
  • He has been eating breakfast since 7 AM.

The past

The English language has four subcategories for the main category “past.” Each category will be explained, as well as several example sentences and how to form them.

Past simple, or simple past, is used to describe actions that were completed at a specific time in the past. When it comes to this tense, there are two types of verbs: regular verbs and irregular verbs. How to form them can be found in our detailed article on the past simple tense, as well as many exercises and a helpful PDF document encompassing them all for a quick overview.

Structure

Subject + past simple form

Examples

  • She wrote a letter yesterday.
  • They played soccer last weekend.
  • He ate breakfast at 7 AM.

The past continuous, or past progressive, is commonly used to describe actions that were in progress and were completed at a specific time in the past. It is formed with the helping verb was/were and the -ing form of the verb.

Structure

Subject + was/were + verb+ing

Examples

  • She was writing a letter when I called.
  • They were playing soccer at 5 PM.
  • He was eating breakfast at 7 AM.

Past perfect is used to describe actions that were completed before another action in the past occurred. It is formed with the helping verb “had” and the past participle form of the verb.

Structure

Subject + had + past participle

Examples

  • She had written a letter before dinner.
  • They had played soccer before it started raining.
  • He had eaten breakfast before 8 AM.

The past perfect continuous, or past perfect progressive, is used to describe actions that were ongoing in the past until another past action occurred. The different between this tense and the past perfect tense, is that the former was ongoing, while the latter was a one-time occurrence.  The past perfect continuous is formed with the auxiliary verb “had” and “been”, along with the -ing form of the verb.

Structure

Subject + had been + verb+ing

Examples

  • She had been writing letters for an hour before dinner.
  • They had been playing soccer for an hour when it started raining.
  • He had been eating breakfast for 30 minutes before 8 AM.

The future

In English, there are four subcategories for the main category “future.” Each one will be explained, as well as numerous example sentences and how they’re formed.

Future simple, or simple future, is used to describe actions that will happen at a specific time in the future. It is formed by using the modal verb “will” (or the modal verb “shall,” which is more formal and less commonly used with first-person pronouns) before the infinitive of the verb. If the action will happen in the near future, you can also use the present continuous tense instead.

While “shall” is less commonly used in modern English, it can often be seen in formal or legal writing, as it is used to make polite offers or suggestions and conveys a stronger sense of resiliency or inevitability.

Structure

Subject + will + infinitive

Examples

  • She will write a letter tomorrow.
  • They will play soccer next weekend.
  • He will eat breakfast at 7 AM.

Future continuous, or future progressive, is used to describe actions that will be ongoing at a specific time in the future. It is formed by using the helping verbs “will/shall” with “be” and the -ing form of the verb. It is often used to show more certainty than the future simple tense.

Structure

Subject + will be + verb+ing

Examples

  • She will be writing a letter at this time tomorrow.
  • They will be playing soccer at 5 PM tomorrow.
  • He will be eating breakfast at 7 AM tomorrow.

Future perfect is used to describe actions that will be completed before a specific future time. It is formed with “will have” and the past participle of the verb.

Structure

Subject + will have + past participle

Examples

  • She will have written the letter by tomorrow.
  • They will have played soccer by the time you arrive.
  • He will have eaten breakfast by 7 AM.

Future perfect continuous, or future perfect progressive, is used to describe actions that will be ongoing until a specific future time. Although it’s a rare occurrence in everyday life, this tense is used to emphasize the duration.

Structure

Subject + will have been + verb+ing

Examples

  • She will have been writing letters for two hours by the time you arrive.
  • They will have been playing soccer for an hour when you arrive.
  • He will have been eating breakfast for 30 minutes by 7:30 AM.
Tenses-chart-examples

Below, we have created a PDF document that encompasses the information above along with exercises.

Tenses chart & examples
Download

Conditionals

Conditionals are grammatical sentence structures used to discuss possible or hypothetical situations and their consequences. They are important for tenses because they rely on specific verb forms to indicate when the condition and its result take place. The four types of conditionals will be explained below along with examples.

Zero conditional

The zero conditional is used for general truths or scientific facts where the result is always true if the condition is met.

Structure

If + present simple, present simple

First conditional

The first conditional is used for real and possible situations in the future.

Structure

If + present simple, will + infinitive

Second conditional

The second conditional is used for hypothetical or unlikely situations in the present or future.

Structure

If + past simple, would + infinitive

Third conditional

The third conditional is used for hypothetical situations in the past that did not happen.

Structure

If + past perfect, would have + past participle

Conditional Example
Zero conditional If it rains, the ground gets wet.
First conditional If she studies hard, she will pass the exam.
Second conditional If I won the lottery, I would travel the world.
Third conditional If they had left earlier, they would have caught the train.

Common tenses in academic writing

Three tenses are most commonly used in academic writing: present simple, past simple, and present perfect. The following paragraph introduces the functions and includes numerous examples for each one.

The present simple

Often considered to be the most common tense, the present simple serves several functions:

  1. To emphasize the primary focus of the article.
  2. To reinforce what is presently known about a topic.
  3. To make general observations and statements.
  4. To reference previous papers as well as current tables and figures.

Examples

  1. This study highlights the effects of climate change.
  2. Research indicates that a gender pay gap exists.
  3. Scholars regard academic careers as the most lucrative way to earn more money.
  4. This chart presents the results from prior control groups.

The past simple

Let us now examine when the past simple can be used as well as some examples:

  1. Reporting findings from a previous study where the author is named.
  2. Discuss what methods and/or data were utilized.
  3. Highlighting the results of ongoing research.
  4. Emphasizing that an event occurred in the past.

Examples

  1. Smith et al. found that the initial results were spurious.
  2. Quantitative analyses were employed.
  3. Our team implemented a double-blind study.
  4. The subjects had to report back weekly.

The present perfect

Let’s finally discuss the present perfect tense, as well as when it is most often used.

  1. When introducing new subjects.
  2. Generally summarizing what has already taken place.
  3. Citing prior findings without mentioning other authors.
  4. Making connections between the past and the present.

Examples

  1. An impressive body of research has shown.
  2. Prior findings have been illustrated.
  3. Others have discovered.
  4. Previous research has indicated a relationship.
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Tenses in a research paper

A research paper consists of various sections, such as the abstract or methodology, and each of these sections necessitates a distinct tense. The following sections state and explain which tense is used in which component.

Abstract

Most experts agree that the present simple tense is best utilized within the abstract. This is a clear way to state facts and highlight the subsequent results.

Examples

  • Depression correlates with weight gain.
  • Research indicates that a relationship exists.

Introduction

Introductions are used to provide further information that is believed to be true. Thus, both present perfect and present simple tense should be used.

Examples

  • Research has proven mutations protect plants from diseases.
  • Our study shows that confirmation bias exists.

Theoretical framework

Theoretical frameworks are intended to reinforce an existing theory and why the issue in question exists. Therefore, the majority of the information should be addressed with present simple or present perfect.

Examples

  • Present perfect: Prior research has uncovered
  • Present simple: The table below presents details…

Methodology & results

The methodology of the study and the results will always occur before a conclusion is reached. Therefore, it is best to employ the past simple tense. This tense ensures clarity when discussing completed actions.

Examples

  • Our team established specific parameters…
  • The subsequent studies correlated with…

Conclusion

A combination of past and present tense verbs can be used when presenting a conclusion (depending upon what is being discussed).

Examples

  • Past simple: Our research indicated that…
  • Present perfect: These results have proven that…
  • Present simple: Ultimately, evidence indicates that…

litreature review

litreature reviews often use the past simple tense to explain previous findings, highlighting what has been discovered in the past.

Examples

  • In his groundbreaking study, Smith et al. found that…
  • Longitudinal study findings confirmed that…
  • Exploratory research coincided with our ultimate findings.

FAQs

Three verb tenses represent the lion’s share of those utilized within an academic paper. The most common tenses are:

  • Present simple
  • Past simple
  • Past perfect

The 12 tense forms are: present simple, present continuous, present perfect, present perfect continuous, past simple, past continuous, past perfect, past perfect continuous, future simple, future continuous, future perfect, and future perfect continuous.

The three main types are: present, past, and future.

Examples

Simple present: She goes to college every week.

Simple past: She went to college last week.

Simple future: She will go to college next week.


From

Melissa Gertschnig

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Melissa Gertschnig works as a Junior Content Manager for the English market at BachelorPrint. A love for languages and other cultures has led her to become a foreign language correspondence clerk, with a primary focus on English and Spanish. This gained her a high proficiency English level in listening, writing, and reading. During her training, Melissa had been awarded a Level 2 Pearson LCCI Certificate for Business English. While working full-time, she earned her certificate in Online Marketing, which ultimately led her to BachelorPrint, where she delivers professionally written and educational content for students all around the world.

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