Verb Tenses: Tense Sequencing in Discourse


In this short video, we’ll be discussing
tense sequencing in discourse. Before we get started, we need to define some
important terms. The first term is discourse which is spoken or written communication. Some
examples of spoken discourse are conversations,
storytelling, and speeches. Some examples of written discourse are email messages,
text messages, paragraphs, and essays and even within paragraphs or essays it can
be storytelling or a narrative. Another term we need to know is ‘time frame’ which
is a period of time in which something takes place. We have three main time
frames when we’re talking about tense sequencing in discourse. We have present
time frame, past time frame. and future time frame. We’ll be focusing on present
time frame and past time frame in this lecture since these are probably the
most important for you in academic writing. Something to note, time frames
are not the same as tenses, so we know that English has many tenses, but they’re
different from the time frames. So why do we need to know about tense sequencing? Tense
sequencing will help us in knowing what verb tenses we’ll use in our writing
based on the time frame that we’re writing in. So we won’t be using all the
different verb tenses in English in all pieces of writing or speaking. If we know
the time frame, we can kind of limit the number of verb tenses we need to use. So
the first time frame we’re going to be discussing is present time frame. So when
we’re writing in th present time frame our focus time is the present or
now. S,o one of the tenses we use or probably the most common tense we use is
present simple. When we want to refer to a time before the focus time, we use
present perfect and simple past. When we want to refer to a time after the present
time, we use future or simple future. Here’s an example paragraph about
climate change which is in the present time frame. So, the focus time is the
present or now, so we can see that all the verbs which are highlighted in red
are in present simple present such as ‘is,’ ‘lasts,’ ‘may refer,’ ‘is caused,’ and we have one
verb phrase here that’s in present perfect. So this particular sentence
‘Researchers have identified certain human activities as primary causes of
ongoing climate change . . .” This is referring to a time before the focus time. The
second time phrase is past time frame, so when we discuss the past time frame our
focus time is this simple past. So we’ll use the simple past tense when
our focus time is the past. When we want to refer to a time before this focus
time, we’ll use past perfect, and when we want to refer to a
time after the focus time we use simple past. So this may be a little bit
difficult to see using simple past to talk about the past and also after the
past, but we need to remember that we’re talking about a time frame, so our
reference point is some time in the past or starting point is some time in the
past. So let’s take a look at an example of a narrative that’s in the past time
frame. If you’ve watched the previous video on past perfect versus past simple,
you’ll recognize this paragraph. But, as you can see the verb tenses that are
used here since this time frame in this piece of writing are simple
past, ‘was,’ ‘went,’ ‘was,’ ‘thought,’ ‘got’ ‘needed’ ‘decided,” so we have a lot of simple past
and basically the only other verb tense that we use in this
paragraph is past perfect ‘had eaten’ and also we have ‘had always wanted’ so you
can see that the focus time in this paragraph is the past or the past
time frame.