Red Pen Tidbits 9: Verb Tenses — 2 Tips for Errors (Author Toolbox)

Welcome back to Red Pen Tidbits (click for a full table of contents)! Last time we looked at a few of those tricky commonly confused words.

This week, by special request from  Erika Beebe, we’ll dive into verb tenses and how they affect our writing.

What exactly are we talking about here?

We’re all aware of the basic verb tenses: present, past, and future. Are you aware of the other tenses that hop into our writing?

Instead of explaining each one, I found this amazing graphic that will help explain them all so much better than I could in a tidbit. (Look at the cute little graphs!)

Image result for verb tenses in english
Image from here

Okay, then… How does this apply to my writing?

Great question! When we’re writing, we can often get lost in the moment with our characters. That sometimes leads to a change in verb tenses (and sometimes a change in point of view — but that’s a whole other issue).

In this tidbit, we’ll look at two strategies for catching and preventing these errors.

1. Circle your verbs.

This may seem like a lot of work, especially if you’re writing a novel, so let’s narrow it down. Choose a page or two to start with, and circle your verbs. ALL of them!

Then, use the chart above to see if you’re keeping within the same verb tense within that page.

Alternatively, you might want to check several pages. You can do that by reading through your writing first to see where you may have changed tenses before circling your verbs.

2. Keep sticky notes.

If you’re one of those writer’s who doesn’t read through your writing until you’re finished, that’s okay! You can still keep track of your verbs.

  • First, place a sticky note on page one with the verb tense you start in.
  • Then, periodically attach sticky notes as you go labeling which tense you’re in.

You’ll notice on the sticky notes whether or not you’re verb tense is changing or not, which will help you figure out where you need to edit later.

Image result for sticky notes verb tenses
Image from here


What are your tricks and tips for catching verb tense changes? Share in the comments below!

In the meantime, take out your trusty Writer’s Notebook or that novel you’re working on, and try one or both of these methods. See what works for you!

Coming up next…

I hope you’re ready for our next Red Pen Tidbit (September 6) about using articles in our writing: a, an, and, the.

Image result for articles grammar
Image from here

Share with me in the comments below about your most frustrating grammar/usage errors. I will gladly address them in the future!


If you need a bit more help after this tidbit, then please check out these other helpful sites.

Author Toolbox

This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop (hosted by Raimey Gallant), which is dedicated to helping writers become stronger and more confident in their craft. Click here for more information, to continue hopping through other posts, or to join in!

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10 thoughts on “Red Pen Tidbits 9: Verb Tenses — 2 Tips for Errors (Author Toolbox)

  1. You are so right that this would be a lot of work. But for the writer that has issues, I’d say work it scene by scene using a highlighter. (I’m thinking of computer written work).

    I wrote one story in present tense. Hardest thing I’ve ever did. I wish I had read this post before I’d completed my project. 🙂

    Sorry for being late.

    Anna from elements of emaginette

    Liked by 1 person

  2. One of the things I’m endlessly confused about is whether, when I’m writing in past tense, the things that are constant can be in present tense. It’s a confusing subject, and I see authors do it different ways. One of these days, I’m going to have to figure it out.


  3. Can’t say that I’ve ever circled verbs, but now that you point out the risk of tense changes, I’d better go back and test this. I fear what I might find. Thanks for the tidbit.


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