I have an obstacle writing articles that have consistent verb tenses. Generally, I've been told that if I start an article in the past tense, I should keep other verbs in the past tense. But as I read more articles, books. I get confused by the verb tenses used in those literatures. Take for example in the following article. I believe it started in the past tense (the 1st paragraph), yet the second paragraph switched to the present tense (it sounds like the...). In the third paragraph a mixed on the past and present tense are used (the word gave is in past tense yet remain is in the present tense). Why in this article and many other literatures I get the impression that the author was changing verb tenses?

REPRESSED for decades, the anger burst like a summer storm. Rioting youths flooded city streets. The shaken regime granted hasty concessions: freer speech; an end to one-party rule; real elections. But when Islamists surged towards victory in the first free elections the army stepped in, provoking a bloody struggle that lasted until the people, exhausted, acquiesced to a government similar in outlook, repression and even personnel to that which they had revolted against in the first place.

It sounds like the recent history of several Arab countries: Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen, the states of the 2011 Arab spring, have seen some or all of the story unfold. But this is also, and originally, Algeria, a quarter of a century earlier—the first major political crisis in the age of modern Islamism.

A flurry of freedom in the late 1980s gave way to a vicious civil war in the 1990s that left as many as 200,000 dead and Algeria’s Islamists more or less defeated, but not eradicated. Today the country’s citizens remain powerless spectators to a continued stand-off between what they call le pouvoir—the entrenched oligarchy that controls the state, the oil money and the army—and the now-marginalised Islamist radicals, who serve more as a justification for ongoing repression than as any sort of inspiration to ordinary people.

1 Answer 1


The tenses are changing because there are two sets of past events and two sets of present events.

  • In the first paragraph the action described occurred in the past: the anger was repressed, the youths flooded the streets, the Islamists surged.
  • The second paragraph says "Right now as you're sitting here reading this, that description sounds like the news." So the present tense is fine, because it is referring to the paragraph which you just read a moment ago (which is basically now, the present).
  • The third paragraph's first sentence describes the past (the late 1980s) and the second sentence clearly refers to today, to an ongoing situation happening right now in the present.

There's nothing wrong with that piece; the tenses are correct for what is being discussed.

  • Lauren, thank you for your reply. I know the piece is fine. It's me that's confused because I've been told in school to keep the verb tense consistent in my writings (most of the time in the past tense). And this "correct" piece like many other pieces I read, cause a confusion for me. Was my professor wrong to ask me to keep my essays in the past tense? now I don't know how to properly use verbs in my writings...
    – user133466
    Commented Jul 6, 2014 at 22:43
  • Your professor is trying to make sure you understand that, for example, all past events are described using past tense. In English, you can't (as another person recently asked here) switch from past tense to present mid-scene to make events seem more exciting, for example. For an essay, you would generally stick to one tense. Commented Jul 7, 2014 at 0:47
  • 1
    +1 Lauren. The first paragraph is presented as a finished story, the evidence is in tone and literary style: e.g. "anger burst like a summer storm". The 2nd switches tone to conversational lecture, breaking the Fourth Wall: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_wall -- The "It" refers to the story just presented. You found a complex example of an appropriate use of mixed tenses, by a pro writer. The vast majority of fiction does NOT ever break the Fourth Wall (like an actor speaking directly to the audience in an aside, or an author including a "Dear Reader" preface or postscript.
    – Amadeus
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 11:25

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