I have been writing high school English paper on a novel in MLA format. Is there any rule about using past participle or past imperfect? Throughout the essay there have been many places that can be changed from past to present, but there are some areas where there seems to be no way to changed to present. This has gone unchanged in revisions by other, meanwhile other verbs have been changed by other people to present tense.

One example:

after forty years pass.

This was corrected by a writing teacher (not my own) to "passed". I am wondering if this is correct, and if there are any exceptions to the rule that past tense cannot be used in MLA formatted essays.

  • If i were to have a sentence that follows the format of: "If Mike had never messed up Andrew's thoughts, Andrew would have had a chance at passing the test" would changing is to "If Mike were to never messed up Andrew's thoughts, Andrew would have had a possibility at passing the test." be just as good? I want to keep this paragraph it is going in in the present form. (these are not the same words of course, different characters and events, but same outline)
    – None
    Oct 2, 2012 at 0:02
  • Your first sentence is fine; but "were to never messed up" won't work for three different reasons I haven't got space to go into! -- But if you edit your main question to focus on just that pair of alternatives it will probably be acceptable here; and you will get answers not only from me but possibly from many even more brilliant people.
    – StoneyB
    Oct 2, 2012 at 0:16
  • Agree with StoneyB, 1st sentence in fine. Second one doesn't work/sounds foreign.
    – Suke
    Oct 2, 2012 at 7:49

1 Answer 1


After reading your question I did a little search and discovered this:

Use present tense to introduce cited or quoted material and to make personal comments on such materials. Use past tense only when directly quoting a passage that is in past tense or when reporting historical events.

This answers the question of why "pass" was corrected to "passed" since you were speaking about an event that has historically passed. And therefore past tense is what you wanted for that sentence. Same reasoning behind choosing the first sentence in your example comment. That sentence is reporting on something that has already happened.

Please note that, if you are citing a piece of fiction you should always be aware of literary present.

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