Past and present tenses Writing & Grammar

Hello everyone:

Today’s blog will cover the all-important tense. When college students write an essay, sometimes they have a tendency to switch back and forth between past and present tense. According to Strunk’s Elements of Style, when a writer is summarizing something, he or she should use present tense. Don’t tell your reader that something is happening and then switch around and say that it did happen.

An example of this is when you summarize the television show House, M.D. in an essay.  Let’s say that you write “House walks in and talks to the fellows.” You wouldn’t then write “House didn’t know what to say” (like that would ever happen to Dr. Gregory House!). Instead, you would write “House walks in and talks to the fellows; he doesn’t know what to say.”

By the way, watch out for using too much of the show and not enough analysis in your essay! Sometimes students give me plot summaries of the show House, M.D. and offer nothing else. There is no analysis of the artifact and no scholarly sources that point anything out about what they have written. The whole essay is just one long chat about what happened on the show. There are websites that I can get this information from; what I want from you is an essay that shares your interpretation of the artifact. I wrote my 400-page dissertation on House; I don’t need to you explain  what happened in an episode.


Dr. Sheri


Sheri Dean Parmelee has a Ph.D. in Communication Studies from Regent University. She writes books on practical tips for people who become unexpectedly unmarried and is working on her second novel in a series of contemporary romance/suspense novels. She teaches at three colleges, working with students from freshmen to graduate students. Her hobbies include running 8 miles a day and reading biographies and fiction.

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