La Trobe University Library La Trobe Library


La Trobe University Library La Trobe Library


La Trobe University Library La Trobe Library



Tenses and verbs

While the word tense refers to the time of an event (past, present or future), it is also combined with something linguists call aspect and mood:

  • Tense refers to the time of an event (past, present or future).
  • Aspect indicates how this event is experienced – whether it has been completed, is ongoing or occurring before another event (simple, continuous/progressive or perfect).
  • Mood refers to the likelihood of the even happening (whether something is imagined/predicted or real).

So each sentence is marked by a verb (or verb phrase) that indicates tense (and its associated aspect and mood).

The English tense system is complex:

  • Tense is not simply an indicator of the time frame in which something occurs;
  • Tense can also be used to show, among other things, the currency, regularity or importance of what is reported in the sentence and even the writer’s attitude to it.

Verb forms that indicate tense and aspect

The horizontal rows show aspect: whether an event is happening, has happened or was happening, and continuing or is finished.









 have +

 past participle

 be + -ing

 have + past participle

 + been +-ing



 has thought

 am/is/are thinking

 has/have been thinking



 had thought

 was/were thinking

 had been thinking


 will think

 will have thought

 will be thinking

 will have been thinking


 ​Much of the information on tenses and the activities are based on the work of Dr Julia Miller and the OLT project team; the UNC Writing Center and Celce-Murcia, M., & Larsen-Freeman, D. (1999). The Grammar Book (2nd ed). US: Heinle & Heinle.

The present simple tense and when to use it

In academic writing, present simple, the past simple and present perfect account for nearly 80% of tense use. The table below explains some of the ways in which the present simple is used.

Present Simple can be used for:

Sentence Examples

1. General statements, conclusions or interpretations about previous research focusing on what is already known

There is evidence in the literature supporting the benefits of Nurse Practitioner (NP) roles in health care settings from both Australian and international perspectives.

The integration of methods described in previous papers seems to offer only ad hoc solutions.

2. Aims

This review article examines the effects of biotic and abiotic conditions on foraging behaviour and site selection in a classical sit-and-wait predator, the pit-building antlion.

3. Results, discussion and conclusion of research focusing on what is known now

This investigation broadens the scope of what is understood to be gesture by providing a detailed description of how aspects of the ‘material surround’ and the activities of ‘tracing and inscription’ are incorporated into communicative actions.

4. A claim or someone’s opinion focusing on the present impact

There are three surprising features about these claims regarding the use of questions by Aboriginal people.

5. A fact

Food provides the energy our bodies need to function.

6. Habitual actions in the present

Today, heart disease still claims the life of one Australian every 12 minutes.

7. A general principle

Consumers sometimes act like creatures of habit, automatically repeating past behaviour with little regard to current goals and valued outcomes.

8. A theory

The impact of post modern theory is seen in cultural perceptions regarding truth and morality.


The past simple tense and when to use it

In academic writing, present simple, the past simple and present perfect account for nearly 80% of tense use. The table below explains some of the ways in which the past simple is used.


Past simple 

can be used to:

Sentence Examples

1. Indicate remoteness in time.


Eg: In 1910, Sir Edward Albert Sharpey-Schafer suggested that people with diabetes were deficient in a single chemical that was normally produced by the pancreas. He proposed calling this substance insulin, from the Latin insul1.

1 Meaning “island” and referring to the cells of the pancreas which produce insulin and which were named the islets of Langerhans when discovered by Paul Langerhans in 1869.

2. Emphasise the completed nature of a past activity – such as the methods used in the research.

Eg: A survey questionnaire was the method of data collection for Phase 1, whilst Phase 2 consisted of semi-structured interviews.

3. Report past findings, including even very current research in some cases.

Eg: The daily number of all amphetamine-related ambulance attendances in 2012/13 increased significantly compared with the previous year – 88% increase in metropolitan Melbourne and a 198% in regional Victoria.

The present perfect tense and when to use it

In academic writing, present simple, the past simple and present perfect account for nearly 80% of tense use. The table below explains some of the ways in which the past simple is used.


Present Perfect 

can be used to:

 Sentence Examples

reference previous research or your own previous findings that are still true or relevant now

These conclusions about questions have been enduring; they are still used today to describe Aboriginal children’s verbal behavior.

2. Make a general statement about previous research (the present simple could also be used but the focus here is on what has been done rather than on what is known to be true now (present simple)

Eg: Advances have been made in detecting and deterring  student plagiarism that have accompanied the uptake and development of the Internet.

Eg: Some studies have shown that girls have significantly higher fears than boys after trauma (Pfefferbaum et al., 1999; Pine & Cohen, 2002; Shaw, 2003). Other studies have found no gender differences (Rahav & Ronen, 1994).

3. Make a connection between the past (previous research) and the present (your research)

Eg: Moreover, recent studies have illustrated that the foraging mode of top predators can influence the strength of cascading effects in food webs (Schmitz & Suttle, 2001; Schmitz et al.2004). Therefore, individual behaviour and specifically foraging should be thoroughly studied.

4. Refer to a situation that began at a prior point in time and continues into the present

Eg: The nature of plagiarism has changed since the arrival of the digital age.

5. Report on a very recently completed action

Eg: La Trobe archeologists have recently made a significant finding about the evolution of an indigenous population of Europe.

6. Present an information prominent citation in the passive voice (has/have + been + past participle) [link to passive]

Eg: Another method that has also been combined into a hybrid system is case-based reasoning [6].

Eg: The significant increase in oestrogen production during pregnancy is not unique to humans but has been noted in other species including the cow, horse, pig, sheep and rhesus monkey (5).

Present Simple, Past Simple and Present Perfect

The following sentences use the three most common tenses found in academic writing: present simple, past simple and present perfect. However, not all are correct. Select the move buttone to shift the sentences into the tense column where they belong and see them change form. When you have made your tense choice, click submit to see if your decision was correct. Hover your mouse over the or to see why your selection was right or wrong.

The Monk is notwas nothas not been supressed but it bringsbroughtbrings about the beginning of the end for the Gothic craze in the late 18th century. To out-do The Monk is too great a challenge for other Gothic writers.
An analysis of the scans from this experiment showshowedhas shown one distinct area of the left mid-superior temporal cortex iswashas been responsible for processing "Who did it?" (the agent) while a neighbouring separate region encodesencodedhas encoded for "To whom it was done?".
Game theory considersconsideredhas considered interactions among two or more people and is built upon rational choice theory, which lookslookedhas looked at the choice of a single
One of the ways galaxies grow isishas been by merging or colliding with other galaxies. When a small galaxy iswashas been consumed by a bigger galaxy it iswashas been called galactic cannibalism.
From the early 1980s on, Australia undergoesunderwenthas undergone a continuing economic liberalisation.
Her first book Beyond the Ladies Lounge, which explores the role of women publicans in Australia just sells outjust sold outhas just sold out of its first print run.
A team of 270 scientists triestriedhas tried reproducing 100 psychology and social science studies that had been published in three top peer-reviewed US journals. Only 39% replicated the findings.
Participants completecompletedhave completed the survey before being interviewed.
In 2014, the team useusedhas used a geophysical technique, the time domain electromagnetic (TDEM), in each of the case study locations to assist in the assessment of aquifer geometry and characteristics.
Calcium Channel Blockers showshownhave been shown to increase the incidence of myocardial infarct as well as the incidence of strokes.
Studies suggestsuggestedhave suggested that the quality of primary care delivered by nurse practitioners is equal to that of physicians.
The use of mobile phones while driving increasesincreasedhas increased the risk of being distracted.
Historian Clare Wright’s recent work on the role of women in the Eureka Stockade changeschangedhas changed the way in which this event is now seen.

Tense activity 3- Present Simple, Past Simple and Present Perfect

Can you explain why a particular tense was chosen for each of the following sentences? Select your reason from the dropdown list and click submit when you have finished them all to see if you have chosen correctly.

1. The flowers were collected and the stamens removed
2. These findings add to the existing body of evidence linking maternal cigarette smoking during the first trimester with the occurrence of some heart defects.
3. Plate tectonics is a scientific theory that describes the large-scale motion of the Earth’s lithosphere.
4. Free market economics works on the principle that everyone can compete in the marketplace.
5. A recent global cost-of-living survey has ranked Melbourne as the world's sixth most expensive city.
6. Most drivers slow down when a police vehicle is in sight.
7. Non-indigenous women in Australia have had the right to vote in federal elections since 1902.
8. For most of the 19th century, Charles Dickens and Anthony Trollope were more popular than Jane Austen.
9. Global warming is the gradual increase in the overall temperature of the earth's atmosphere.
10. Pinker argues that humans are born with an innate capacity for language.
11. The experiment indicates that regular exercise can have antidepressant effects.

Tenses used less often in academic writing 

(from Dr Julia Miller and the OLT project team)


“Generally, academic writing is based on research or theories that already exist, have already happened, or refer to a current event or view. This means that the various forms of the future are less likely to be used in essays, although they might be used in reports.

- ‘going to' future: They are going to research this next year.

- future simple: They will conduct further research next year.

- future continuous: They will be conducting the survey over the next six months.

- future perfect: By the end of August they will have had over 150 rehearsals.


The continuous/progressive forms are less common in academic writing because they indicate something temporary.

- present continuous/progressive: They are researching this now.

- present perfect continuous/progressive: They have been researching this for many years.

- past perfect continuous/progressive: They had been researching this for many years before they found any significant results.

- future perfect continuous/progressive: By 2025, they will have been researching this for eleven years.


The past perfect situates one activity in the past before another activity. It is sometimes used in academic writing.

- past perfect: They had researched this for many years before they found any significant results.

past perfect continuous/progressive: They had been researching this for many years before they found any significant results.

The difference between the past perfect and the past perfect continuous is that the continuous form puts more emphasis on the length of the activity”.