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Choosing the Correct Verb Tense

Choosing the Correct Verb Tense

The choice of the correct verb tense is highly important when communicating in English and the following guidelines should help Business English users avoid costly misunderstandings.

Tips for verb tense usage:

  1. Use the present tenses when:
    • stating present conditions or objectives
    • explaining test results
    • discussing data
    • stating conclusions
    • describing procedures

    Examples:

    1. Our sales are falling and we are trying to decrease overhead.
    2. The results show no significant increase in consumption since ‘97.
    3. New figures indicate that interest in our product is growing.
    4. Former work practices are slowing down production.
    5. Sales people report directly to their regional managers.
  2. Use the simple past tenses when:
    • giving background information
    • explaining which procedures were followed
    • explaining why something went wrong
    • stating past objectives or conditions
    • reporting on activities that took place in the past

    Examples:

    1. Our competitors launched a new product last June.
    2. The personnel department began interviewing candidates five months ago.
    3. Nobody in our regional office knew what to do about the problem.
    4. Our previous philosophy was to provide shareholder value.
    5. In 2002 our market share rose by 12% but overall profits fell.

    Hint: Use the past tenses when using words or expressions that express time or date, such as:

    • some months ago
    • at that time
    • ‘then’ (when it means ‘at that time’)
    • in 1999
    • last week (year, month, time, etc)
  3. Use the future tenses when:
    • making predictions about future events
    • stating something that will have to be done in the future
    • talking about things that will be completed in the future

    Examples:

    1. We predict that sales will increase throughout Q3.
    2. We will need to upgrade the computer system sometime this year.
    3. By 2015, we will have five new offices in Europe.
  4. Use the perfect tenses when:
    • making official announcements
    • stating decisions
    • expressing something with current relevance

    Examples:

    1. The new employees have been offered generous stock-option plans.
    2. The chairman has decided to resign rather than face scandal.
    3. Salaries have decreased buy 1.5% in real terms since 2001.

    Hint: Use the perfect tenses with words and phrases such as:

    • recently
    • so far
    • never, ever
    • yet
    • lately
    • just
    • up until now

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