Why do you mix past & present tense while speaking English?

This English Grammar lesson is all about how we mix the present and the past tense when speaking English. It explains the rules, stating why it is correct to do this in certain scenarios and how such sentences can be used in English conversation correctly.

The main sentence used to explain this is:

  • I wouldn’t say that John disagreed with his girlfriend but it is clear that he did not approve of her decision.

In this sentence, the verb disagreed is in the past tense and the (to be) verb is, is in the present tense. Yet this sentence is correct. Let’s see why

#Thoughts can occur in the past or the present.

  • Ex: He did not approve of the decision – in this sentence you are thinking about his action in the past
  • Ex: I think he did not approve of the decision – in this sentence you are thinking about his action in the present and expressing your thoughts.

#Reported speech and reported thoughts have their own time.

Reported speech – talking about something that someone said in the past

If you talk about the time when someone said something in the past you say: She told me that she wanted some money. However, if you talk about the time that someone was talking about you say:

  • He taught me that time is precious.

# We switch to the present for dramatic effect.

When we tell a story or narrate an incident we need to catch the listener’s attention. Hence it is very important that our speech sounds interesting.

For example: I was alone at home last night. Suddenly I hear a loud cry from outside.

In this sentence, the words was and last night indicate the past tense but the verb hear is in the present tense in order to gain the listeners attention . This is correct usage.

#Mistakes made when you speak fast.

Sometimes, when we speak fast we tend to make mistakes without realizing and that can also lead to mixing the present and the past tense. However, we need to make sure that we use the tenses correctly.

  • For example: I did not knew this, but I know it now.

Knew is incorrect, you should say know since you are using the past tense in the sentence.

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