Verb tenses and purpose
We select and use verb tenses not only to indicate time but also for other specific purposes:
- to explain (exposition)
- to report or narrate a story (narration)
- to describe a situation, thing or person (description)
- to persuade someone to agree with our point of view (argumentation)
Exposition (How and why things happen)
Exposition can occur in the past, present and future tenses.
Narration (Reporting or telling a story)
Narration in academic writing is often in the form of reported speech. The information that you are reporting may be in the present tense or the past tense.
In the humanities especially, we often use what is called the historical present. The historical present means that we are engaging with the writer of the research now; therefore, we use the present tense.
Description (Giving details of things, people, and processes)
Description most often occurs in the present tense (simple or continuous) or present perfect tense.
Tenses can vary, depending on the other information provided.
Argumentation (Persuading the reader to accept your point of view)
Argumentation is a detailed examination of a topic in which the writer states a position and presents the pros and cons about the topic in an effort to persuade the reader.
When constructing an argument, you want to be able to use exposition, description and narration in order to persuade the reader to accept a point of view. As a result, argumentation uses a mixture of tenses.
Note: fictitious references
We can change the verb tenses and still have the passage make sense. Which passage do you think is better?
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