The University of Sydney
The Write Site
Home Glossary Site map Help
Module 1: Grammar Module 2: Sources Module 3: Structure
Home » Module 1 Unit 4: Tenses » Common mistakes - page 8/9
Unit 1: Sentence fragmentsUnit 2: Run-on sentences Unit 3: Subject-verb agreementUnit 4: TensesUnit 5: PassiveUnit 6: ApostrophesUnit 7: Articles

If you change tense within a section of writing, ask yourself: Why have I changed from the predominant tense?

It’s fine to make a change from the predominant tense, but only if you have a good reason to do so.

Look at this example:

Smallpox was a major killer of Aborigines in the early settlement years. Over half the indigenous population around Port Jackson had died by 1790 because of the epidemics that ravaged the settlement. This is consistent with the mortality rates experienced in the Americas amongst indigenous populations.

The writer begins by describing a past state of affairs and uses past tenses (simple past and past perfect). The writer then switches to the present tense (is) because the purpose changes. The purpose is now to make a general statement, held to be true, comparing the situation of the Australian Aborigines with the situation of the American indigenous people.