What is the Present Tense? - Examples & Overview

Instructor: Debbie Notari
In this lesson, we will explore the use of the present tense in writing. The present tense is as it sounds, writing as if something is happening in the current moment, not in the past, nor in the future.

Present Tense

To be present is to be aware of what is going on in the moment you are living. Just like it is easy to get caught up in regrets or memories of the past, or even in anticipation of what may happen in the future, a writer can flip back and forth between tenses, and this can cause confusion in writing. Therefore, it is important to choose the best tense to use and stick with it. In this lesson, we will look at writing in the present tense.

The present tense implies that the writer is talking about what is happening now. But it can be a little more complicated than that.

Basic Present Tense

The very basic present tense tells us what is exactly happening right at this moment. For instance, one might say, 'I am writing a letter,' or 'He is laughing.' When we use the linking verbs 'am, is, and are,' we are writing in the present tense.

The Present Perfect Tense

The present perfect tense is a combination of a present-tense verb with a helping, or auxiliary verb. The action of the subject originates in the past, continues in the present, and may show some consequence in the future. For instance, we might say, 'Sam has worked at Taco Bell for six years.' This sentence suggests that Sam started working at Taco Bell in the past and is continuing to work there in the present.

Here is another example: 'If Celia has filled her tank, she will not run out of gas.' In this case, we can see that Celia should be filling her tank in the present in order to avoid running out of gas in the future.

The Literary Present Tense

When writing about literature, we should use what is called the literary present tense. In other words, if we are writing about what a character did in a story or anything related to the plot by using literary analysis, we should write it in the present tense.

For example, let's imagine we are writing an essay about the character 'Pip' in Great Expectations. One sentence might look like this: 'Pip fails to realize that being a gentleman has less to do with one's upbringing and material resources, and more to do with one's character.' By using the verb 'fails to realize' in the present tense, we are using the literary present tense.

We also use the literary present tense when we are writing about what another writer has said. For instance, we might say, 'Twain begins The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with a warning.'

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