Use of the present participle in writing with a past tense verb

Grammar Tutorial

Use of the present participle in writing with a past tense verb


When we learn grammar rules for writing, we are often told that we must use parallel structure, which includes the use of same-tense verbs throughout our sentences.

An example of parallel verb structure would be: “Shelley read her book, cooked a lovely dinner, and cleaned the house before she went to bed for the night.” Here the verbs read, cooked, and cleaned are all in the past tense, creating a parallel verb tense structure within the sentence.

However, there are times that it is appropriate and makes for a better read, if we add in a few sentences that utilize the present participle in combination with the past tense verb. Many students become confused by this when beginning to write in the English language, for example, or when perhaps when assigned the writing of a narrative text or essay.

Sample Problem

Remember this when writing: Present participles do not determine tense
In this example, “I was running.” The main verb “was,” not the participle, determines the tense. A continuous (participle) tense in past-tense text is thus: “Carol was running to lose weight.” or “She was running home.” And, in the future tense: “Next week, Carol will be running 1 hour a day.” “Running” is the participle.


Here we will create a sentence about Carol and her daily exercise program, utilizing first past tense verbs along with a participle that describes, or is an adjective, within the sentence.

“After Carol exercised every day for four months, she tried on a smaller size, laughing the entire time.” Here the past tense of “exercise” and “try” are created with -ed endings, while the present participle -ing on “laughing” uses the present participle as an adjective modifier to describe her.

*Additional note:
Do not utilize a semi-colon between the present participle modifier, as it is not an independent clause.

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