3 Cases of Tense Errors
Each verb in a sentence should reflect the tense appropriate to the specific phrase rather than conform to the tense of another verb in the sentence. In each of the sentences below, a verb is not in the correct tense. Each example is followed by a discussion and a revision.
1. They are emblems of a simpler time, when everyone understood what it meant to be human.
What it means to be a human has not changed since the simpler time (though a universal understanding no longer exists), so although understood is correctly formed in context, the next verb should be in present tense: “They are emblems of a simpler time, when everyone understood what it means to be human.”
2. The financial sector underwent simulated terrorist attacks and cyberattacks as part of efforts to ensure that financial firms had good plans in place in the event of such crises.
The goal of the simulations is not to ensure that financial firms had, at a given time, good plans in place; it is to ensure that they continuously have the good plans, so the verb pertaining to “good plans” must be in the present tense: “The financial sector underwent simulated terrorist attacks and cyberattacks as part of efforts to ensure that financial firms have good plans in place in the event of such crises.”
3. If you thought marionettes were creepy, you’re not going to like this place.
The issue is not whether you, at one time, were disturbed by marionettes but no longer are (or, for that matter, whether marionettes were, at one time, creepy but no longer are); it is a matter of whether you have a discomfort with them that has existed, exists, and is likely to continue to exist: “If you think marionettes are creepy, you’re not going to like this place.”
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