English grammar is hard. Luckily, a tense checker can help you navigate through some of its trickiest waters.
Have you mastered the usage of future perfect versus past perfect? Do you know when to use conditional tenses versus subjunctive tenses?
Subjunctive and conditional may sound like exotic grammar jargon, but mixing them up is a common and important issue. And when you confuse one tense with the other, you confuse people. You lose the entire meaning of a sentence.
There’s a reason 51% of Grammarly users highlighted incorrect verb tense usage as the worst writing error.
If you want to clean up your verb-tense usage without studying grammar, you need a tense checker.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
What’s a tense checker?
A tense checker is a writing tool you can use when typing or proofreading text on a computer. You can use a tense checker to spot any issues related to poor verb tense usage.
For instance, tense checkers can help you:
- Spot an incorrect tense shift and recommend a correct shift instead
- Make sure all of your verb conjugations are formatted correctly
- Scan your text for proper subject-verb agreement
- Reformat a sentence structure that doesn’t follow verb tense rules
What’s the difference between a tense checker and a spell checker?
The main difference is that tense checkers spot incorrect verb forms, and spell checkers catch spelling mistakes. A tense checker helps you avoid confusing verb tenses, and a spell checker helps you spell every word correctly.
A spell checker can catch some verb-related errors, like incorrectly spelling a specific tense of an irregular verb.
Luckily, a few mainstream writing tools offer tense checkers, general grammar checkers, spell checkers, and more. We’ll cover a few of your options later in this article.
What’s the difference between a tense checker and a grammar checker?
A grammar checker scans text for a wide array of grammar errors, while a tense checker looks for incorrect verbs and poor verb tense usage.
Often, grammar checkers come with a whole host of features, including
- A plagiarism detector
- A tone analyzer
- A redundancy detector with word choice suggestions
- Summaries on common grammar rules
- Suggestions for comma mistakes and run-on sentences
- Flags for common grammar mistakes and punctuation errors
- Flags for common spelling errors
- Advanced vocabulary suggestions
But most grammar checkers include tense checkers, too. We’ll share more on that in a bit.
Note that if you use a free, bare-bones grammar checker, you might only be able to check grammar and punctuation. In that case, you’ll also need a dedicated tense checker tool to help you scan for improper tenses and verbs.
3 examples of incorrect verb tenses and how a verb tense checker can help
In this section, we’ll show you three examples of incorrect verb tenses and how a tense checker can help you correct them.
1. Mixing too many tenses in one sentence
Combining too many tenses throws readers off and clouds up the message you’re trying to convey. To write clearly and concisely, pay close attention to the variation in tenses you’re using in your writing.
Here’s an example of mixing in too many verb tenses:
“I thought Fred had told Margie about the breakup already. But he tells me today that he will not have the courage. I’m not sure what I should do. Should I tell Margie everything Fred tell me yesterday? Or should I hold out hope for Margie to have seen Fred’s true colors? Margie is my friend for ten years, and I just met Fred, but he seems like a decent person.”
When we pop this incorrect text into Grammarly, it flags:
- Faulty tense sequences
- Unclear sentences
- Poor punctuation in compound/complex sentences
Even in the free version, Grammarly highlights these issues, but to see suggested corrections, you’ll need a Grammarly Premium account.
Anyway, let’s break down what’s wrong with the paragraph. The narrator speaks in the following tenses:
- Present perfect
- Present simple
- Past simple
Not only is that a lot of tenses to use in just a few lines, but the writer also uses them incorrectly. For instance, “should I tell Margie everything Fred tell me yesterday?” should be “should I tell Margie everything Fred told me yesterday?”
This error is called an inappropriate tense shift. Since the narrator refers to an action that happened in the past, they should conjugate the verb “tell” to “told.”
Here’s what the paragraph should look like after correcting it with a tense checker:
“I thought Fred had told Margie about the breakup already. But today, he told me he didn’t have the courage to do it. I’m not sure what I should do. Should I tell Margie everything Fred told me yesterday? Or should I hold out hope for Margie to see Fred’s true colors? Margie has been my friend for ten years. I just met Fred, but he seems like a decent person, too.”
Can you spot all of the corrected tenses in this new paragraph?
2. Confusing the past tense with the perfect tense
Confusing the present perfect tense with the simple past tense is a common grammatical error among language students and native speakers alike.
After all, both tenses occur in the past with one slight variation. One tense — the past simple — operates entirely in the past — it’s over and done with. And the other tense, present perfect, operates from the past until the present — or a past action that happened at an undefined time. Confusing, yeah?
Here’s what we mean:
- “We went to Paris”: an action that was completed in the past.
- “We’ve been to Paris three times”: an action that started in the past and continues into the present.
The problem with confusing the past simple with the present perfect is that it messes up timelines.
So if you’re looking to describe a past event or something that started in the past and is still happening now, you have to know how to word it correctly. Otherwise, the reader will have no idea what happened when and how it all ties together.
Here’s an example of a paragraph that confuses the past simple tense with the present perfect tense:
“I’ve never been to Paris, which is odd since I’ve been to France seven times. My mom has went to Paris before and she has loved it. She told me I have to go with my sister sometime this year, but I was always nervous on planes. I wonder when we will have the opportunity to finally go. I have went to Europe every Summer since 2001 except for last year so it was weird I never have gone to Paris.”
Phew. The number of errors in this example is endless.
Here’s what Grammarly flagged in this paragraph:
- Faulty tense sequences
- Inappropriate colloquialisms
- Infinitive verb split by modifier
- Poor punctuation in compound/complex sentences
So what’s the problem with the text?
The writer can’t distinguish between past verb usage and present perfect verb usage. They’re confusing past events with events that started in the past and are still occurring today.
A quick review of the timeline plus a tense checker can help the author rewrite the paragraph correctly.
Here’s how the paragraph should sound:
“I’ve never been to Paris, which is odd since I’ve been to France seven times. My mom has been to Paris before, and she loved it. She told me I should go with my sister sometime this year, but I’ve always been nervous on planes. I wonder when we’ll finally have the opportunity to go. I’ve been to Europe every Summer since 2001, except for last year. It’s weird that I’ve never been to Paris.”
3. Confusing the future tense with the present tense
Similar to the issue we covered in the previous section, confusing the future tense with the present tense is another common issue in English.
Not only can terms like “going to” be mistaken for both tenses, but we also mix up the future and present tense when we’re describing certain things.
For instance, articles on trends and predictions often include misused present and future tense verbs.
Here’s an example of what we mean:
“Emerging technologies like virtual reality and artificial intelligence are reaching unprecedented profits next year. Both sectors are seeing massive venture capital funding with virtual reality leading the way. Next year we’re seeing a major shift in eCommerce and EdTech trends too. The current trends in gamification are also something to currently watch. What will happen in the years to come is promising.”
What’s difficult about this text is that we can’t tell what’s happening now versus what’s predicted to happen later.
When we pop this text into Grammarly, here’s what we get:
If you take note, Grammarly flags punctuation, wordiness, and inappropriate colloquialisms in this text. But it doesn’t pick up on incorrect tenses.
Why you might ask?
Because this is murky territory, it can be difficult for a bot to tell the difference. For some verbs, like “predict,” “expect,” or “trend,” using them in the present tense about the future is perfectly acceptable. For others — like the ones in the paragraph — not so much. So, in this case, it looks like you’ll have to brush up on your grammar the good ol’ fashioned way.
Here’s what the corrected paragraph should sound like:
“According to our experts, emerging technologies, like virtual reality and artificial intelligence, will reach unprecedented profits next year. Both sectors will see a massive increase in venture capital funding — and virtual reality will lead the pack. Next year, we’ll also see a major shift in eCommerce and EdTech trends, too. We also recommend paying close attention to trends in gamification as the industry is set to explode within the next few months. We believe that the next few years will be promising.”
3 tense checkers on the market today
Now that we’ve shown why you might need one, let’s take a quick look at three tense checkers on the market today.
Although it isn’t perfect, our favorite tense checker and overall grammar review tool is Grammarly.
In the previous section, we saw how even Grammarly’s well-trained grammar AI won’t spot every issue with verb tenses. The reality is that there aren’t any tools out there that can review and edit text perfectly yet — Editor’s note: luckily for me, who wants to keep my job as an editor.
But Grammarly is, by far, the best tool we’ve tried at spotting complex and confusing issues with English grammar.
The free version flags tense usage and conjugation issues but doesn’t offer suggestions for more complex issues. The Premium version provides correction suggestions for everything, including incorrect tense shifts and other errors.
But Grammarly isn’t just a tense checker. It also includes a spell checker and a general grammar checker.
If you opt for the Premium version, you’ll get additional features, like a plagiarism checker, advanced vocabulary suggestions, sentence structure corrections, and other features.
If you’re ready to take your writing to the next level, we’ve got a 20% discount for Grammarly Premium.
2. Perfect Tense
Perfect Tense uses artificial intelligence to scan text for incorrect verb tenses, poor spelling, and bad grammar.
If you’re looking for quick and affordable feedback on grammar mistakes, spelling, and tense issues, Perfect Tense might be a good fit.
For a more in-depth breakdown of this tool, check out our Perfect Tense Review here.
ProWritingAid is an effective tense checker and grammar tool for anyone who needs to scan long-form text — though it’s more geared for authors, offering insights on story pacing, repetitive word usage, and more.
For a full in-depth look at ProWritingAid, check out our review here.
We’ve also got a 20% discount on ProWritingAid. We’re just full of surprises today.
English grammar is hard, we know. Verb tenses exist to create a cohesive timeline, but they lead to the exact opposite when you mess up. We’ve all been there.
A tense checker can take some of that edge off and help you avoid confusing your audience.
So if you want your writing to come across as clearly as possible, you have to use a tense checker, friends.
Oh, and here’s that Grammarly discount again for you — we’re suckers for a good deal on good grammar.