Past v present tense

  • Some writers like to use the present tense to tell a story in order to give the impression that it is happening right now.

  • In fiction writing the present tense can create a dramatic effect and make your reader feel as though they are with the characters ‘in the moment’.

  • It is the verbs in a sentence that determine its tense.

Learn more about how to use the present tense to write a spooky story

Past or present tense?

How many stories have you come across that begin with the infamous phrase ''Once Upon a Time''?

This is because stories were traditionally told using the past tense. This made the narrator sound as if they were narrating events from a distance, instead of being 'present' amongst the action.

Using the past tense is also the natural way you might tell a story about something that has happened to you.

However, many new writers use the present tense, particularly in action sequences. The present tense verbs make the action sound immediate and urgent.


There is no right way of telling a story. Think about why the present tense may or may not work in your own writing. Experiment with a paragraph in the present and past tense to see which feels best. It's up to you.

If you decide to write a story using the present tense, make sure you are consistent with how you use it.

Sometimes it is difficult to sustain writing in the present tense, so you may need to use the past tense when referring to events that have already happened to a character.

Activity - present tense

Tense quiz

Test your knowledge of the present tense with this quick quiz.

Where next?

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