Tense and time self-assessment

[2016 note: The links to the individual answers no longer work, but you may find the answers in the answer file helpful.]

Exercise 1: Oliver Twist

Here is the first paragraph of Oliver Twist. All the finite verbs are highlighted.

Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no fictitious name, there is one anciently common to most towns, great or small: to wit, a workhouse; and in this workhouse was born; on a day and date which I need not trouble myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence to the reader, in this stage of the business at all events; the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter. (Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist)

This paragraph refers to two worlds:

  • the world of the book and its author, Dickens
  • the world of Oliver Twist.


  • Which of the verbs refer to the second world, that of Oliver?
    • Click on the verb(s) you select.
  • Are the two worlds clearly separated by the choice of tense?

Exercise 2: KS3 pupil’s writing

This extract is from a KS3 essay about H G Wells’s War of the Worlds. The challenge is to choose tenses in such a way as to distinguish between the author’s world and the world of the events in the story. It starts well, but then unfortunately becomes confused. All the finite verbs are highlighted. Click on those whose tense is not appropriate.

At first he seems a little excited by the encounter of aliens, trying to imagine what they looked like but by the end he was ‘overcome with disgust and dread’ so completely changing his opinion. He also seems apprehensive when he “presently saw something stirring within the Rocket”, not knowing what it was.

H. G. Wells then starts to describe their movements. He said it “rose slowly and painfully out of the cylinder” he also described their difficulty to move or breathe due to the painfulness as earth has a stronger gravitational pull.

He uses many strange ways of describing them which actually described a very accurate picture.



If you would like to see the text rewritten with consistent tenses, click here.


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