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Proper Usage of Tenses

Rule 1

If the principal clause is in the past tense, the subordinate clause should also be in the past tense.

For Example :

Incorrect :          I went and tour the country.
Correct   :          I went and toured the country.

However, the subordinate clause can be in the present tense if it denotes a universal truth.

For Example :

Incorrect :          The teacher told us that the sun rose in the east.
Correct   :          The teacher told us that the sun rises in the east.

Any tense can be used in the subordinate clause if it contains a comparison by using than 

For Example :

He desired you more than I desire you.

Rule 2

With conjunctions like if, when, until, unless, as soon as, the present indefinite tense is used. 

For Example :

Incorrect :          If you will not practice, you will not learn. 
Correct   :          If you do not practice, you will not learn.

Incorrect :          When my friend will come, I shall leave for home.
Correct   :          When my friend comes, I shall leave for home.

Incorrect :          As soon as the plane will land, I will rush to meet my father. 
Correct   :          As soon as the plane lands, I will rush to meet my father.

Incorrect :          Unless my brother will come, I will not go.
Correct   :          Unless my brother comes, I will not go.

Rule 3

The past perfect tense shows an action completed in the past before another action began.

For Example :

I had gone to Bombay before I left for Calcutta.

Mistakes are committed when the past perfect is used instead of simple past.

For Example :

Incorrect :          I had gone to see a film.
Correct   :          I went to see a film.

Incorrect :          I had gone to Bombay.
Correct   :          I went to Bombay.

The thing to remember is that :

(i) the past perfect tense denotes two actions.

(ii) the past perfect tense should be used with the earlier of the two actions.

For Example :

Incorrect :          I reached the station before the train had left.
Correct   :          I had reached the station before the train left.

Rule 4

The verbs want, desire, wish, like, hate, seem, signify, hear & smell and forgive should not be used in the continuous form.

For Example :

Incorrect :          I am wanting to die.
Correct   :          I want to die.

Incorrect :          I am wishing for a windfall.
Correct   :          I wish for a windfall.

Incorrect :          I am smelling something fishy.
Correct   :          I smell something fishy.

Incorrect :          You should be forgiving him.
Correct   :          You should forgive him.

Rule 5

With as if and as though, were is used in the present tense and had been in the past tense.

For Example :

Incorrect :          He boasts as if he is the king.
Correct   :          He boasts as if he were the king.

Incorrect :          He performed as though he were possessed.
Correct   :          He performed as though he had been possessed.

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