How to Write Third Person Past Tense

The English language has two basic tenses -- past and present. When you write verbs in past tense, you most often talk about things that happened in the past. It sounds simple, but there are many nuances in English that can complicate writing in past tense. Writing past tense in third person is one point of view from which a narrative can be told, so it’s important for writers to understand the ways they can use past tense.

Grammatical Applications

Third person uses pronouns like “he,” “she” or “they” and their variations. In simple sentences, a pronoun is combined with a verb. For example, “He walked” is a sentence in simple past tense. The sentence, “He had walked,” is written in past perfect tense, which implies that the action in the sentence was completed before another action, according to Purdue Online Writing Lab. The British Council also makes distinctions between past continuous and past perfect continuous tense. “He was walking” is written in past continuous, and adds the “be” verb “was.” “He had been walking,” written in past perfect continuous, adds the “had,” like in past perfect, and the “be” verb “been.”

Narrative Techniques

When writing a story or novel, you might choose to write from the third person point of view, which means the story is told from the perspective of a narrator. This narrator uses “he” and “she” pronouns to refer to characters in the story, and the narrator might know everything about every character or only one character, or he might only be able to report about what he sees and hears. You use past tense when the narrator recounts events that already happened. You can also use past tense to refer to the present or future in conditions, such as found in the sentence, “If she was parking the car, she couldn’t answer the phone,” or for wishes, such as, “She wished it wasn’t true.”

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