Grammar Tip – Verbs: Past Tense Versus the Present Perfect and Past Perfect Tenses

With today’s North American business readers, less is usually better. In other words, in Canada and the U.S. — in a business setting — readers prefer writers to use fewer words to convey information. A prime example is the past tense of verbs.

Example (past tense)

I edited the report.

However, people who were educated through a British school system tend to make more of a distinction with their verbs, using present perfect and past perfect tenses.?The use of a present perfect tense of a verb indicates an action occurred in the past and is complete in the present.

Example (present perfect tense)

I have edited the report.

The use of the past perfect tense means an action was completed before another past action.

Example (past perfect tense)

I had edited the report before I went to the meeting.

If you are now scratching your head, don’t worry. North American business writing is simpler. We just use the past tense. The past tense indicates the action is over.

Example (past tense)

I edited the report before I went to the meeting.

Let me reiterate. The present perfect and past perfect tenses of verbs express subtle variations in time. They give a highly educated and formal feel to sentences. Although grammatically correct for all English usage, when it comes to business writing in North America …  simply stick to the past tense.