Last updated 5/6/2020
Visual: Screen opens to a background image with a person typing on a laptop and a notebook and pencil, along with the Walden University Writing Center logo. The title Walden University Writing Center and tagline “Your writing, grammar, and APA experts” appears on the screen. The screen changes to show the series title “Formatting & Style” and the video title “Verb Tense.”
Audio: Guitar music
Visual: A slide appears with the following: Verb Tense
Use past tense to discuss what an author said or did
Brown (2012) distributed the surveys by email.
The CDC (2010) reported that 25% of Americans do not have access to health care.
Audio: When you’re writing in APA style, you will use the past tense to discuss what the author of a source said or did. This is a rule that may be different from other writing styles you may have used in the past, but in APA, we always use past tense to communicate actions from a source. This is because in the social sciences, research is often being updated, and so the emphasis is on recognizing that this research was done at a certain point in time, in the past.
Let’s review this in our examples: We have here, “Brown, 2012, distributed the surveys by email” and “The CDC, 2020, reported that 25% of Americans do not have access to health care.” In both of these cases, we have used the past tense with “distributed” and “reported.”
Visual: Slide changes to the following:
Prefer the active voice instead of passive voice
Audio: Additional guidance APA provides around verb tense relates to voice, which is the relationship between a verb and the subject and object in a sentence. Specifically, APA recommends that writers prefer active voice over passive voice, when appropriate.
Active voice is when the subject of a sentence is presented first, immediately before the verb, and in so doing, the “doer” of an action in the sentence is clear. Active voice is often much more direct, clear, and concise, and so APA recommends writers use active voice as much as possible. In our example of active voice, “Brown, 2012, distributed the surveys by email,” it is clear that Brown completed this action.
Passive voice is also permissible in APA, but can lead to a lack of clarity in your writing. Because of this, APA cautions writers to avoid overuse of passive voice. There may be cases where passive voice helps avoid repetition or doesn’t impede clarity, and in those cases, passive voice could be appropriate. In our examples, who distributed the surveys either isn’t stated or is stated after the verb, causing potential confusion and wordiness.
To summarize, prefer active voice in your writing, although passive voice can be used in certain situations as long as you avoid overusing passive voice.
Visual: The screen changes to an ending slide with a person typing on a laptop and a notebook and pencil, along with the Walden University Writing Center logo. The email address firstname.lastname@example.org appears on the screen.