When Writing Memoirs, Don’t Let Verb Tenses Make You Tense!

I’d like to discuss verb tense because it confuses many people, and I don’t want it tripping you up as you write your memoirs. Most likely, you’re writing your autobiography in the past tense: “I was born…went to school…accepted a job.??? As much as you can keep it that simple, you should be fine. But sometimes you want to express a more complicated time sequence. Past perfect and past perfect progressive are two other tenses you may find yourself needing.

The past perfect tense conveys action that took place before another action that also happened in the past. You form it with the word “had.??? An example: “I had intended to go to college, but when the war started I decided to sign up instead.??? You intended to go to college before you changed your mind, so you need the “had intended??? construction.

The past perfect progressive tense is similar but uses the “…ing??? form of the verb preceded by “had been.??? Example: “I had been enjoying my time at home raising my children, but when the youngest entered high school I thought it was time to go back to earning a paycheck.??? Again, this indicates a past action that preceded another past action, but the difference is that it was an ongoing action—in this case, the act of enjoying. From time to time I will give you these grammar tips, and I hope this helps you as you write your memoirs.