Avoiding Shifts

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Today we will continue developing your writing style by discussing the idea of avoiding shifts.

What I mean by shifts is when we switch between verb tenses persons voices and so on and when we do

this it tends to confuse the reader.

The goal is to always be consistent.

We’re going to talk about a number of shifts that happen often in student writing just to point them

out to you and also to see how to avoid or to revise in order to avoid shifting the first common shift

is shifting the verb tense.

So verb tense is what shows when the action of a sentence takes place.

So a present tense of course.

I ride my bike to school.

I am riding my bike to school.

It’s called the present continuous in the past tense I rode my bike to school in the future I will ride

my bike to school.

Of course there are more than these three tenses.

However these simply illustrate what it is that tense does shows the action of the sentence when it

takes place.

The idea is to be consistent.

So can an incorrect example.

I rode my bike to school and yell Watch out my brakes don’t work.

So here we have Past and Present Past road present yell.

In other words it’s inconsistent to correct all we need to either change them both to the present or

both to the past.

Here I’ve changed them both to the past.

I rode my bike to school and yelled watch out my brakes don’t work so the only time we should be shifting

the verb tense is when the time of the action shifts within a sentence.

So look at this example.

I will ride my bike to school again on Monday exactly three months since I got in an accident and broke

my arm.

So here you’ll see we’ve shifted from future tense to the past tense.

The reason being that the time of the action within the sentence shifted sort of verb tenses followed

the time of the action so we never shift the verb tense within a sentence unless the time within the

sentence or the time of the action within the sentence also shifts to the next common shift that we

need to avoid shifting person by person I mean first second and third person.

Again the solution is to be consistent.

This one for a strange reason is very very common.

Let’s look at an incorrect sentence.

If one forgets to look both ways before crossing the street you might get hit by a car.

So we have one and you we’ve shifted right.

In order to make that consistent and therefore correct we need to have.

If you forget to look both ways before crossing the street you might get hit by a car or the extra form


If one forgets to look both ways before crossing the street one might get hit by a car.

So much so no matter what person we are using whether it’s first second or third we need to always remember

to keep it consistent throughout the sentence.

The next shift is between active and passive voice actively knows when the subject performs the action

and passive voice is when the subject receives the action.

Again the rule of thumb is be consistent so in our incorrect example we have.

We ate our dinner then our dishes were put in the dishwasher so we ate our dinners active and then in

the following clause we shift back into the present.

Or sorry who shift back into passive when we say then our dishes were put in the dishwasher case was

shifted from active to passive.

We need to be consistent and therefore the correct example is we ate our dinner.

Then we put our dishes in the dishwasher.

OK so we have active in both sides.

We could have also changed it to have passive in both sides or both clauses.

Either way we just need to stay consistent.

Let’s go to a dialogue.

Dialogue is another common shifting error that we have in student writing dialogue of course is the

exchange of statements or questions.

What we need to avoid is shifting between dialogue and indirect discourse within the same sentence.

So certainly example an incorrect example when he asked Where did mom go and when was and when she was

coming back.

We have a dialogue.

Where did mom go.

The question in quotation marks.

And then we have indirect discourse.

When she was coming back we can’t have both in the same sentence.

A correct way of doing it would be when the asked where did mom go.

And when is she coming back.

So here we have direct quotations or direct dialogue in both instances the other way to fix it would

be to use indirect discourse both times when she asked where her mom had gone and when she would be

coming back.


So these again they’re all very self-explanatory and the examples are very repetitive.

I’m drilling into the idea that we need to be consistent to develop a good writing style.

We need to avoid shifts the next shift that happens so often in student writing is shifting the number

so number by number I’m referring to the use of singular or plural noun pronouns.

Again the rule be consistent.

So the incorrect example would be if a student forgets his or her homework they cannot submit it late.

So correct would be if a student forgets his or her homework he or she cannot submit it late and to

be honest this is the correct way but it just gets jumbled to have all these his or hers he is and she’s

and so on.

So the best way to do it is simply to use the plural.

If students forget their homework they cannot submit at least a very simple solution to the number shifting


Simply use the plural in both sides.

You don’t have to but it’s the easiest strategy for avoiding a shift in number.

Another common shift is to shift of mood mood is the writer’s attitude and intentions.

So there are three different types of moods.

We have the indic.

which is to make a statement state a factor opinion or to ask a question.

We have the imperative which gives a command and we have the subjunctive or the conditional which indicates

a wish a suggestion or a hypothesis.

Except for again the rule you guess be consistent.

Incorrect take two Tylenol and then you should call the doctor in the morning if you’re still not feeling


So here we have take two which is the imperative followed by the subjunctive or conditional you should.

So a suggestion.

The correct way would be to keep it consistent here.

I’m keeping it consistent by using the indicative in both cases.

Take two Tylenol and then call the doctor in the morning if you’re still not feeling better.

We could have changed it to use subjunctive and both but then I changed it to use indicative sorry imperative

I changed it to use imperative.

Finally the last shift that is common in student writing and needs to be fixed to write successfully

at the college level is a shift in style.

So style refers to the idea of formal informal poetic personal and so on.

Guess again what the rule is.

Be consistent so informal.

When my mom heard about the weekend she freaked formal when my mother heard about the weekend.

She became very upset.


so we need to not switch in between the two.

For example if I were to say when my mother heard about the weekend she freaked.

It could be very inconsistent.

Mother is more formal than mom and freaked is obviously quite informal or casual.

So we would need to have when my mother heard about the week and she became very upset.

The last rule is to remember your audience when it comes to avoiding shifts in style.

Remember your audience and write accordingly and then stay consistent within that style whether it’s

a formal audience an informal audience or a personal audience.

Keep that same style throughout.


So that’s it for today.

Remember the rule no matter what age shift we’re talking about whether it’s mood’s style number dialogue

active or passive person or verb tense.

We need to stay consistent as always if you have any questions go ahead and shoot me an email and I’ll

try to clear it up for you.

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