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6.7 Sentences use present tense

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The present tense is the tense we use most often day-to-day. It is the simplest and strongest form of the verb. It indicates that the action is taking place now, in the present, relative to the writer. Occasionally, of course, you may need to use other tenses, but use them only when necessary for accuracy.

The present tense makes your writing simpler, more direct, and more forceful. The more you use the conditional or the future tense, the harder your audience has to work to understand your meaning.

Writing in the present tense saves your audience work, helps make your point clearly, and helps with consistency of expression.

Example 1—clarity

cross.gif These sections describe types of information that would satisfy the application requirements as they would apply to this grant programme.

tick.gif These sections tell you how to meet the requirements for this grant programme.

In legislation, this approach is supported by the principle of interpretation that “an enactment applies to circumstances as they arise”.1

Example 2—ongoing application

tick.gif A person who contravenes this section commits an offence.

Even if you are referring to an event that happened in the past, you can clarify the meaning for your audience by writing as much as possible in the present tense.

Example 3—reference to past events

cross.gif Applicants who were employees at the time that the injury was sustained should have filed a compensation request at that time. Failure to do so could have an effect on the degree to which the applicant can be covered under this Part.

tick.gif You may not be covered under this Part if you are an employee at the time of the injury and do not file a claim at that time.

The present tense can also be used to imply future actions:

Example 4—implies future action

Present: the milk expires on Monday
Future: the milk will expire on Monday

Tip: Look for cases where the present tense can be used in place of the future tense.

Legislation exceptions

Exceptions to writing legislation in the present tense include—

  • where a past action continues until the present; and
  • where future obligations may determine a present outcome in law; and
  • where you need to differentiate between scenarios that have happened, are currently happening, or will happen in the future.

Example 52—past action continues

tick.gif The Minister may grant an overseas launch licence only if the Minister is satisfied that the applicant has taken, and will continue to take, all reasonable steps to manage risks to public safety.

Example 6—past, present, and future scenarios

tick.gif (1) A party to a contract may cancel if—
    (a) the party has been induced to enter into it by a misrepresentation made by another party to the contract; or
    (b) a term in the contract is breached by another party to the contract; or
    (c) it is clear that a term in the contract will be breached by another party to the contract.

1 See section 6 of the Interpretation Act 1999

2 See Government of Canada, Department of Justice, Legistics: Present Indicative

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