A student sent a series of questions to me regarding verb tense consistency. She had heard an exchange in a TV series where one character apologized for his strange behavior recently. The listener responded by saying, “I didn’t notice.” In similar situations, this attentive language learner had heard other verb forms used. Wouldn’t it also be possible to say, “I haven’t noticed” or even “I hadn’t noticed”? Indeed, sometimes more than one answer is possible because it depends on the speaker’s perspective:
- I didn’t notice. = Nothing strange caught my attention in your past behavior.
- I haven’t noticed. = Up to this point, there has been nothing strange about your behavior.
- I hadn’t noticed. = I hadn’t even thought about this until you mentioned it.
We teach general rules of thumb about verb tense consistency. One is to respond with the same verb form used in a question. For example, the short answers to Did you notice? are Yes, I did and No, I didn’t. But there are exceptions, especially once we go beyond yes-no questions. Just how many responses can you think of to How are you? That question itself can become How are you doing? In either case, one can say I’m fine or I’m doing just fine.
If you’d like to have a productive discussion about verb tense consistency and give your upper level students practice using different verb forms in the same situation, please consider my Verb Tense Consistency_handout. Hopefully, the topic of fairy tales will amuse your learners. Enjoy!