Take the 2-minute tour ×
Writers Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for authors, editors, reviewers, professional writers, and aspiring writers. It's 100% free, no registration required.

For writing diary content every day, which English tense is appropriate to use?

Things have all happened already. I usually write late at night (end of the day) or the next day.

Should I use simple past, present perfect simple, or another tense?

share|improve this question

migrated from english.stackexchange.com Jul 24 '12 at 23:27

This question came from our site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts.

3  
Wouldn't it be more natural to write the diary in your native language? –  Armen Tsirunyan Jul 24 '12 at 22:12
    
Why don't you look at people's diaries on the web to see what they did? –  Peter Shor Jul 24 '12 at 22:31
1  
A diary is almost always written from a personal perspective, so it is difficult states general rules for writing it, especially on the tense usage. In this form the question is not constructive. –  Carlo_R. Jul 24 '12 at 22:45
    
@Armen-Tsirunyan practicing English writing. –  gilzero Jul 25 '12 at 3:14
    
@Carlo_R - Agreed. Fortunately, Emily has answered the implied question - what effect will different tenses have - rather than the obvious one, "which should I do?" –  Neil Fein Jul 25 '12 at 6:10
show 2 more comments

5 Answers 5

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Past tense is my instinct. Yet it depends on what you are writing and the writing's purpose. If it's an adventure story or something with more of a fast pace then clearly present tense might be best. "What was that? Rustling in the bushes nearby. Footsteps just beyond--sound like a person, a large person. I must move on. Now." That is more effective than: "Yesterday I discovered signs of a person having walked behind my trail during the night. I am being followed and better switch up my route." The Blair Witch Project versus an Aldo Leopold work.

share|improve this answer
1  
This is an excellent answer; different tenses will produce different effects. Which one you use will be determined by which kind of effect you want to achieve in your audience - yourself, reading it later. Also note that writing in the present tense will make you relive events in a more immediate, you-are-there way. –  Neil Fein Jul 25 '12 at 6:09
    
Why is Emily's name greyed out and unclickable? –  Aerovistae Jul 26 '12 at 15:14
    
@Aerovistae - she posted the answer while the question was still on English.SE and might simply not have an account on Writers.SE yet. –  Martin Sojka Aug 1 '12 at 13:18
    
I joined! Now it's clickable. –  Emily Alinder Flynn Aug 5 '12 at 15:15
add comment

Use the simple past, if you're describing events of the day. An excerpt by Lewis Carroll:

July 4, 1862

I made an expedition up the river to Godstowe with the three Liddells, we had tea on the bank there, and did not reach Christ Church till half-past eight. (source)

share|improve this answer
    
That seems to be what I've seen most; even this diarist used past tense as well :^) –  J.R. Jul 25 '12 at 1:09
    
If you want your diary to be a recounting of past events, this makes sense. The past tense has the advantage of allowing you to say "this happened today, and I now think it meant thus-and-so" in a very simple, uncomplicated way. –  Neil Fein Jul 25 '12 at 6:13
add comment

I find these answers interesting because to me, a diary is a place you confess your innermost thoughts, while a journal is something you write in every day to talk about what you did. (note the jour- root, meaning "day")

That having been said, if I'm reporting on what I did today, or yesterday, I'd use past tense, because it's something I did. But if I'm using the writing as a way to work out my thoughts or emotions, I'd use present tense, because it's something I feel, which is still ongoing.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Are you planning on sharing this with anyone else or is it just for you? If it is just for you then write what comes naturally to you and what feels comfortable at the moment. It is after all your innermost feelings and your tense may change from entry to entry depending on your mood. Personally there is no way I would be able to write a diary entry if I had to force myself to stick to any type of rules.

share|improve this answer
add comment

It's a unique mix of past and present with future occasionally thrown in - while normal novels are almost universally written "from viewpoint after the end of the book" which means they will be completely "past", each journal entry describes very recent events - many of them ongoing or stretching into the future relative to the entry.

John left. We had a terrible argument and he said he's tired of dealing with my crap. Now I'm sitting on my bed and crying. I've been calling him for past hour, and now I'm trying again, and the phone still doesn't answer. I will keep trying until he replies or until I'm too tired to continue.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.