Using Past, Present & Future Tenses

By Lisa Painter, Literacy Specialist

When communicating with people by talking, signing and/or writing it is important to use past, present and future tenses.  Hearing people use these tenses to reduce misunderstandings when communicating.  Deaf and Hard of Hearing people need to use them as well, because not doing so can cause lots of misunderstandings and procrastination in communication. This is because it adds time to figure out if something already happened (past tense), is happening now (present tense) or will happen later (future tense).

When Deaf and Hard of Hearing people communicate with anyone (hearing, Deaf or Hard of Hearing) by talking, writing or even using an interpreter, it is important that you use past, present or future tenses.  This will help reduce confusion, repetition and save time.

The two examples I have seen used from time to time are:
(1) The sign for “long-time-ago.”  While “long-time-ago” does mean something already happened (past tense), it can cause confusion when you use that sign because people will ask you the exact date that it happened, only to find out that it happened yesterday (one day ago).  For some people the same sign means “recently.” They may be saying the event just happened a few days, weeks or a month ago.  “Long-time-ago” to hearing people can mean one year ago or more.  If you are talking about something happening yesterday, last week or in the last few months, it is best to say or sign “yesterday” “last week” or “last month.” This will help everyone understand more clearly what you want to express.

(2) The sign for “appointment?”  People will get confused, because they don’t know if you will need an appointment (future tense), you have an appointment right now or you already had an appointment.  Not everybody can guess accurately what you are thinking, which is why it is important you use more words to clarify what you mean.  For example you could say, “I need an appointment, please” (future tense), “I have an appointment today” (present tense) or “I already had an appointment last week” (past tense).
If you remember to use the past, present and future tenses it would benefit you in being able to communicate with everybody with less misunderstandings and repetition of what you just said.
If you want to learn more about how to improve your communication, writing and understanding of how to use grammar properly, Deaf and Hard of Hearing Service Center (DHHSC) provides a Literacy Program.  You can contact the front desk for more information on the program.

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