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Verb Tenses for Meeting Minutes

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Peter wrote recently to ask about the appropriate verb tenses to use in meeting minutes. Read these sentence pairs he asked about and decide which sentences sound better for meeting notes and minutes.

A. John said the next meeting will be on October 1.
B. John said the next meeting would be on October 1.

A. Min reported that the new shipment arrived today and is ready for processing.
B. Min reported that the new shipment had arrived that day and was ready for processing.

A. Stella said we need to seek a legal opinion.
B. Stella said we needed to seek a legal opinion.

Which do you think work better–the As or the Bs?

The As are more immediate. When I read them, it is as if I were there. As an attendee at the meeting, I might have asked, “Excuse me. What did John just say?” And the answer would be “John said the next meeting will be on October 1.”

The A sentences use the same verb tense the person at the meeting used.

In contrast, the B sentences move the speaker’s words into the past, or at least they seem to do so. Did Min report that the new shipment “had arrived that day”? No, probably not. She probably reported that it “arrived today.” Similarly, Stella probably said “We need to seek a legal opinion.” Although it is possible she said “We needed to seek a legal opinion,” it is not likely.

Remember that your grammar and spelling checker does not recognize that you are writing minutes, so ignore its questions about your verb tenses. Usually picking the appropriate verb tense should be easy. But it gets hard when you wait a long time before writing the minutes. If the meeting took place weeks ago and today is October 2, it may seem silly to write “John said the next meeting will be on October 1.” It is silly. You need to write the minutes sooner, preferably within a day or two of the meeting.

To learn more about writing meeting notes and minutes, take the online self-study course Meeting Notes Made Easy.


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

2 comments on “Verb Tenses for Meeting Minutes”

  • How about the Indirect Speech rules??
    After all, the Minutes of meetings are issued as a story of what has been discussed.
    The simple fact that you have a past tense verb in the main clause requires the use of “one step behind” tenses in the subordinate clauses.

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