Suppose you must give an oral presentation about what you did last summer. How do you make it clear that you are talking about the past and not about the present or the future? Using the correct verb tense can help you do this. Verbs indicate actions or states of being in the past, present, or future using tenses.
It is important to use the proper verb tense. Otherwise, your listener might not understand the time frame you are talking or writing about. In addition, mistakes in tense often leave a listener or reader with a negative impression, especially in a formal or work context.
One way to categorize verbs is whether they follow certain rules or not: regular verbs (verbs that follow tense rules consistently with regard to spelling) and irregular verbs (verbs that don't follow those rules). Unfortunately, in English, some of the most common verbs are also irregular.
Regular verbs follow the same patterns when shifting from the present to past tense or future tense. For example, to form a past-tense or past-participle verb form, add -ed or -d to the end of a verb. You can avoid mistakes by understanding this basic pattern.
Verb tense identifies the time of action described in a sentence. Verbs take different forms to indicate different tenses. Verb tenses indicate:
- an action or state of being in the present,
- an action or state of being in the past,
- an action or state of being in the future.
Helping verbs, such as be and have, also work to create verb tenses, such as the future tense.
Present Tense: Tim walks to the store. (Singular subject)
Present Tense: Sue and Kimmy walk to the store. (Plural subject)
Past Tense: Yesterday, they walked to the store to buy some bread. (Singular subject)
Future Tense: I will walk to the store tomorrow. (Singular subject)
When he, she, or it doing the present tense action, remember to add –s, or –es to the end of the verb or to change the y to –ies.
When he, she, or it is doing the action in the past tense, remember to add –d or –ed to the end of regular verbs.
Simple future verbs are used when the action has not yet taken place:
- I will work late tomorrow.
- I will kiss my boyfriend when I see him.
- I will erase the board after class.
For the most part, we focus on the simple past, present, and future tenses here. However, a list of all the tense can be found in the chart below. Notice that the examples all use regular verbs, and -- depending on the tense -- helping verbs as well.
Complete the following sentences by selecting the correct form of the verb in simple present, simple past, or simple future tenses.
- The Dust Bowl (is, was, will be) a name given to a period of very destructive dust storms that occurred in the United States during the 1930s.
- Historians today (consider, considered, will consider) The Dust Bowl to be one of the worst weather of events in American history.
- The Dust Bowl mostly (affects, affected, will affect) the states of Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico.
- Dust storms (continue, continued, will continue) to occur in these dry regions, but not to the devastating degree of the 1930s.
- The dust storms during The Dust Bowl (cause, caused, will cause) irreparable damage to farms and the environment for a period of several years.
- When early settlers (move, moved, will move) into this area, they (remove, removed, will remove) the natural prairie grasses in order to plant crops and graze their cattle.
- They did not (realize, realized, will realize) that the grasses kept the soil in place.
- There (is, was, will be) also a severe drought that (affects, affected, will affect) the region.
- The worst dust storm (happens, happened, will happen) on April 14, 1935, a day called Black Sunday.
- The Dust Bowl era finally came to end in 1939 when the rains (arrive, arrived, will arrive).
- Dust storms (continue, continued, will continue) to affect the region, but hopefully they will not be as destructive as the storms of the 1930s.
The infinitive (tenseless) form of the verb is included before each sentence. Rewrite each sentence with the correct tense of the verb that makes sense within the context of the sentence.
1. (to travel) Tomorrow, I _________________________ to visit my family.
2. (to work) I ____________________ hard every day.
3. (to run) I __________________ all the way to the bus this morning so I could get to class on time.
4. (to request) Your presence is ___________________________ at the party on May 3, 2020.
5. (to carry) They ___________________ their luggage up the hill to the vacation house they rented.
6. (to marry) Tom and John ____________________ on June 6, 2020.
When describing what happens in something you've read (on the computer or paper) or watched (in a video), use the simple present tense to describe that action. This is an academic convention. For example, you might write: Chewbacca acts as Han Solo's assistant and character commentator in Star Wars.
Present Progressive Tense
Progressive verb tenses describe a continuing or unfinished action, such as I am going, I was going, or I will be going.
The present progressive tense describes an action or state of being that takes place in the present and that continues to take place.
To make verbs in the present progressive tense, combine these two parts:
Present tense form of to be
-ing (present participle)
You should use the present progressive tense to describe a planned activity, to describe an activity that is recurring right now, and to describe an activity that is in progress although not actually occurring at the time of speaking:
- Preeti is starting school on Tuesday.
This sentence describes a planned activity.
- Janetta is getting her teeth cleaned right now.
This sentence describes an activity that is occurring right now.
- I am studying ballet at school.
This sentence describes an activity that is in progress but not actually occurring at the time of speaking.
Past Progressive Tense
The past progressive tense describes an action or state of being that took place in the past and that continues to take place.
To make verbs in the past progressive tense, combine these two parts:
Past tense form of to be
-ing (present participle)
You should use the past progressive tense to describe a continuous action in the past, to describe a past activity in progress while another activity occurred, or to describe two past activities in progress at the same time:
- Ella and I were planning a vacation.
This sentence describes a continuous action in the past.
- I was helping a customer when I smelled delicious fried chicken.
This sentence describes a past activity in progress while another activity occurred.
- While I was finishing my homework, my wife was talking on the phone.
This sentence describes two past activities in progress at the same time.
Future Progressive Tense
The future progressive tense describes an action or state of being that will take place in the future and that will continue to take place. The action will have started at that future moment, but it will not have finished at that moment.
To make verbs in the future progressive tense, combine these parts:
Future tense form of to be
-ing (present participle)
Use the future progressive tense to describe an activity that will be in progress in the future:
- Samantha and I will be dancing in the school play next week.
- Tomorrow Agnes will be reading two of her poems.
On a separate sheet of paper, revise the following sentences, written in simple tenses, using the progressive tenses indicated in parentheses.
1. He prepared the food while I watched. (past progressive tense)
2. Jonathan will speak at the conference. (future progressive)
3. Josie traveled to Egypt last July. (past progressive tense)
4. My foot aches, so I know it will rain. (present progressive tense)
5. Micah will talk a lot when I see him. (future progressive)
6. I yawn a lot because I feel tired. (present progressive tense)
Many people casually speak in the present progressive tense when they really should use the simple present tense. Watch out for this in your writing!
The three perfect tenses indicate that an action is complete. They are present perfect, past perfect, and future perfect. These are the three basic tenses of English. A past participle is used in the perfect tenses. Past participles are often called the –ed form of a verb because they are formed by adding –d or –ed to the base form of regular verbs. Past participles can also end in -t or -en (irregular verbs, see below). Keep in mind, however, the past participle is also formed in various other ways for irregular verbs. The past participle can be used to form the present perfect tense.
Present Perfect Tense
Review the following basic formula for the present perfect tense:
has or have
Use the present perfect tense to describe a continuing situation and to describe an action that has just happened.
- I have worked as a caretaker since June.
This sentence tells us that the subject has worked as a caretaker in the past and is still working as a caretaker in the present.
• Dmitri has just received an award from the Dean of Students. This sentence tells us that Dmitri has very recently received the award.
The word just emphasizes that the action happened very recently.
Past Perfect Tense
Review the following basic formula for the past perfect tense:
|Subject||+||have or had||+||past participle|
Use the past perfect tense to describe a continuing situation that was completed by a certain time in the past.
- The bus had left by the time Theo arrived at the station.
Notice that both actions occurred entirely in the past, but one action occurred before the other. At some time in the past, Theo arrived (simple past tense) at the station, but at some time before that, the bus had left (past perfect).
Future Perfect Tense
See the following basic formula for the future perfect tense:
|Subject||+||will have||+||past participle|
The future perfect tense describes an action from the past in the future, as if the past event has already occurred. Use the future perfect tense when you anticipate completing an event in the future, but you have not completed it yet.
- You will have forgotten me after you move to London.
Notice that both actions occur in the future, but one action will occur before the other. At some time in the future, the subject (you) will move (future tense) to London, and at some time after that, the subject will have forgotten (future perfect tense) the speaker, me.
On a separate sheet of paper, complete the following sentences by using the correct perfect verb tense for the verb in parentheses.
1. I plan to start a compost bin because I ________ (to want) one for a long time now.
2. My brother told me he ________ (to argue) with his friend about politics.
3. By the time we reach the mountain top the sun ________ (to set).
4. Denise ________ (to walk) several miles in the past three hours.
5. His mother ________ (to offer) to pay him to work in her office.
Perfect Progressive Tenses
Present Perfect Progressive
Similar to the present perfect tense, the present perfect progressive tense is used to indicate an action that was begun in the past and continues into the present. However, the present perfect progressive is used when you want to stress that the action is ongoing.
To make verbs in the present perfect progressive tense, combine the following parts:
|Present tense form of to have||+||been||+||--ing (present participle)|
|has or have||been||helping|
- He has been talking for the past hour.
This sentence indicates that he started talking in the past and is continuing to talk in the present.
• I have been feeling tired lately.
This sentence indicates that I started feeling tired in the past, and I continue to feel tired in the present. Instead of indicating time, as in the first sentence, the second sentence uses the adverb lately. You can also use the adverb recently when using the present perfect progressive tense.
Past Perfect Progressive
Similar to the past perfect tense, the past perfect progressive tense is used to indicate an action that was begun in the past and continued until another time in the past. The past perfect progressive does not continue into the present but stops at a designated moment in the past.
To make verbs in the past perfect progressive tense, combine the following parts:
|Past tense form of to have||+||been||+||--ing (present participle)|
- The employees had been talking until their boss arrived.
This sentence indicates that the employees were talking in the past and they stopped talking when their boss arrived, which also happened in the past.
- I had been working all day.
This sentence implies that I was working in the past. The action does not continue into the future, and the sentence implies that the subject stopped working for unstated reasons.
Future Perfect Progressive
The future perfect progressive tense is rarely used. It is used to indicate an action that will begin in the future and will continue until another time in the future.
To make verbs in the future perfect progressive tense, combine the following parts:
|Future tense form of to have||+||been||+||--ing (present participle)|
- By the end of the meeting, I will have been hearing about mortgages and taxes for eight hours.
This sentence indicates that in the future I will hear about mortgages and taxes for eight hours, but it has not happened yet. It also indicates the action of hearing will continue until the end of the meeting, something that is also in the future.
Irregular verbs do not use the same rules to create past tense.Here are some examples.
Present Tense: Lauren keeps all her letters.
Past Tense: Lauren kept all her letters.
Future Tense: Lauren will keep all her letters.
The videos below will give you some general ideas of how to identify and memorize irregular verbs.
Some of the most common irregular verbs are also the most common verbs in English: "to be," "to do," and "to have."
To Be, To Do, and To Have
The following table shows the past, present and future forms of these common irregular verbs.
|Base Form||Past Tense Form||Present Tense Form||Future Tense Form|
Memorize the present tense forms of to be, to do, and to have. A song or rhythmic pattern will make them easier to memorize.
Review these examples of to be, to do, and to have used in sentences.
|Yesterday I was angry.||Today I am angry.||Tomorrow I will be angry.|
|I did my best yesterday.||I do my best today.||I will do my best tomorrow.|
|Yesterday I had ten dollars.||Today I have ten dollars.||Tomorrow I will have ten dollars.|
Remember the following uses of to be, to have and to do:
• I → am/was/will be
• you/we/they → are/were/will be
• he/she/it → is/was/will be
• I/you/we/they → have/had/will have
• he/she/it → has/had/will have
• I/you/we/they → do/did/will do
• he/she/it → does/did/will do
On a separate sheet of paper, complete the following sentences by circling the correct form of the verbs to be, to have, and to do in the three simple tenses.
1. Stefan always (do, does, will do) his taxes the day before they are due.
2. We (are, is, was) planning a surprise birthday party for my mother.
3. Turtles (have, had, has) the most beautiful patterns on their shells.
4. I always (do, did, will do) my homework before dinner, so I can eat in peace.
5. You (is, are, was) so much smarter than you think!
Study the table below, “Irregular Verbs”, which lists the most common irregular verbs.
Table 12.6: Irregular Verbs
|Simple Present||Past||Simple Present||Past|
The best way to learn irregular verbs is to memorize them. With the help of a classmate, create flashcards of irregular verbs and test yourselves until you master them.
Complete the following sentences by selecting the correct form of the irregular verb in simple present, simple past, or simple future tense. Copy the corrected sentence onto your own sheet of paper.
- Marina finally (forgived, forgave, will forgive) her sister for snooping around her room.
- The house (shook, shaked, shakes) as the airplane rumbled overhead.
- I (buyed, bought, buy) several items of clothing at the thrift store on Wednesday.
- She (put, putted, puts) the lotion in her shopping basket and proceeded to the checkout line.
- The prized goose (layed, laid, lay) several golden eggs last night.
- Mr. Batista (teached, taught, taughted) the class how to use correct punctuation.
- I (drink, drank, will drink) several glasses of sparkling cider instead of champagne on New Year’s Eve next year.
- Although Hector (growed, grew, grows) three inches in one year, we still called him “Little Hector.”
- Yesterday our tour guide (lead, led, will lead) us through the maze of people in Times Square.
- The rock band (burst, bursted, bursts) onto the music scene with their catchy songs.
On your own sheet of paper, write a sentence using the correct form of the verb tense shown below.
- Throw (past)
- Paint (simple present)
- Smile (future)
- Tell (past)
- Share (simple present)Maintaining Consistent Verb Tense
Verb Tense Consistency
Consistent verb tense means the same verb tense is used throughout a sentence or a paragraph. As you write and revise, it is important to use the same verb tense consistently and to avoid shifting from one tense to another unless there is a good reason for the tense shift. In the following box, see whether you notice the difference between a sentence with consistent tense and one with inconsistent tense.
The crowd starts cheering as Melina approached the finish line.
The crowd started cheering as Melina approached the finish line.
The crowd starts cheering as Melina approaches the finish line.
In some cases, clear communication will call for different tenses. Look at the following example:
When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a fire fighter, but now I am studying computer science.
If the time frame for each action or state of being is different, a tense shift is appropriate.
Edit the following paragraph by correcting the inconsistent verb tense. Copy the corrected paragraph onto your own sheet of paper.
In the Middle Ages, most people lived in villages and work as agricultural laborers, or peasants. Every village has a “lord,” and the peasants worked on his land. Much of what they produce go to the lord and his family. What little food was leftover goes to support the peasants’ families. In return for their labor, the lord offers them protection. A peasant’s day usually began before sunrise and involves long hours of backbreaking work, which includes plowing the land, planting seeds, and cutting crops for harvesting. The working life of a peasant in the Middle Ages is usually demanding and exhausting.
Writing at Work
Read the following excerpt from a work e-mail:
I would like to highlight an important concern that comes up after our meeting last week. During the meeting, we agree to conduct a series of interviews over the next several months in which we hired new customer service representatives. Before we do that, however, I would like to review your experieces with the Customer Relationship Managment Program. Please suggest a convenient time next week for us to meet so that we can discuss this important matter.
The inconsistent tense in the e-mail will very likely distract the reader from its overall point. Most likely, your coworkers will not correct your verb tenses or call attention to grammatical errors, but it is important to keep in mind that errors such as these do have a subtle negative impact in the workplace.
Contributors and Attributions
CC LICENSED CONTENT, SHARED PREVIOUSLY:
- Adapted from College ESL Writers: Applied Grammar and Composing Strategies for Success. Authored by: Barbara Hall and Elizabeth Wallace. Provided by: GALILEO Open Learning Materials. License: CC BY-NC-SA (3.0): Attribution.
- Adapted from Writing for Success. Provided by: The Saylor Foundation. License: CC-NC-SA 3.0.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED CONTENT:
- How Many Verb Tense Are There in English? Authored by: Anna Anunichuk. Provided by: TedEd. License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.
- Nessy Writing Strategy: Irregular Verbs. Authored by: Nessy. License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.
- Irregular Verbs: All Irregular Verbs in One Song. Authored by: Lingportal Online School of English. License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.