Verb Conjugation: Spelling Review Study Guide (page 3)
Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:
The dictionary defines a verb as "the part of speech that expresses existence, action, or occurrence." This definition does not quite capture the extreme importance of verbs to our language and our way of thinking. If we didn't have verbs, we would have no way of expressing what we were doing, where we were going, what we were thinking, or who we are. If there were no verbs, we would be unable to talk about the past or the future. We could point to objects and say their names, but this conversation would probably get pretty boring after a while. Without verbs, we couldn't even acknowledge that we didn't have much to talk about, since acknowledge and talk are verbs themselves!
The rules for conjugating verbs can be a difficult thing to understand, mostly because there are so many verbs that are exceptions. As we take a look at verb tenses and forms, however, you will see some of the same spelling patterns that you've already learned while studying suffix and plural endings. The rules for spelling the past tense of regular verbs, for instance, are almost exactly the same as the rules for making the plural forms of regular nouns, except instead of using the letters -s or -es, you use the letters -d or -ed.
Every verb in the English language has potentially five different spelling forms: present tense form, third person singular present tense form, past tense form, present participle form, and past participle form. One verb, be, has a few additional forms.
Before we look at the rules for conjugating verbs, let's take a quick look at the five major spelling forms.
Form #1: Present tense
The present tense is the tense of a verb used to show something happening right now, or an existing state of being. It is also known as the base form. The present tense is used with all subjects except third person singular, including first person singular (I), first person plural (we), second person (you), and third person plural (they, dogs, skies, buildings, and so on).
- Here are some examples of present tense verbs.
- drive: I drive.
- love: We love candy.
- run: The dogs run fast.
Form #2: Third person singular present tense
A third person singular subject is the subject he, she, it, or any other singular noun, like dog, sky, or building.
Here are some examples of present tense verbs with third person singular subjects.
- drive: He drives.
- love: She loves candy.
- run: The dog runs fast.
Form #3: Past tense
The past tense of a verb shows an action that happened in the past. For any given verb, all subjects (I, you, he, she, it, we, they, or any singular or plural subject) will take the same past tense. The verb be is the only exception.
- For example:
- drive: I drove. He drove. They drove.
- love: We loved candy. He loved candy. They loved candy.
- run: The dogs ran fast. I ran fast. He ran fast.
Form #4: Present participle
A participle is a verb that is used in a multipart verb tense as an adjective or a noun. The present participle is used to show that something is happening right now. In the sentence "They are running," the word running is a participle. All present participles end in the letters -ing. The verb in a sentence with a present participle is called a helping verb, and it will always be a form of the word be.
- drive: I am driving. (Am is the helping verb.)
- love: We are loving candy. (Are is the helping verb.)
- run: The dogs are running fast. (Are is the helping verb.)
Form #5: Past participle
Past participles are used to show a past or completed action, or as an adjective. The verb in a sentence with a past participle is also called a helping verb, and it will always be a form of the word have. In some cases, the past participle will be the same as the past tense of a verb.
- drive: I have driven before. (Have. is the helping verb.)
- love: We have loved candy in the past. (Have is the helping verb.)
- run: The dogs have run fast before, but today they are slow. (Have is the helping verb.)
Regular past participles end in -ed, but as the three examples show, there are a lot of everyday verbs that have irregular past participle forms.
HOW TO CONJUGATE REGULAR VERBS
In the last section, we learned that all verbs (except be) potentially have five spelling forms. These spelling forms can be used together with other verbs to create all the different verb tenses. The future tense, for instance, is created by combining the verb will + present tense form, as in "I will go to the movies tomorrow," or "She will enjoy her summer vacation." Entire books have been written about verb tenses, so we won't have enough time to cover all the different combinations of verbs in this book. You will, however, learn to spell the five different forms of verbs that are used when constructing sentences.
When looking at the verb endings, keep in mind that verb endings are suffixes that follow the spelling rules covered in Chapter 6. To refresh your memory, these rules are:
- If a suffix begins with a consonant, it can usually be attached to base word that ends in a consonant or a silent e with no change to the base word or the suffix.
- If a base word ends in a silent e and the suffix begins with a vowel, drop the silent e when adding the suffix.
- When base words end in a consonant + -y combination, change the -y to an i when adding suffixes. If the base word ends in a vowel + -y combination, keep the final–y.
- When a one-syllable base word ends in a consonant + vowel + consonant combination, double the final consonant when adding a suffix that begins with a vowel.
- When a base word of more than one syllable ends in the consonant + vowel + consonant combination and the accent is on the final syllable, double the final consonant when adding a suffix that begins with a vowel.
- When a base word ends in any other combination of vowels and consonants, do not double the final consonant when adding a suffix.
Rule #1: Present tense form
The present tense (or base) form of a verb is the infinitive of the verb minus the word to.
This rule is nice and easy, because it doesn't require you to do a darn thing. The basic form of a verb is known as the infinitive form. To bathe, to fly, and to imagine are all infinitive forms. The present tense form of any verb is the infinitive without the word to. So the present tense of the infinitive to bathe is simply bathe. With the exception of to be and the third person singular present tense form (see Rule #2), this rule holds true for all verbs, regular or irregular; now that's the kind of rule we like!
Rule #2: Third person singular present tense form
Add -s to make the third person singular present tense form. If the verb ends in a consonant + -y combination, change the -y to an i and add -es.
- heal + -s = heals. The doctor heals his patients.
- file + -s = files. My sister files her nails when they look ragged.
- employ + -s = employs. General Motors employs workers from all over the world.
- pry + -es = pries. The plumber pries the faucet from the sink.
This rule should be easy to remember, because it's the same as pluralizing nouns. The rule is the same for all regular and irregular verbs.
YOU MAY HAVE been taught that there are singular verbs and plural verbs. This is a common way of explaining the difference between the present form of a verb that is used with the various kinds of nouns. This description, however, is somewhat confusing and incorrect.
First of all, the words singular and plural have pretty rigid definitions: Singular means "one," and plural means "more than one." A singular noun would be an apple, and a plural noun would be two or three or 50,000 apples. But what is a plural of a verb? Could you have two "enjoys" or 50,000 "waits"?
Second of all, one would think that a singular form of a verb would be used with all singular subjects, but that is not the case. What is sometimes taught as the singular form of a verb is only used with third person singular subjects like he, she, or it. But I and you are singular subjects as well, which, for some unexplained reason, take the plural form of a verb.
Third, it is hopelessly confusing that the singular form of verbs has an -s, while the plural form of verbs does not have an -s.
For these reasons, I've chosen to refer to the two different forms of present tense verbs as simply present tense form and third person present tense form. If you have learned differently and would like to think of the verbs as singular and plural forms, that's fine; just don't forget that some singular subjects take plural verbs!
Rule #3: Past tense form
Add -d or -ed to make the past tense form.
- telephone + -ed = telephoned. Susan telephoned late last night.
- grill + -ed = grilled. We grilled hamburgers out on the porch.
- sway + -ed = swayed. The dancers swayed to the music.
- imply + -ed = implied. Antonio implied that he didn't like baseball.
- tan + -ed = tanned. The model tanned on the beach. (In this case, the n is doubled.)
- repel + -ed = repelled. The army repelled the invaders from the castle. (In this case, the l is doubled.)
Rule #4: Present participle form
Add -ing to form the present participle.
- fly + -ing = flying. I'd love to go flying in a hot air balloon someday.
- stare + -ing = staring. Melissa keeps staring out the window. (In this case, the e is dropped.)
- rub + -ing = rubbing. The massage therapist is rubbing my sore ankle. (In this case, the b is doubled.)
- refer + -ing = referring. Are you referring to the solar eclipse that happened last night? (In this case, the r is doubled.)
- All verbs regular and irregular follow this rule for forming the present participle.
Exceptions to Rule #4: You must drop a final e before adding -ing to form the present participle. There are a few exceptions to this rule. You keep a final e when adding -ing if:
- The e follows a soft g and you want to keep the j sound. (singe + ing = Singeing)
- You need to protect pronunciation (show that a preceding vowel should be long, for example, as in hoe + -ing = hoeing, not hoing).
- When an i precedes the final e, drop the ie, replace it with y, and add -ing. (lie + ing = lying)
You must double the final consonant if a verb ends with a letter sequence of consonant + vowel + consonant (rub + ing = rubbing).
Rule #5: Past participle form
Add -d or -ed to regular verbs to form the past participle.
- close + -d = closed. I had closed the window before it started raining.
- play + -ed = played. Terrah and I have played here many times before.
- reply + -ed = replied. Mrs. Jacobs had replied to Carly's letter in October. (In this case, the y is changed to an i.)
- tap + -ed = tapped. The spy had tapped out a message to his commanders before he was caught. (In this case, the p is dou)
Careful readers will notice that this form is exactly the same as the past tense form. For regular verbs, the past tense form and the past participle form will always be the same. It would be a mistake to assume that this holds true across the board, though, as we'll see when we look at irregular verbs. For now, let's practice what we've learned so far.
FUEL FOR THOUGHT
THE VERB be is a very odd duck. For starters, it is the only verb in the English language in which the infinitive differs from the present tense form of the verb. The infinitive is to be, while the present tense is am, is, or are. It is also, as the last sentence shows, the only verb that has a unique conjugation for use with the first person plural, second person, and third person plural. (A quick refresher: The first person singular = I am tired. The first person plural = We are tired. The second person = You or we are tired. The third person singular = He or she is tired. The third person plural = They are tired.)
What's more, be refuses to follow the rules for past tense and past participles. Every other verb has one past tense form, which is used with all subjects. Not our friend be. Be has two past tense forms, was and were. Was is used with first person and third person singular (I was tired; she was tired) and were is used with first person plural, second person, and third person plural (We were tired; you were tired; they were tired). The past participle of be is an entirely different conjugation: been. (I had been tired; they had been tired.)
Be is the most common verb in the English language, and misusages of the various forms of be are extremely common as well. All grammatically correct sentences must have subject-verb agreement, which means the subject of the sentence must be followed by the correct form of the verb. The was/were forms of be are often confused; for example, you might hear someone say something like "We was happy to be invited" or "They was still hungry after dinner." In both of these cases, the correct form of the verb is were.
The most common irregular verbs are listed below. Be forewarned: there are an awful lot of them, and this is not even a complete list. Do not be intimidated though; many of these verbs, you already know and use regularly. They are broken down into a few different categories to make them easier to remember.
The present participle and third person singular present tense forms are not listed for these verbs, because they follow the same rules as regular verbs.
List #1: No Change
These verbs do not change between the present tense, past tense, and past participle forms.
|Present Tense||Past Tense||Past Participle|
List #2: Same Past Tense and Past Participle
These verbs have the same past tense and past participle form.
|Present Tense||Past Tense||Past Participle|
List #3: Same Present Tense and Past Participle
These verbs have the same present tense and past participle form.
|Present Tense||Past Tense||Past Participle|
List #4: Past Participle Ends in -n or -en
The letters -n and -en are common endings for the past participle form of irregular verbs. The most common of these verbs is listed below.
|Present Tense||Past Tense||Past Participle|
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