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Verb Tense: Writing Skills Success Study Guide

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Updated on Aug 25, 2011

Practice exercises for this concept can be found at Verb Tense: Writing Skills Success Practice Exercises.

Language is fossil poetry.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, American poet (1803–1882)

Lesson Summary

As the "movers and shakers" of language, verbs drive language and give it life. They are the energetic part of speech. Because they are so important, mistakes involving verbs really stand out. They can make or break the outcome of an exam, essay, or business letter. The next two lessons will help you learn how to avoid the most common errors involving these important words.

Writers use words to establish their credibility. Few things cast doubt on a writer's believability as much as misusing words—especially verbs. Incorrect verb forms call special attention to themselves and bring the writer's education and intelligence into question. Furthermore, exams often test your knowledge of how to use verbs and avoid errors involving verbs.

This lesson explains how to use verbs correctly and highlights a few of the most common mistakes writers make. See how many of the seven errors in verb usage you can find in the Problem version of the passage below. In the Solution section, the paragraph is rewritten with the correct verb forms. As you go through the lesson, try to apply the rules you learn to these corrections.

Problem

Wendy circles five advertisements in last Sunday's newspaper. She had been looking for a job for three months, and she is starting to get nervous about finding one. The money her mother had gave her was starting to run out and she knows she couldn't asked for more. If she was more qualified, she would of received a job offer already. However, she had very little work experience, and the job market was particularly competitive at this time of year. As she start to write cover letters for this week's jobs, she wondered if she should met with a career counselor for advice.

Solution

Wendy circled five advertisements in last Sunday's newspaper. She had been looking for a job for three months, and she was starting to get nervous about finding one. The money her mother had given her was starting to run out and she knew she couldn't ask for more. If she were more qualified, she would have received a job offer already. However, she had very little work experience, and the job market was particularly competitive at this time of year. As she started to write cover letters for this week's jobs, she wondered if she should meet with a career counselor for advice.

Principal Parts of Verbs

Verbs have three principal parts:

  • Present—the form of the verb that would complete the sentence, "Today, I_____."
  • Past—the form of the verb that would complete the sentence, "Yesterday, I_____."
  • Past participle—the form of the verb that would complete the sentence, "Often, I have_____."

For most verbs, it's easy to form the three principal parts if you know the present form. Take the verb look, for example. Today, I look. Yesterday, I looked. Often, I have looked. For regular verbs, the past and past participle forms both add -ed to the present form. But English is full of irregular verbs that form the past and past participle in some other way. The following table shows the principal parts of several often misused verbs.

Verb Tense

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