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Verb Tenses Study Guide

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Updated on Sep 22, 2011

Verb Tenses

Only in grammar can you be more than perfect.

WILLIAM SAFIRE (1929— )

AMERICAN AUTHOR

Verb tenses are used to indicate specific periods of when we are writing or speaking. We can tell when something is happening, has already happened, or has yet to happen. See and learn how it's done.

Three basic verb tenses help us understand when something is going to happen or has happened: in the present, the past, or the future. We can then subdivide those into three more categories: simple, progressive, and perfect.

Let's look at these tenses more closely. The three basic tenses we are most familiar with are the simple, progressive, and perfect.

Simple

Present tense indicates present action or action that happens on a regular basis.

We sing the National Anthem before ball games.

Past tense indicates that the action has already happened.

He broke his leg skiing yesterday.

Future tense indicates that the action hasn't yet happened, but will.

They will audition for this year's school play.

Progressive

Present progressive tense indicates action that is in progress. The present progressive is formed by combining am, is, are with the -ing form of the verb:

Trudy is writing a letter to her grandmother.

Past progressive tense indicates action that happened at some specific time in the past. The past progressive is formed by combining was or were with the -ing form of the verb:

George was playing football in the rain.

Future progressive tense indicates action that is continuous or will occur in the future. The future progressive is formed by combining will be with the -ing form of the verb:

Doreen will be attending her brother's wedding this summer

Perfect

Present perfect tense indicates that the action had started some time in the past and is ongoing into the present time. The present perfect is formed by combining the helping verbs have or has with the past participle form of the verb. The past participle is usually the simple past form of the verb (verb + ed); for example, hike becomes hiked, or stop becomes stopped. Sometimes, though, the verb is irregular; for example, run becomes ran (not runned), or know becomes knew (not knowed).

With regular past participle: Hannah has cleaned all day.
With irregular past participle: Justin has lost his cell phone.

Past perfect tense indicates action that occurred some time in the past before another action was begun. The past perfect is formed by combining the helping verb had with the past participle form of the verb.

Luckily, Cory's flight had left the airport before the snowstorm hit.

Future perfect tense indicates action that will occur and finish in the future before another action has begun. The future perfect tense is formed by combining the helping verbs will have, would have, or will have been with the past participle form of the verb.

David will have attended Ocean Township Intermediate School for four years before going to high school.

Irregular Verbs

Most verbs are regular, which means that you can add -ed to the end of the word with little or no change (an occasional doubling of a final consonant might be required, or only -d is added to words already ending in -e). English also has many irregular verbs, which don't follow a predictable pattern like adding -ed to form the past tense. The conjugation of these verbs into tenses will require memorization. Let's look at the principal parts of these verbs.

Note: All verbs have the same parts (present, past, past participle). Unlike irregular verbs, the past participle of regular verbs is always the past form of the verb. For example:

A practice exercise for this concept can be found at Verb Tenses Practice Exercise.

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