Verb Tenses Demystified

Knowing verb tense well is super important for writing clearly. Tense shows the timing of an action, whether it occurred in the past, is happening in the present, or will happen in the future.

In this blog, we’ll explore the different tenses of verbs, how to use them, and provide practical examples to help you master verb tenses in your writing.

Tense tells us when something happens. Verbs change their tense to show whether an action is happening in the present, past, or future. Each tense has different forms.

Simple Tenses

The present, the past, and the future are called simple tenses.

 

Present Tense Past Tense Future Tense
He lives here. He lived here. He will live here.
The sun shines. The sun shone. The sun will shine.
I know him. I knew him. I will know him.

Present Tense: Expressing Current Actions

A verb in the present tense refers to the present time, in other words something happening now.

Simple Present

This tense is used for general facts and habitual actions.

♦ She writes every day. (This implies that writing every day is a habit for her.)

Present Continuous

This tense is for actions happening right now or around the current time.

♦ She is writing a poem. (At this moment, she is halfway through writing a poem).

Present Perfect

This tense shows actions that happened at an unspecified time before now.

♦ She has written poems. (This occurred at some time prior to now).

Present Perfect Continuous

This tense is for actions that started in the past and are still continuing.

♦ She has been writing all morning. (The action has already begun and is still ongoing).

Past Tense: Expressing Completed Actions

A verb in the present tense refers to something that happened before now, in other words a past time.

Simple Past

This tense is for actions that happened at a specific time in the past.

♦ She wrote a poem yesterday. (This implies that she wrote a poem at some time yesterday).

Past Continuous

This tense is for actions that were in progress at a specific time in the past.

♦ She was writing a poem when I called. (It suggests that she was actively engaged in writing a poem when I interrupted her with a phone call).

Past Perfect

This tense is for actions that were completed before another past action.

♦ She had written the poem before she went out. (This implies that she finished writing the poem prior to her leaving).

Past Perfect Continuous

This tense is for actions that were ongoing in the past before another action.

♦ She had been writing for an hour before he arrived. (This implies that she had been writing for one hour before he showed up).

Future Tense: Expressing Upcoming Actions

The future tense is used to talk about actions that will happen

Simple Future

This tense is for actions that will happen in the future.

♦ She will write a poem tomorrow. (She plans to write a poem at some point tomorrow).

Future Continuous

This tense is for actions that will be in progress at a specific time in the future.

♦ She will be writing a poem when you arrive. (When you arrive, she will be in the process of writing a poem).

Future Perfect

This tense is for actions that will be completed before a specific future time.

♦ She will have written the poem by the time you arrive. (This means she plans to finish writing the poem before you get there).

Future Perfect Continuous

This tense is for actions that will be ongoing up to a specific point in the future.

♦ She will have been writing for two hours by the time you get here. (This means she will have been writing for two hours when you arrive).

Forms of Present and Past Tense

Verbs change form based on tense (present or past).

When the Subject is I

Let’s focus on the form a verb takes when its subject is I. We use simple form verbs with no additional endings in the present tense.

♦ I like it.
♦ I hope for the best.
♦ I dwell in the wilderness.
♦ I find him amusing.

Weak and Strong Verbs

We form the past tense of verbs in two fundamental ways, and it is this distinction that determines whether they are weak or strong verbs.

Weak Verbs (Regular Verbs)

Weak verbs form the past tense by adding ed, d, or t to the present form. Examples:

♦ walk becomes walked
♦ hope becomes hoped
♦ burn becomes burnt
♦ mend becomes mended
♦ fill becomes filled

When the ending is ed, it is fully pronounced only when preceded by d or t (like threaded or attracted). Otherwise, the e is silent, so entered is pronounced enter’d and rocked is pronounced rockt.

In poetry or formal writing, the silent e in ed endings might be pronounced.

Strong Verbs (Irregular Verbs)

Form the past tense by changing the vowel of the present form without adding an ending. Examples:

♦ sing becomes sang
♦ begin becomes began
♦ swim becomes swam
♦ drink becomes drank
♦ cling becomes clung

The terms strong and weak were originally used because strong verbs seemed to change form on their own, while weak verbs needed an extra ending (like ed, d, or t).

Irregularities

The past tense of many weak verbs displays specific irregularities.

1. Some weak verbs change more than just adding ed, d, or t.

♦ make becomes made
♦ have becomes had

2. Some verbs ending in -nd and -ld change d to t in the past tense.

♦ send becomes sent
♦ build becomes built
♦ lend becomes lent
♦ spend becomes spent

3. Some verbs add d or t and change the vowel

♦ sell becomes sold
♦ tell becomes told
♦ bring becomes brought
♦ buy becomes bought

4. Certain verbs with a long vowel sound in the present tense have a short vowel sound before the ending t in the past tense.

♦ keep becomes kept
♦ sleep becomes slept
♦ creep becomes crept
♦ feel becomes felt

5. Some verbs in d or t preceded by a long vowel sound have a short vowel in the past but add no ending.

♦ read (present) becomes read (past) but pronounced differently
♦ lead (present) becomes led (past)
♦ feed becomes fed
♦ speed becomes sped

6. Some verbs look the same in both present and past.

♦ set stays set
♦ put stays put
♦ hit stays hit
♦ shut stays shut

Despite the absence of an ending in the past tense, certain weak verbs still fall under the classification of weak because of the absorption of their final d or t by the verb.

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Exercises for Verb Tenses

Take a moment to rewrite the sentences with the proper tense.

  1. She walks to the store yesterday.
  2. He will eats dinner at 7 PM tonight.
  3. They was playing soccer when it started to rain.
  4. I have seen that movie last week.
  5. She will going to the party tomorrow.
  6. He finish his homework before going out to play.
  7. We had saw the show before it got canceled.
  8. They are watch TV when the power went out.
  9. She was studies for her exam all night.
  10. I am eating breakfast when the phone rang.
  11. He have been working here for five years.
  12. She writes a letter when I called her.
  13. They will plays basketball after school.
  14. I was see him at the mall yesterday.
  15. She is cook dinner right now.
  16. We are went to the beach last weekend.
  17. He was drive to work every day before he got a new job.
  18. I have been finish my project on time.
  19. She had visited her grandparents tomorrow.
  20. They will had completed the task by yesterday.
Click on the + button for the answers

1. She walks to the store yesterday.
Correct: She walked to the store yesterday.

2. He will eats dinner at 7 PM tonight.
Correct: He will eat dinner at 7 PM tonight.

3. They was playing soccer when it started to rain.
Correct: They were playing soccer when it started to rain.

4. I have seen that movie last week.
Correct: I saw that movie last week.

5. She will going to the party tomorrow.
Correct: She will go to the party tomorrow.

6. He finish his homework before going out to play.
Correct: He finished his homework before going out to play.

7. Incorrect: We had saw the show before it got cancelled.
Correct: We had seen the show before it got cancelled.

8. They are watch TV when the power went out.
Correct: They were watching TV when the power went out.

9. She was studies for her exam all night.
Correct: She was studying for her exam all night.

10. I am eating breakfast when the phone rang.
Correct: I was eating breakfast when the phone rang.

11. He have been working here for five years.
Correct: He has been working here for five years.

12. She writes a letter when I called her.
Correct: She was writing a letter when I called her.

13. They will plays basketball after school.
Correct: They will play basketball after school.

14. I was see him at the mall yesterday.
Correct: I saw him at the mall yesterday.

15. She is cook dinner right now.
Correct: She is cooking dinner right now.

16. We are went to the beach last weekend.
Correct: We went to the beach last weekend.

17. He was drive to work every day before he got a new job.
Correct: He drove to work every day before he got a new job.

18. I have been finish my project on time.
Correct: I have been finishing my project on time.

19. She had visited her grandparents tomorrow.
Correct: She will visit her grandparents tomorrow.

20. They will had completed the task by yesterday.
Correct: They will have completed the task by tomorrow.

Ten Tips for Verb Inflection

1. Understand the Basic Tenses: Know the three main tenses—past, present, and future—and their functions.
2. Avoid Unnecessary Tense Shifts: Keep the same tense within a sentence or paragraph unless there’s a clear reason to change it.
3. Contextual Clarity: Ensure the context of the sentence or narrative makes it clear why you are using a particular tense.
4. Use Time Expressions Appropriately: Pair time expressions with the correct tense (e.g., yesterday with past tense, now with present continuous).
5. Pay Attention to Irregular Verbs: Learn the past forms of irregular verbs as they do not follow the regular -ed ending.

6. Use Consistent Tense in Dialogue: Maintain consistent tense in dialogue to match the surrounding narrative.
7. Use Tenses to Build Suspense and Engage Readers: Skillfully changing tenses can help create suspense and engage your readers (e.g., shifting from past to present in a flashback).
8. Proofread for Tense Consistency: Always review your writing to ensure verb tenses are consistent and correct, especially in longer pieces of writing where it’s easy to accidentally switch tenses.
9. Use Passive Voice Carefully: When using passive voice, ensure the verb tense matches the intended time frame.
10. Editing for Tense Consistency: During the editing process, check for any unintended tense shifts, Consider reading your work aloud to catch these errors more easily. Or Use a grammar checker like ProWritingAid.

Last Words on Verb Inflection

We have discussed verb tenses in the past, present, and future, exploring the different each tenses and their forms. By comprehending the subtleties of the tenses you can employ them consistently

Happy writing!

Linda

 

Feature Image by No-longer-here from Pixabay.

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