5.5 Verb Tenses

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify simple verb tenses.
  2. Recognize to be, to have, and to do verbs.
  3. Use perfect verb tenses.
  4. Apply progressive verb tenses.
  5. Define gerunds and infinitives.

You must always use a verb in every sentence you write. Verbs are parts of speech that indicate actions or states of being. The most basic sentence structure is a subject followed by a verb.

Simple Verb Tenses

Verb tenses tell the reader when the action takes place. The action could be in the past, present, or future.

Past ← Present → Future
Yesterday I jumped. Today I jump. Tomorrow I will jump.

Simple present verbs are used in the following situations:

  1. When the action takes place now

    I drink the water greedily.

  2. When the action is something that happens regularly

    I always cross my fingers for good luck.

  3. When describing things that are generally true

    College tuition is very costly.

Table 5.4 Regular Simple Present Tense Verbs

Verb I He/She/It You We They
ask ask asks ask ask ask
bake bake bakes bake bake bake
cook cook cooks cook cook cook
cough cough coughs cough cough cough
clap clap claps clap clap clap
dance dance dances dance dance dance
erase erase erases erase erase erase
kiss kiss kisses kiss kiss kiss
push push pushes push push push
wash wash washes wash wash wash

When it is 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.

Simple past verbs are used when the action has already taken place and is now finished:

  • I washed my uniform last night.
  • I asked for more pie.
  • I coughed loudly last night.

Table 5.5 Regular Simple Past Tense Verbs

Verb I He/She/It You We They
ask asked asked asked asked asked
bake baked baked baked baked baked
cook cooked cooked cooked cooked cooked
cough coughed coughed coughed coughed coughed
clap clapped clapped clapped clapped clapped
dance danced danced danced danced danced
erase erased erased erased erased erased
kiss kissed kissed kissed kissed kissed
push pushed pushed pushed pushed pushed
wash washed washed washed washed washed

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.

Table 5.6 Regular Simple Future Tense Verbs

Verb I He/She/It You We They
ask will ask will ask will ask will ask will ask
bake will bake will bake will bake will bake will bake
cook will cook will cook will cook will cook will cook
cough will cough will cough will cough will cough will cough
clap will clap will clap will clap will clap will clap
dance will dance will dance will dance will dance will dance
erase will erase will erase will erase will erase will erase
kiss will kiss will kiss will kiss will kiss will kiss
push will push will push will push will push will push
wash will wash will wash will wash will wash will wash

Going to can also be added to the main verb to make it future tense:

  • I am going to go to work tomorrow.

Exercise 1

On a separate sheet of paper, complete the following sentences by adding the verb in the correct simple tense.

  1. Please do not (erase, erased, will erase) what I have written on the board.
  2. They (dance, danced, will dance) for hours after the party was over.
  3. Harrison (wash, washed, will wash) his laundry after several weeks had passed.
  4. Yesterday Mom (ask, asked, will ask) me about my plans for college.
  5. I (bake, baked, will bake) several dozen cookies for tomorrow’s bake sale.

Exercise 2

Correct the verb tense mistakes in the following paragraph.

Last summer, I walk around Walden Pond. Walden Pond is in Concord, Massachusetts. It is where the philosopher Henry David Thoreau will live during the mid-nineteenth century. During his time there, he wrote a book called Walden. Walden is a book of Thoreau’s reflections on the natural environment. It will be consider a classic in American literature. I did not know that Walden Pond is consider the birthplace of the environmental movement. It was very relaxing there. I will listen to birds, frogs, and crickets, not to mention the peaceful sound of the pond itself.

Collaboration

Once you have found all the errors you can, please share with a classmate and compare your answers. Did your partner find an error you missed? Did you find an error your partner missed? Compare with your instructor’s answers.

To Be, To Do, and To Have

There are some irregular verbs in English that are formed in special ways. The most common of these are the verbs to be, to have, and to do.

Table 5.7 Verb Forms of To Be, To Do, and To Have

Base Form Present Tense Form Past Tense Form Future Tense Form
be am/is/are was/were will be
do do/does did will do
have have/has had will have

Tip

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.

Past ← Present → Future
To Be
Yesterday I was angry. Today I am not angry. Tomorrow I will be angry.
To Do
I did my best yesterday. I do my best every day. Tomorrow I will do my best.
To Have
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:

To Be

  • I → am/was/will be
  • you/we/they → are/were/will be
  • he/she/it → is/was/will be

To Have

  • I/you/we/they → have/had/will have
  • he/she/it → has/had/will have

To Do

  • I/you/we/they → do/did/will do
  • he/she/it → does/did/will do

Tip

Remember, if you have a compound subject like Marie and Jennifer, think of the subject as they to determine the correct verb form.

  • Marie and Jennifer (they) have a house on Bainbridge Island.

Similarly, single names can be thought of as he, she, or it.

  • LeBron (he) has scored thirty points so far.

Exercise 3

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!

Perfect Verb Tenses

Up to this point, we have studied the three simple verb tenses—simple present, simple past, and simple future. Now we will add three more tenses, which are called perfect tenses. They are present perfect, past perfect, and future perfect. These are the three basic tenses of English. A past participle is often called the –ed form of a verb because it is formed by adding –d or –ed to the base form of regular verbs. Past participles can also end in -t or -en. 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.

Review the following basic formula for the present perfect tense:

Subject + has or have + past participle
I have helped

The present perfect tense has a connection with the past and the present.

The past perfect tense has a connection with the past and the present.

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.

Study the following basic formula for the past perfect tense:

Subject + had or have + past participle
I had listened

The bus had left (past perfect tense). Theo arrived at the station (past tense).

  • 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).

Look at the following basic formula for the future perfect tense:

Subject + will have + past participle
I will have graduated

You move to London (future tense). You will have forgotten me (future perfect tense).

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.

Exercise 4

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.

Progressive Verb Tenses

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)
am/is/are help helping

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.

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)
was/were helping

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.

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)
will be helping

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.

Exercise 5

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)

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
  • She has been talking for the last hour.

    This sentence indicates that she 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.

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)
had been helping
  • 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.

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)
will have Been helping
  • 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.

Gerunds

A gerund is a form of a verb that is used as a noun. All gerunds end in -ing. Since gerunds function as nouns, they occupy places in a sentence that a noun would, such as the subject, direct object, and object of a preposition.

You can use a gerund in the following ways:

  1. As a subject

    Traveling is Cynthia’s favorite pastime.

  2. As a direct object

    I enjoy jogging.

  3. As an object of a proposition

    The librarian scolded me for laughing.

Often verbs are followed by gerunds. Study Table 5.8 “Gerunds and Verbs” for examples.

Table 5.8 Gerunds and Verbs

Gerund Verb Followed by a Gerund
moving Denise considered moving to Paris.
cleaning I hate cleaning the bathroom.
winning Nate imagines winning an Oscar one day.
worrying Mom says she has stopped worrying.
taking She admitted taking the pumpkin.

Infinitives

An infinitive is a form of a verb that comes after the word to and acts as a noun, adjective, or adverb.

to + verb = infinitive

Examples of infinitives include to move, to sleep, to look, to throw, to read, and to sneeze.

Often verbs are followed by infinitives. Study Table 5.9 “Infinitives and Verbs” for examples.

Table 5.9 Infinitives and Verbs

Infinitive Verb Followed by Infinitive
to help Jessica offered to help her move.
to arrive Mick expects to arrive early.
to win Sunita wants to win the writing contest.
to close He forgot to close the curtains.
to eat She likes to eat late.

You may wonder which verbs can be followed by gerunds and which verbs can be followed by infinitives. With the following verbs, you can use either a gerund or an infinitive.

Table 5.10 Infinitives and Gerunds Verbs

Base Form of Verb Sentences with Verbs Followed by Gerunds and Infinitives
begin 1. John began crying.
2. John began to cry.
hate 1. Marie hated talking on the phone.
2. Marie hated to talk on the phone.
forget 1. Wendell forgot paying the bills.
2. Wendell forgot to pay the bills.
like 1. I liked leaving messages.
2. I liked to leave messages.
continue 1. He continued listening to the news.
2. He continued to listen to the news.
start 1. I will start recycling immediately.
2. I will start to recycle immediately.
try 1. Mikhail will try climbing the tree.
2. Mikhail will try to climb the tree.
prefer 1. I prefer baking.
2. I prefer to bake.
love 1. Josh loves diving.
2. Josh loves to dive.

Exercise 6

On your own sheet of paper, complete the following sentences by choosing the correct infinitive or gerund.

  1. I meant ________ (to kiss, kissing) my kids before they left for school.
  2. The children hoped (to go, going) to a restaurant for dinner.
  3. Do you intend ________ (to eat, eating) the entire pie?
  4. Crystal postponed ________ (to get dressed, getting dressed) for the party.
  5. When we finish ________ (to play, playing) this game, we will go home.

Key Takeaways

  • Verb tenses tell the reader when the action takes place.
  • Actions could be in the past, present, or future.
  • There are some irregular verbs in English that are formed in special ways. The most common of these irregular verbs are the verbs to be, to have, and to do.
  • There are six main verb tenses in English: simple present, simple past, simple future, present perfect, past perfect, and future perfect.
  • Verbs can be followed by either gerunds or infinitives.

Writing Application

Write about a lively event that is either remembered or imagined. Ask yourself the following three questions: What happened during the event? What happened after the event? Looking back, what do you think of the event now? Answer each question in a separate paragraph to keep the present, past, and future tense verbs separate.

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