- Identify and use the correct verb tense in a sentence
There are three standard tenses in English: past, present and future. All three of these tenses have simple and more complex forms. For now we’ll just focus on the simple present (things happening now), the simple past (things that happened before), and the simple future (things that will happen later).
- Simple Present: work(s)
- Simple Past: worked
- Simple Future: will work
The present tense for singular third person is slightly different from the other persons. Look at the tables, below, to see the correct tenses for each person:
|I||verb + ed||verb||will verb|
|We||verb + ed||verb||will verb|
|You||verb + ed||verb||will verb|
|He, She, It||verb + ed||verb + s (or es)||will verb|
|They||verb + ed||verb||will verb|
Let’s look at the verb to walk for an example:
|He, She, It||walked||walks||will walk|
There are a lot of irregular verbs. Unfortunately, a fair amount of memorization is needed to keep them straight.
The following video shows some of the irregular verbs you’ll use most often (to be, to have, to do, and to say):
For quick reference, below are the tables for to be and to have:
|He, She, It||was||is||will be|
|He, She, It||had||has||will have|
- Ysabella is really good at getting others to open up.
- Rodrigo had a B+ in his math class.
- Amanda will say she doesn’t want to go to the party.
- Notice that when the tense of the first verb changed, the tense of the second verb did, as well.
- Jordan did two hundred sit-ups.
- Marcela runs a car wash down the street from my house.
Complex Verb Tenses
Verbs don’t have to be expressed only in present, past, or future tenses. There are more complex verb tenses that allow us to express actions with a little more variety and difference, which are created by changing the verb aspect. The verb aspect tells us whether a verb is stating a fact, a completed action, an ongoing action, or the end of an ongoing action. Here are a few examples of these different aspects, all in the present tense:
- Simple Aspect (expressing a fact): I eat.
- Perfect Aspect (expressing a completed action): I have eaten.
- Progressive or Continuous Aspect (expressing an ongoing action): I am eating.
- Perfect Progressive Aspect (expressing the end of an ongoing action): I have been eating.
Each of these aspects can be expressed in past, present, and future tenses. For example, the different verb tenses in the perfect aspect would be:
- Past Perfect: I had eaten
- Present Perfect: I have eaten
- Future Perfect: I will have eaten
These different tenses allow for much more flexibility in our language and expression.
Watch the video below for some more information about verb aspect, and to see all the different types of ways you can organize and use verbs.
You can view the transcript for “Introduction to verb aspect” here (opens in new window).
Look at the following schedule for a Writer’s Workshop. Pretend that it’s Tuesday at 12:30 pm—you’re halfway through the workshop events. Write a short journal entry about the schedule, using both simple and complex verb tenses.
|10:00||Check-In||Genre Speakers||Meet Editors/Agents|
|11:00||Group Orientation||Genre Speakers|
|1:00||Peer-to-Peer Critique||Professional Critiques|
This Writer’s Workshop has been going since yesterday. This morning, several genre speakers talked about the quirks of their genres. By the time attendees heard these talks, they had completed their peer-to-peer critiques and were ready to learn more specific things about the genre they aspire to write in. After lunch today, each attendee will meet with a professional writer for a critique of his or her work. When that has finished, the keynote speaker will give an address. Tomorrow there will be a meet-and-greet with editors and agents. By noon tomorrow, the workshop will have ended.