Using Verbs

The verb is perhaps the most important part of the sentence. A verb or compound verb asserts something about the subject of the sentence and expresses actions, events, or states of being.

In each of the following sentences, the verb or compound verb appears highlighted:

Dracula bites his victims on the neck.

The verb "bites" describes the action Dracula takes.

In early October, Giselle will plant twenty tulip bulbs.

Here the compound verb "will plant" describes an action that will take place in the future.

My first teacher was Miss Crawford, but I remember the janitor Mr. Weatherbee more vividly.

In this sentence, the verb "was" (the simple past tense of "is") identifies a particular person and the verb "remembered" describes a mental action.

Written by Heather MacFadyen

Compound Verbs

You construct a compound verb out of an auxiliary verb and another verb.

In particular, you may use an auxiliary verb (also known as a helping verb) with the verb in order to create the many of the tenses available in English.

In each of the following sentences, the compound verb appears highlighted:

Karl Creelman bicycled around the world in 1899, but his diaries and his bicycle were destroyed.

The compound verb in this sentence is made up of the auxiliary "were" and the past participle "destroyed."

The book Seema was looking for is under the sofa.

Here the compound verb is made up of the auxiliary verb "was" and the present participle "looking."

They will meet us at the newest café in the market.

In this example the compound verb is made up of the auxiliary verb "will" and the verb "meet."

That dog has been barking for three hours; I wonder if someone will call the owner.

In this sentence the first compound verb is made up of the two auxiliary verbs ("has" and "been") and a present participle ("barking"). The second compound verb is made up of the auxiliary verb "will" and the verb "call."

 

Written by Heather MacFadyen

Auxiliary Verbs

The most common auxiliary verbs are "be," "do," and "have", and you may also use these verbs on their own. You use "Will" and "shall" to express future time.

In each of the following examples, a verb commonly used as an auxiliary verb appears as a simple predicate:

She is the chief engineer.
The tea cups are in the china cabinet.
Garth does this kind of thing frequently.
My roommates and I do the laundry every second week.
I can't complete my assignment because he still has my notes.
They have several kinds of gelato in the display case.

Other common auxiliaries are "can," "could," "may," "might," "must," "ought," "should," "will," and "would." A verb like these is called a modal auxiliary and expresses necessity, obligation, or possibility.

The highlighted word in each of the following sentences is a modal auxiliary:

Zora was pleased to learn that she could take several days off.
The small freckled girl told her neighbours that she would walk their dog for an appropriate fee.
Henry told Eliza that she ought to have the hole in the bucket fixed.
The principal told the assembled students that the school board might introduce a dress code next autumn.
According to the instructions, we must leave this goo in our hair for twenty minutes.

Several words may intervene between the auxiliary and the verb which goes with it, as in the following sentences:

They have not delivered the documents on time.
The treasure chest was never discovered.
The health department has recently decided that all high school students should be immunised against meningitis.
Will you walk the dog tonight?
The ballet corps was rapidly and gracefully pirouetting about the stage.

 

Written by Heather MacFadyen

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Depending on the type of object they take, verbs may be transitive, intransitive, or linking.

The meaning of a transitive verb is incomplete without a direct object, as in the following examples:

INCOMPLETE
The shelf holds.
COMPLETE
The shelf holds three books and a vase of flowers.
INCOMPLETE
The committee named.
COMPLETE
The committee named a new chairperson.
INCOMPLETE
The child broke.
COMPLETE
The child broke the plate.

An intransitive verb, on the other hand, cannot take a direct object:

This plant has thrived on the south windowsill.

The compound verb "has thrived" is intransitive and takes no direct object in this sentence. The prepositional phrase "on the south windowsill" acts as an adverb describing where the plant thrives.

The sound of the choir carried through the cathedral.

The verb "carried" is used intransitively in this sentence and takes no direct object. The prepositional phrase "through the cathedral" acts as an adverb describing where the sound carried.

The train from Montreal arrived four hours late.

The intransitive verb "arrived" takes no direct object, and the noun phrase "four hours late" acts as an adverb describing when the train arrived.

Since the company was pleasant and the coffee both plentiful and good, we lingered in the restaurant for several hours.

The verb "lingered" is used intransitively and takes no direct object. The prepositional phrase "in the restaurant for several hours" acts as an adverb modifying "lingered."

The painting was hung on the south wall of the reception room.

The compound verb "was hung" is used intransitively and the sentence has no direct object. The prepositional phrase "on the south wall of the reception room" acts as a adverb describing where the paint hung.

Many verbs can be either transitive or intransitive, depending on their context in the sentence. In the following pairs of sentences, the first sentence uses the verb transitively and the second uses the same verb intransitively:

transitive
According to the instructions, we must leave this goo in our hair for twenty minutes.

In this example, the verb "leave" takes a direct object, the noun phrase "this goo."

intransitive
We would like to stay longer, but we must leave.

In this example, the verb "leave" does not take a direct object.

transitive
The audience attentively watched the latest production of The Trojan Women.

In this example, the verb "watch" is used transitively and takes the noun phrase "the latest production of The Trojan Women" as a direct object.

intransitive
The cook watched while the new dishwasher surreptitiously picked up the fragments of the broken dish.

In this example, the verb "watched" is used intransitively and takes no direct object.

intransitive
The crowd moves across the field in an attempt to see the rock star get into her helicopter.

Here the verb "moves" is used as an intransitive verb and takes no direct object.

transitive
Every spring, William moves all boxes and trunks from one side of the attic to the other.

In this sentence "moves" is used as a transitive verb and takes the noun phrase "all the boxes and trunk" as a direct object.

 

Written by Heather MacFadyen

Linking Verbs

A linking verb connects a subject to a subject complement which identifies or describes the subject, as in the following sentences:

The play is Waiting for Godot.

In this sentence, the linking verb "is" links the noun phrase "the play" to the identifying phrase "Waiting for Godot," which is called a subject complement.

Some of us thought that the play was very good.

In this sentence, the verb "was" links the subject complement "very good" to subject "the play."

Others thought it became tedious after the first fifteen minutes.

In this sentence, the linking verb "became" links the subject "it" to the subject complement "tedious." The phrase "after the first fifteen minutes" functions as an adverb modifying the clause "it became tedious."

The cast appears disorganised and confused; perhaps Beckett intended this.

Here "appears" is functioning as a linking verb that connects the subject "the cast" to its subject complement "disorganised and confused."

The play seems absurd to me.

The subject "the play" is joined to its subject complement "absurd" by the linking verb "seems."

Linking verbs are either verbs of sensation ("feel," "look," "smell," "sound," "taste") or verbs of existence ("act," "appear," "be," "become," "continue," "grow," "prove," "remain," "seem," "sit," "stand," "turn").

Many linking verbs (with the significant exception of "be") can also be used as transitive or intransitive verbs. In the following pairs of sentences, the first sentence uses the highlighted verb as a linking verb and the second uses the same verb as either a transitive or an intransitive verb:

Linking
Griffin insists that the water in Winnipeg tastes terrible.

In this sentence, the adjective "terrible" is a subject complement that describes a quality of the water.

Transitive
I tasted the soup before adding more salt.

Here the noun phrase "the soup" identifies what "I tasted." "The soup" is the direct object of the verb "tasted."

Linking
My neighbour's singing voice sounds very squeaky despite several hours of daily practice.

In this example, the phrase "very squeaky" is a subject complement that describes or identities the nature of the "singing voice."

Transitive
Upon the approach of the enemy troops, the gate-keeper sounded his horn.

Here the verb "sounded" takes a direct object, the noun phrase "his horn."

Linking
Cynthia feels queasy whenever she listens to banjo music.

In this sentence, the adjective "queasy" is a subject complement that describes Cynthia.

Transitive
The customer carefully feels the fabric of the coat.

Here the noun phrase "the fabric of the coat" is the direct object of the verb "feels" and identifies what the customer feels.

 

Written by Heather MacFadyen

Verbals

A verbal is a noun or adjective formed from a verb. Writers sometimes make mistakes by using a verbal in place of a verb, and in very formal writing, by confusing different types of verbals. This section covers three different verbals: the participle (which acts as an adjective), the gerund (which acts as a noun), and the infinitive (which also acts as a noun).

The fundamental difference between verbals and other nouns and adjectives is that verbals can take their own objects, even though they are no longer verbs:

Gerund
Building a house is complicated.

In this example, the noun phrase "a house" is the direct object of the verbal "building", even though "building" is a noun rather than a verb.

The Participle

A participle is an adjective formed from a verb. To make a present participle, you add "-ing" to the verb, sometimes doubling the final consonant:

"think" becomes "thinking"
"fall" becomes "falling"
"run" becomes "running"

The second type of participle, the past participle, is a little more complicated, since not all verbs form the past tense regularly. The following are all past participles:

the sunken ship
a ruined city
a misspelled word

Note that only transitive verbs can use their past participles as adjectives, and that unlike other verbals, past participles do not take objects (unless they are part of a compound verb).

The Gerund

A gerund is a noun formed from a verb. To make a gerund, you add "-ing" to the verb, just as with a present participle. The fundamental difference is that a gerund is a noun, while a participle is an adjective:

gerund
I enjoy running. ("Running" is a noun acting as the direct object of the verb "enjoy.")
participle
Stay away from running water. ("Running" is an adjective modifying the noun "water.")

Using Verbals

There are two common problems that come up when writers use verbals. The first is that since verbals look like verbs, they sometimes cause students to write fragmentary sentences:

[WRONG] Oh, to find true love!
[WRONG] Jimmy, swimming the most important race of his life.

The second problem is a very fine point, which most editors and some teachers no longer enforce. Although they look the same, gerunds and present participles are different parts of speech, and need to be treated differently. For example, consider the following two sentences:

I admire the woman finishing the report.
I admire the woman's finishing the report.

In the first example, "finishing" is a participle modifying the noun "woman": in other words, the writer admires the woman, not what she is doing; in the second example, "finishing" is a gerund, modified by the possessive noun "woman's": in other words, the writer admires not the woman herself but the fact that she is finishing the report.

Written by Heather MacFadyen

Forming and Using Verb Tenses

English speakers form many verb tenses by combining one of principal parts of the verb with one or more auxiliary verbs.

In order to form verb tenses you need a good grasp of the auxiliaries and the principal parts of the verb. There are four principal parts: the basic form, the present participle, the past form, and the past participle.

The basic form (or root of the verb is the form listed in the dictionary and is usually identical to the first person singular form of the simple present tense (except in the case of the verb "to be"):

walk
paint
think
grow
sing

The infinitive form of the verb is a compound verb made up of the the preposition "to" and the basic form of the verb:

to walk
to paint
to think
to grow
to sing

To form the present participle, add "-ing" to the basic form of the verb:

walking
painting
thinking
growing
singing

Note that you cannot use the present participle as a predicate unless you use an auxiliary verb with it -- the word group "I walking to the store" is an incomplete and ungrammatical sentence, while word group "I am walking to the store" is a complete sentence. You will often use the present participle as a modifier.

The past form of verbs is a little trickier. If the verb is regular (or weak, you can create the past form by adding "-ed", "-d", or "-t" to the present form. When a basic form ends in "-y", you changed the "-y" to "-i-"; in many cases you should also double terminal consonants before adding "-ed" (see the section on Spelling words with Double Consonants).

walked
painted
thought
grew
sang

The past participle of regular verbs is usually identical to the past form, while the past participle of irregular verbs is often different:

walked
painted
thought
grown
sung

Irregular Verbs

Irregular verbs form the past participle and the past form without "-(e)d" or "-t", and frequently their past form and past participle are different. For example, the past form of the verb "break" is "broke" and the past participle is "broken."

This list contains the most common verbs that form their past tenses irregularly:

arise
arose, arisen
awake
awoke or awaked, awaked or awoken
awaken
awakened, awakened
bear (to carry)
bore, borne
bear (to give birth)
bore
beat
beat, beaten or beat
be
was, been
become
became, become
begin
began, begun
bet
bet, bet
bid
bid, bid (to, offer)
bid (to order, invite)
bade, bidden
bind
bound, bound
bite
bit, bitten
bleed
bled, bled
blow
blew, blown
break
broke, broken
breed
bred, bred
bring
brought, brought
burst
burst, burst
buy
bought, bought
cast
cast, cast
catch
caught, caught
choose
chose, chosen
cling
clung, clung
come
came, come
creep
crept, crept
cut
cut, cut
deal
dealt, dealt
dig
dug, dug
dive
dived or dove, dived
do
did, done
draw
drew, drawn
dream
dreamed or dreamt, dreamed or dreamt
drink
drank, drunk
drive
drove, driven
eat
ate, eaten
fall
fell, fallen
feed
fed, fed
feel
felt, felt
fight
fought, fought
find
found, found
flee
fled, fled
fly
flew, flown
forbid
forbade, forbidden
forget
forgot, forgotten
forgive
forgave, forgiven
forsake
forsook, forsaken
freeze
froze, frozen
get
got, got or gotten
give
gave, given
go
went, gone
grind
ground, ground
grow
grew, grown
hang (to suspend)
hung, hung
hang (to execute)
hanged, hanged
have
had, had
hear
heard, heard
hide
hid, hidden
hit
hit, hit
hold
held, held
hurt
hurt, hurt
keep
kept, kept
kneel
knelt or kneeled, knelt or kneeled
knit
knitted or knit, knitted or knit
know
knew, known
lay
laid, laid
lead
led, led
leap
leaped or leapt, leaped or leapt
leave
left, left
lend
lent, lent
let
let, let
lie
lay, lain
light
lighted or lit, lighted or lit
lose
lost, lost
make
made, made
mean
meant, meant
meet
met, met
mistake
mistook, mistaken
overcome
overcame, overcome
pay
paid, paid
prove
proved, proved or proven
put
put, put
quit
quit, quit
read
read, read
ride
rode, ridden
ring
rang, rung
rise
rose, risen
run
ran, run
say
said, said
see
saw, seen
seek
sought, sought
sell
sold, sold
send
sent, sent
set
set, set
shake
shook, shaken
shed
shed, shed
shoot
shot, shot
shrink
shrank or shrunk, shrunk
shut
shut, shut
sing
sang, sung
sink
sank, sunk
sit
sat, sat
slay
slew, slain
sleep
slept, slept
slide
slid, slide
sling
slung, slung
slink
slunk, slunk
speak
spoke, spoken
speed
sped or speeded, sped or speeded
spend
spent, spent
spin
spun, spun
spit
spit or spat, spit or spat
split
split, split
spread
spread, spread
spring
sprang or sprung, sprung
stand
stood, stood
steal
stole, stolen
stick
stuck, stuck
stink
stank or stunk, stunk
strew
strewed, strewn
stride
strode, stridden
strike
struck, struck
string
strung, strung
strive
stove or strived, striven or strived
swear
swore, sworn
sweep
swept, swept
swell
swelled, swelled or swollen
swim
swam, swum
swing
swung, swung
take
took, taken
teach
taught, taught
tear
tore, torn
tell
told, told
think
thought, though
thrive
throve or thrived, throve or thriven
throw
threw, thrown
thrust
thrust, thrust
wake
woke or waked, waked or woken
weep
wept, wept
win
won, won
wind
wound, wound
wring
wring, wrung
write
wrote, written

Written by Heather MacFadyen

Frequently-Confused Verbs

English speakers form many verb tenses by combining one of principal parts of the verb with one or more auxiliary verbs.

In order to form verb tenses you need a good grasp of the auxiliaries and the principal parts of the verb. There are four principal parts: the basic form, the present participle, the past form, and the past participle.

The basic form (or root of the verb is the form listed in the dictionary and is usually identical to the first person singular form of the simple present tense (except in the case of the verb "to be"):

walk
paint
think
grow
sing

The infinitive form of the verb is a compound verb made up of the the preposition "to" and the basic form of the verb:

to walk
to paint
to think
to grow
to sing

To form the present participle, add "-ing" to the basic form of the verb:

walking
painting
thinking
growing
singing

Note that you cannot use the present participle as a predicate unless you use an auxiliary verb with it -- the word group "I walking to the store" is an incomplete and ungrammatical sentence, while word group "I am walking to the store" is a complete sentence. You will often use the present participle as a modifier.

The past form of verbs is a little trickier. If the verb is regular (or weak, you can create the past form by adding "-ed", "-d", or "-t" to the present form. When a basic form ends in "-y", you changed the "-y" to "-i-"; in many cases you should also double terminal consonants before adding "-ed" (see the section on Spelling words with Double Consonants).

walked
painted
thought
grew
sang

The past participle of regular verbs is usually identical to the past form, while the past participle of irregular verbs is often different:

walked
painted
thought
grown
sung

Irregular Verbs

Irregular verbs form the past participle and the past form without "-(e)d" or "-t", and frequently their past form and past participle are different. For example, the past form of the verb "break" is "broke" and the past participle is "broken."

This list contains the most common verbs that form their past tenses irregularly:

arise
arose, arisen
awake
awoke or awaked, awaked or awoken
awaken
awakened, awakened
bear (to carry)
bore, borne
bear (to give birth)
bore
beat
beat, beaten or beat
be
was, been
become
became, become
begin
began, begun
bet
bet, bet
bid
bid, bid (to, offer)
bid (to order, invite)
bade, bidden
bind
bound, bound
bite
bit, bitten
bleed
bled, bled
blow
blew, blown
break
broke, broken
breed
bred, bred
bring
brought, brought
burst
burst, burst
buy
bought, bought
cast
cast, cast
catch
caught, caught
choose
chose, chosen
cling
clung, clung
come
came, come
creep
crept, crept
cut
cut, cut
deal
dealt, dealt
dig
dug, dug
dive
dived or dove, dived
do
did, done
draw
drew, drawn
dream
dreamed or dreamt, dreamed or dreamt
drink
drank, drunk
drive
drove, driven
eat
ate, eaten
fall
fell, fallen
feed
fed, fed
feel
felt, felt
fight
fought, fought
find
found, found
flee
fled, fled
fly
flew, flown
forbid
forbade, forbidden
forget
forgot, forgotten
forgive
forgave, forgiven
forsake
forsook, forsaken
freeze
froze, frozen
get
got, got or gotten
give
gave, given
go
went, gone
grind
ground, ground
grow
grew, grown
hang (to suspend)
hung, hung
hang (to execute)
hanged, hanged
have
had, had
hear
heard, heard
hide
hid, hidden
hit
hit, hit
hold
held, held
hurt
hurt, hurt
keep
kept, kept
kneel
knelt or kneeled, knelt or kneeled
knit
knitted or knit, knitted or knit
know
knew, known
lay
laid, laid
lead
led, led
leap
leaped or leapt, leaped or leapt
leave
left, left
lend
lent, lent
let
let, let
lie
lay, lain
light
lighted or lit, lighted or lit
lose
lost, lost
make
made, made
mean
meant, meant
meet
met, met
mistake
mistook, mistaken
overcome
overcame, overcome
pay
paid, paid
prove
proved, proved or proven
put
put, put
quit
quit, quit
read
read, read
ride
rode, ridden
ring
rang, rung
rise
rose, risen
run
ran, run
say
said, said
see
saw, seen
seek
sought, sought
sell
sold, sold
send
sent, sent
set
set, set
shake
shook, shaken
shed
shed, shed
shoot
shot, shot
shrink
shrank or shrunk, shrunk
shut
shut, shut
sing
sang, sung
sink
sank, sunk
sit
sat, sat
slay
slew, slain
sleep
slept, slept
slide
slid, slide
sling
slung, slung
slink
slunk, slunk
speak
spoke, spoken
speed
sped or speeded, sped or speeded
spend
spent, spent
spin
spun, spun
spit
spit or spat, spit or spat
split
split, split
spread
spread, spread
spring
sprang or sprung, sprung
stand
stood, stood
steal
stole, stolen
stick
stuck, stuck
stink
stank or stunk, stunk
strew
strewed, strewn
stride
strode, stridden
strike
struck, struck
string
strung, strung
strive
stove or strived, striven or strived
swear
swore, sworn
sweep
swept, swept
swell
swelled, swelled or swollen
swim
swam, swum
swing
swung, swung
take
took, taken
teach
taught, taught
tear
tore, torn
tell
told, told
think
thought, though
thrive
throve or thrived, throve or thriven
throw
threw, thrown
thrust
thrust, thrust
wake
woke or waked, waked or woken
weep
wept, wept
win
won, won
wind
wound, wound
wring
wring, wrung
write
wrote, written

Written by Heather MacFadyen

Using Verb Tenses

A verb indicates the time of an action, event or condition by changing its form. Through the use of a sequence of tenses in a sentence or in a paragraph, it is possible to indicate the complex temporal relationship of actions, events, and conditions

There are many ways of categorising the twelve possible verb tenses. The verb tenses may be categorised according to the time frame: past tenses, present tenses, and future tenses.

Verb Tense: Time

The four past tenses are

  1. the simple past ("I went")
  2. the past progressive ("I was going")
  3. the past perfect ("I had gone")
  4. the past perfect progressive ("I had been going")

The four present tenses are

  1. the simple present ("I go")
  2. the present progressive ("I am going")
  3. the present perfect ("I have gone")
  4. the present perfect progressive ("I have been going")

Note that the present perfect and present perfect progressive are a present not past tenses -- that idea is that the speaker is currently in the state of having gone or having been going.

The four future tenses are

  1. the simple future ("I will go")
  2. the future progressive ("I will be going")
  3. the future perfect ("I will have gone")
  4. the future perfect progressive ("I will have been going")

 

Verb Tense: Aspect

Verb tenses may also be categorised according to aspect. Aspect refers to the nature of the action described by the verb. There are three aspects: indefinite (or simple), complete (or perfect), continuing (or progressive).

The three indefinite tenses, or simple tenses, describe an action but do not state whether the action is finished:

  • the simple past ("I went")
  • the simple present ("I go")
  • the simple future ("I will go")

A verb in the indefinite aspect is used when the beginning or ending of an action, an event, or condition is unknown or unimportant to the meaning of the sentence. The indefinite aspect is also used to used to indicate an habitual or repeated action, event, or condition.

The three complete tenses, or perfect tenses, describe a finished action:

  • the past perfect ("I had gone")
  • the present perfect ("I have gone")
  • the future perfect ("I will have gone")

A verb in the complete aspect indicates that the end of the action, event, or condition is known and the is used to emphasise the fact that the action is complete. The action may, however, be completed in the present, in the past or in the future.

The three incomplete tenses, or progressive tenses, describe an unfinished action:

  • the past progressive ("I was going")
  • the present progressive ("I am going")
  • the future progressive ("I will be going")

A verb in the continuing aspect indicates that the action, event, or condition is ongoing in the present, the past or the future.

It is also possible to combine the complete tenses and the incomplete tenses, to describe an action which was in progress and then finished:

  • the past perfect progressive ("I had been going")
  • the present perfect progressive ("I have been going")
  • the future perfect progressive ("I will have been going")

The Function of Verb Tenses

The Simple Present Tense

The simple present is used to describe an action, an event, or condition that is occurring in the present, at the moment of speaking or writing. The simple present is used when the precise beginning or ending of a present action, event, or condition is unknown or is unimportant to the meaning of the sentence.

Each of the highlighted verbs in the following sentences is in the simple present tense and each sentence describes an action taking place in the present:

Deborah waits patiently while Bridget books the tickets.
The shelf holds three books and a vase of flowers.
The crowd moves across the field in an attempt to see the rock star get into her helicopter.
The Stephens sisters are both very talented; Virginia writes and Vanessa paints.
Ross annoys Walter by turning pages too quickly.

The simple present is used to express general truths such as scientific fact, as in the following sentences:

Rectangles have four sides.
Canada Day takes place on July 1, the anniversary of the signing of the British North America Act.
The moon circles the earth once every 28 days.
Calcium is important to the formation of strong bones.
Menarche and menopause mark the beginning and the ending of a woman's reproductive history.

The simple present is used to indicate a habitual action, event, or condition, as in the following sentences:

Leonard goes to The Jumping Horse Tavern every Thursday evening.
My grandmother sends me new mittens each spring.
In fairy tales, things happen in threes.
We never finish jigsaw puzzles because the cat always eats some of the pieces.
Jesse polishes the menorah on Wednesdays.

The simple present is also used when writing about works of art, as in the following sentences.

Lolly Willowes is the protagonist of the novel Townsend published in 1926.
One of Artemisia Gentleschi's best known paintings represents Judith's beheading of Holofernes.
The Lady of Shallot weaves a tapestry while watching the passers-by in her mirror.
Lear rages against the silence of Cordelia and only belatedly realizes that she, not her more vocal sisters, loves him.
The play ends with an epilogue spoken by the fool.

The simple present can also be used to refer to a future event when used in conjunction with an adverb or adverbial phrase, as in the following sentences.

The doors open in 10 minutes.
The premier arrives on Tuesday.
Classes end next week.
The publisher distributes the galley proofs next Wednesday.
The lunar eclipses begins in exactly 43 minutes.

 

The Present Progressive

While the simple present and the present progressive are sometimes used interchangeably, the present progressive emphasises the continuing nature of an act, event, or condition.

Each of the highlighted verbs in the following sentences is in the present progressive tense. In each sentence the on-going nature of the action is emphasised by the use of the present progressive rather than the simple present.

Nora is looking for the first paperback editions of all of Raymond Chandler's books.
Deirdre is dusting all the shelves on the second floor of the shop.
The union members are pacing up and down in front of the factory.
KPLA is broadcasting the hits of the 70s this evening.
The presses are printing the first edition of tomorrow's paper.

The present progressive is occasionally used to refer to a future event when used in conjunction with an adverb or adverbial phrase, as in the following sentences.

The doors are opening in 10 minutes.
The premier is arriving on Tuesday.
Classes are ending next week.
The publisher is distributing the galley proofs next Wednesday.

 

The Present Perfect Tense

The present perfect tense is used to describe action that began in the past and continues into the present or has just been completed at the moment of utterance. The present perfect is often used to suggest that a past action still has an effect upon something happening in the present.

Each of the highlighted compound verbs in the following sentences is in the present perfect tense.

They have not delivered the documents we need.

This sentence suggest that the documents were not delivered in the past and that they are still undelivered.

The health department has decided that all high school students should be immunised against meningitis.

The writer of this sentence uses the present perfect in order to suggest that the decision made in the past is still of importance in the present.

The government has cut university budgets; consequently, the dean has increased the size of most classes.

Here both actions took place sometime in the past and continue to influence the present.

The heat wave has lasted three weeks.

In this sentence, the writer uses the present perfect to indicate that a condition (the heat wave) began in past and continues to affect the present.

Donna has dreamt about frogs sitting in trees every night this week.

Here the action of dreaming has begun in the past and continues into the present.

The Present Perfect Progressive Tense

Like the present perfect, the present perfect progressive is used to describe an action, event, or condition that has begun in the past and continues into the present. The present perfect progressive, however, is used to stress the on-going nature of that action, condition, or event.

Each of the highlighted verbs in the following sentences is in the present perfect progressive tense and each sentence suggests that the action began in the past and is continuing into the present.

That dog has been barking for three hours; I wonder if someone will call the owner.
I have been relying on my Christmas bonus to pay for the gifts I buy for my large family.
They have been publishing this comic book for ten years.
We have been seeing geese flying south all afternoon.
Even though the coroner has been carefully examining the corpse discovered in Sutherland's Gully since early this morning, we still do not know the cause of death.

 

The Simple Past Tense

The simple past is used to describe an action, an event, or condition that occurred in the past, sometime before the moment of speaking or writing.

Each of the highlighted verbs in the following sentences is in the simple past tense and each sentence describes an action taking place at some point in past.

A flea jumped from the dog to the cat.
Phoebe gripped the hammer tightly and nailed the boards together.
The gem-stones sparkled in a velvet lined display case.
Artemisia Gentilsechi probably died in 1652.
The storyteller began every story by saying "A long time ago when the earth was green."

 

The Past Progressive Tense

The past progressive tense is used to described actions ongoing in the past. These actions often take place within a specific time frame. While actions referred to in the present progressive have some connection to the present, actions referred in the past progressive have no immediate or obvious connection to the present. The on-going actions took place and were completed at some point well before the time of speaking or writing.

Each of the highlighted verbs in the following sentences is in the past progressive tense.

The cat was walking along the tree branch.

This sentence describes an action that took place over a period of continuous time in the past. The cat's actions have no immediate relationship to anything occurring now in the present.

Lena was telling a story about the exploits of a red cow when a tree branch broke the parlour window.

Here the action "was telling" took place in the past and continued for some time in the past.

When the recess bell rang, Jesse was writing a long division problem on the blackboard.

This sentence describes actions ("ran" and "was writing") that took place sometime in the past, and emphasises the continuing nature of one of the actions ("was writing").

The archivists were eagerly waiting for the delivery of the former prime minister's private papers.

Here the ongoing action of "waiting" occurred at some time unconnected to the present.

Between 1942 and 1944 the Frank and Van Damm families were hiding in a Amsterdam office building.

In this sentence, the action of hiding took place over an extended period of time and the continuing nature of the hiding is emphasised.

The Past Perfect Tense

The past perfect tense is used to refer to actions that took place and were completed in the past. The past perfect is often used to emphasise that one action, event or condition ended before another past action, event, or condition began.

Each of the highlighted verbs in the following sentences is in the past perfect.

Miriam arrived at 5:00 p.m. but Mr. Whitaker had closed the store.

All the events in this sentence took place in the past, but the act of closing the store takes place before Miriam arrives at the store.

After we located the restaurant that Christian had raved about, we ate supper there every Friday.

Here the praise ("had raved") precedes the finding ("located") of the restaurant. Both actions took place sometime before the moment of speaking or writing.

The elephant had eaten all the hay so we fed it oats for a week.

In this sentence, both actions take place in the past, but the eating of the hay ("had eaten") preceded the eating of the oats ("fed").

The heat wave had lasted three weeks.

While the sentence "The heat wave has lasted three weeks" suggests that a condition began in the past and continues into the present, this sentence describes an action that began and ended sometime in the past ("had lasted"). By using the past perfect the writer indicates that the heat wave has no connection to any events occurring in the present.

After she had learned to drive, Alice felt more independent.

Here the learning took place and was completed at a specific time in the past. By using the past perfect rather than the simple past ("learned"), the writer emphasises that the learning preceded the feeling of independence.

The Past Perfect Progressive Tense

The past perfect progressive is used to indicate that a continuing action in the past began before another past action began or interrupted the first action.

Each of the highlighted compound verbs in the following sentences is in the past perfect progressive tense.

The toddlers had been running around the school yard for ten minutes before the teachers shooed them back inside.

Here the action of the toddlers ("had been running") is ongoing in the past and precedes the actions of the teachers ("shooed") which also takes place in the past.

We had been talking about repainting the front room for three years and last night we finally bought the paint.

In this example, the ongoing action of "talking" precedes another past action ("bought").

A construction crew had been digging one pit after another in the middle of my street for three days before they found the water main.

Here, the action of digging ("had been digging") took place in the past and occurred over a period of time. The digging was followed by the action of finding ("found").

Madeleine had been reading mystery novels for several years before she discovered the works of Agatha Christie.

In this sentence the act of discovery ("discovered") occurred in the past but after the ongoing and repeated action of reading ("had been reading").

The chef's assistant had been chopping vegetables for several minutes before he realized that he had minced his apron strings.

This sentence is a bit more complex in that it contains three different past verb tenses. The sequence of tenses conveys a complex set of information. The past perfect progressive ("had been chopping") is used to emphasise the ongoing nature of the past act of chopping. While a second past perfect progressive ("had been mincing") could be used, the past perfect ("had minced") is used to suggest that act of mincing was completed. The simple past ("realized") is used to describe the action closest to the present, an action that followed both the chopping and the mincing.

The Simple Future Tense

The simple future is used to refer to actions that will take place after the act of speaking or writing.

Each of the highlighted verbs in the following sentences is in the simple future tense.

They will meet us at the newest café in the market.
Will you walk the dog tonight?
At the feast, we will eat heartily.
Bobbie will call you tomorrow with details about the agenda.
The Smiths say that they will not move their chicken coop.

 

The Future Progressive Tense

The future progressive tense is used to describe actions ongoing in the future. The future progressive is used to refer to continuing action that will occur in the future.

Each of the highlighted compound verbs in the following sentences is in the future progressive tense.

The glee club will be performing at the celebration of the town's centenary.
Ian will be working on the computer system for the next two weeks.
The selection committee will be meeting every Wednesday morning.
We will be writing an exam every afternoon next week.
They will be ringing the bells for Hypatia next month.

 

The Future Perfect Tense

The future perfect is used to refer to an action that will be completed sometime in the future before another action takes place.

Each of the highlighted verbs in the following sentences is in the future perfect tense.

The surgeon will have operated on 6 patients before she attends a luncheon meeting.

In this sentence, the act of operating ("will have operated") takes place in the future sometime before the act of attending ("attends").

The plumber and his assistant will have soldered all the new joins in pipes before they leave for the next job.

Here, the plumbers' act of soldering ("will have soldered") will precede the act of leaving ("leave").

By the time you get back from the corner store, we will have finished writing the thank you letters.

In this sentence, the act of returning from the store ("get back") takes place after the act of writing ("will have written").

If this year is like last year, I will have finished my holiday shopping long before my brother starts his.

In this example, the act of finishing ("will have finished") occurs well before the act of starting ("starts").

They will have written their first exam by the time we get out of bed.

Here, the act of getting out of bed occurs sometime after the writing of the exam.

The Future Perfect Progressive Tense

The future perfect progressive tense is used to indicate a continuing action that will be completed at some specified time in the future. This tense is rarely used.

Each of the highlighted verbs in the following sentences is in the future perfect progressive tense.

I will have been studying Greek for three years by the end of this term.

In this sentence, the future perfect progressive is used to indicate the ongoing nature of the future act of the studying. The act of studying ("will have been studying") will occur before the upcoming end of term.

By the time the meeting is over, the committee will have been arguing about which candidate to interview for three hours.

Similarly in this sentence, the ongoing nature of a future act ("will have been arguing") is emphasised by the use of the future perfect progressive. The act of sustained arguing will take place before the meeting is over.

When he returns, the wine will have been fermenting for three months.

Here the ongoing action of fermentation will precede ("will have been fermenting") the act of returning.

 

Written by Heather MacFadyen

Using Verb Tenses in Sequence

Using verbs in correct sequence is often difficult, especially for those people whose cradle tongue is not English or whose cradle tongue does not uses a similar tense system. The situation is further complicated by the fact that context, idiom, and style play as large a role in determining tense sequence as grammatical rules.

In order to determine correct verb sequence, you must be able to identify independent and dependent clauses. The sequence of tenses in complex sentences is usually determined by the tense of the verb in the independent clause. (In compound sentences, use the tenses that fit the logic of the sentence.)

Present Tenses in Sequence

In general, present tenses may be followed by a wide variety of tenses as long as the sequence fits the logic of the sentence.

The four present tenses are the simple present, the present progressive, the present perfect, and the present perfect progressive. When these tenses are used in an independent clause, the verb in the dependent clause can be a present tense verb, a past tense verb or a future tense verb, as in the following sentences.

Deborah waits patiently while Bridget books the tickets.

The simple present tense is used in both the independent clause and the dependent clause.

They have not delivered the documents we need.

The verb of the independent clause "They have not delivered the documents" is in the present perfect tense. The verb in the dependent clause "we need" is in the simple present tense. The simple future could also be used in the dependent clause ("we will need").

I have been relying on my Christmas bonus to pay for the gifts I buy for my large family.

In this sentence the compound verb of the independent clause ("I have been relying on my Christmas bonus to pay for the gift") is in the present perfect progressive. The simple predicate of the dependent clause ("I buy for my large family") is in the simple present ("buy"). The simple future could also be used ("will buy").

Even though the coroner has been carefully examining the corpse discovered in Sutherland's Gully since early this morning, we still do not know the cause of death.

In this sentence the compound verb of the independent clause ("we still do not know the cause of death") is in the simple present tense. The simple predicate of the dependent clause ("Even though the coroner has been carefully examining the corpse discovered in Sutherland's Gully since early this morning") in the present perfect progressive tense ("has been . . . examining").

The government has cut university budgets; consequently, the dean has increased the size of most classes.

In this compound sentence, both predicates are in the present perfect. The simple future could also be used in the second independent clause ("consequently, the dean will increase the size of most classes") if the writer wants to suggest that the dean's action will take place in the future.

Past Tenses in Sequence

When the verb in the independent clause is the past tense, the verb in the dependent clause is usually in a past tense as well. The past tenses are the simple past, the past progressive, the past perfect, and the past perfect progressive.

The verb in dependent clause should accurately reflect the temporal relationship of the two clauses.

If the action in the dependent clause occurred before action in the independent clause, the past perfect is usually the most appropriate tense for the dependent clause, as in the following sentences.

Miriam arrived at 5:00 p.m. but Mr. Whitaker had closed the store.

The action of dependent clause ("but Mr. Whitaker had closed the store") is described with a past perfect tense ("had closed") because the act of closing takes place before the act of arriving. The simple predicate of the independent clause ("by the time Miriam arrived") is in the simple past.

After we located the restaurant that Christian had raved about, we ate supper there every Friday.

Since actions of the second dependent clause ("that Christian had raved about") precedes the other actions in the sentence, the past perfect is most appropriate verb tense.

We fed the elephant oats for a week because it had eaten all the hay.

In this sentence, both actions take place in the past, but the action of the independent clause (the feeding oats) follows the action of dependent clause (the eating of the hay) and as a result, the predicate of the dependent clause is in the past perfect ("had eaten").

After she had learnedd to drive, Alice felt more independent.

In this example the predicate of the dependent clause is in the past perfect ("had learned") because the act of learning preceded the independent clause's the act of feeling independent.

If the action in the dependent clause, occurs at the same time as the action in the independent clause, the tense usually match. So if the simple past is used in the independent clause, the simple past may also used in the dependent clause.

When the verb of the independent clause is one of the progressive tenses, the simple past is usually the most appropriate tense for the dependent clause, as in the following sentences:

Lena was telling a story about the exploits of a red cow when a tree branch broke the parlour window.

Here the action "was telling" took place in the past and continued for some time in the past. The breaking of the window is described in the simple past.

When the recess bell rang, Jesse was writing a long division problem on the blackboard.

This sentence describes actions ("ran" and "was writing") that took place sometime in the past, and emphasis the continuing nature of the action that takes place in the independent clause ("was writing").

One of the most common source of verb sequence error arises from a confusion of the present perfect ("has walked") and the past perfect ("had walked"). Both tense convey a sense of pastness, but the present perfect is categorised as a present tense verb.

One of the easiest ways of determining whether you've used the perfect tenses correctly is to examine the auxiliary verb. Remember "has" and "have" are present tense auxiliaries and "had" is a past tense auxiliary. The future tense auxiliary is "will."

 

 

Written by Heather MacFadyen

Using Verb Moods

A verb may be in one of three moods: the indicative mood, the imperative mood, and the subjunctive mood.

The Indicative Mood

The indicative mood is the most common and is used to express facts and opinions or to make inquiries. Most of the statements you make or you read will be in the indicative mood.

The highlighted verbs in the following sentences are all in the indicative mood:

Joe picks up the boxes.
The german shepherd fetches the stick.
Charles closes the window.

The Imperative Mood

The imperative mood is also common and is used to give orders or to make requests. The imperative is identical in form to the second person indicative.

The highlighted verbs in the following sentences are all in the imperative mood:

Pick up those boxes.
Fetch.
Close the window.

The Subjunctive Mood

The subjunctive mood has almost disappeared from the language and is thus more difficult to use correctly than either the indicative mood or the imperative mood. The subjunctive mood rarely appears in everyday conversation or writing and is used in a set of specific circumstances.

You form the present tense subjunctive by dropping the "s" from the end of the third person singular, except for the verb "be".

paints
present subjunctive: "paint"
walks
present subjunctive: "walk"
thinks
present subjunctive: "think"
is
present subjunctive: "be"

Except for the verb "be," the past tense subjunctive is indistinguishable in form from the past tense indicative. The past tense subjunctive of "be" is "were."

painted
past subjunctive: "painted"
walked
past subjunctive: "walked"
thought
past subjunctive: "thought"
was
past subjunctive: "were"

The subjunctive is found in a handful of traditional circumstances. For example, in the sentence "God save the Queen," the verb "save" is in the subjunctive mood. Similarly, in the sentence "Heaven forbid," the verb forbid is in the subjunctive mood.

The subjunctive is usually found in complex sentences. The subjunctive mood is used in dependent clauses to express unreal conditions and in dependent clauses following verbs of wishing or requesting.

The subjunctive mood is used in a dependent clause attached to an independent clause that uses a verb such as "ask," "command," "demand," "insist," "order," "recommend," "require," "suggest," or "wish."

The subjunctive mood is also used in a dependent clause attached to an independent clause that uses an adjective that expresses urgency (such as "crucial," "essential," "important," "imperative," "necessary," or "urgent").

Each of the highlighted verbs in the following sentences is in the subjunctive mood.

It is urgent that Harraway attend Monday's meeting.
The Member of Parliament demanded that the Minister explain the effects of the bill on the environment.
The sergeant ordered that Calvin scrub the walls of the mess hall.
We suggest that Mr. Beatty move the car out of the no parking zone.
The committee recommended that the bill be passed immediately.
If Canada were a tropical country, we would be able to grow pineapples in our backyards.
If he were more generous, he would not have chased the canvassers away from his door.
I wish that this book were still in print.
If the council members were interested in stopping street prostitution, they would urge the police to pursue customers more vigorously than they pursue the prostitutes.

 

Written by Heather MacFadyen