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Verb Tense

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Overview:

Verbs are divided into three main tenses: present, past, and future. These are then divided into sub-categories, called simple, progressive, perfect, and perfect progressive. Each tense helps to illustrate the timing of a particular action. It is important to understand when to use the different verb tenses, as it will help the reader clearly understand when the action in your writing is taking place.

Simple

Progressive

Perfect

Perfect Progressive

Present

walk

am/is/are

walking

have/has

walked

have/has been

walking

Past

walked

was/were

walking

had

walked

had been

walking

Future

will/shall

walk

will be

walking

will have

walked

will have been

walking

Simple Tenses

The simple present tense represents an action or condition taking place at common or regular time.  The original verb form is most often, if not always, in the present tense form.

Example of the simple present tense:

    I walk to the Writer’s Resource Lab each morning.

The simple past tense represents an action which started and finished at a past time.  To form the simple present tense add a –d or –ed ending to the present tense verb form.  But be careful: some past tense verbs are irregular and don’t follow this standard formation but change internally.

Examples of the simple past tense:

    Last semester Joe walked to the Writer’s Resource Lab each morning.

    Last semester Brenda went (not “goed”) to the Writer’s Resource Lab for help writing an essay.

The simple future tense represents an action which will happen in the future.  To form the simple future tense verb, it is always necessary to use will or shall before the present tense form of the verb.

Example of the simple future tense:

    In the fall, they will walk to the Writer’s Resource Lab together each morning.

Progressive Tenses

The present progressive tense represents an action that is in progress at the same time it is being written.  To form the present progressive verb, it is always necessary to use am, is, or are with and add an –ing ending to the present tense form of the verb.

Example of the present progressive tense:

    I am walking to the Writer’s Resource Lab.

The past progressive tense represents an action that took place at a certain time in the past.  To form the past progressive verb, it is always necessary to use was or were with and add an –ing ending to the present tense form of the verb.

Example of the past progressive tense:

    Joe was walking to the Writer’s Resource Lab last night.

The future progressive tense represents an action that continues and will happen in the future.  To form the future progressive tense, it is always necessary to use will be or shall be with and add an –ing ending to the present tense form of the verb.

Example of the future progressive tense:

    They will be walking to the Writer’s Resource Lab each morning in the fall.

Perfect Tenses

The present perfect tense represents an action that began in the past but continues into the present.  To form the present perfect tense, it is always necessary to use the helping verb have or has with the past participle form of the verb.

Example of the present perfect tense:

    I have walked to the Writer’s Resource Lab for over two years.

The past perfect tense represents a past action that happened in the past before another past action.  To form the past perfect tense, it is always necessary to use had with the past participle form of the verb.

Example of the past perfect tense:

    Joe had walked to the Writer’s Resource Lab before he bought his new car.

The future perfect tense represents a future action that will happen before another future action.  To form the future perfect tense, it is always necessary to use will have with the past participle form of the verb.

Example of the future perfect tense:

    They will have walked to the Writer’s Resource Lab each morning in the fall before going to the Beach Hut for coffee.

Perfect Progressive Tense

The present perfect progressive tense represents an action beginning in the past that continues in the present and will perhaps continue in the future.  To form the present perfect progressive tense, it is always necessary to use has been or have been with and add an –ing ending to the present tense form of the verb.

Example of the present progressive tense:

    For the past two years, I have been walking to the Writer’s Resource Lab.

The past perfect progressive tense represents a past action that continued but was completed prior to another past action.  To form the past perfect progressive tense, it is always necessary to use had been with and add an –ing ending to the present tense form of the verb.

Example of the past perfect progressive tense:

    Before he bought his new car, Joe had been walking to the Writer’s Resource Lab.

The future perfect progressive tense represents a future action that continues before another future time.  To form the future perfect progressive tense, it is always necessary to use will have been with and add an –ing ending to the present tense form of the verb.

Example of the future perfect progressive tense:

    This coming fall they will have been walking to the Writer’s Resource Lab each morning for three years.

Style Matters:

Remember that it is not necessarily important to know the specific names of the different verb tenses; however, when and how to use them is important.  Also, do not rely on your computer’s grammar check to flag all verb tense errors.  A computer is programmed by mathematical formulas and cannot reason as humans do, so it is not always a reliable source.  If you are having trouble understanding verb tense consistency, click on the link here for more information.


Copyright (C) 2010. All rights reserved.
This handout is part of a library of instructional materials used in California State University, Long Beach’s writing center, the Writer’s Resource Lab. Educators and students are welcome to distribute copies as long as they do so with attribution to all organizations and authors. Commercial distribution is prohibited.