Verbs are action words: to run, to sit, to speak. Verbs also describe the state of being: to be (is, are, was, were), to appear, to become.
Verbs relate information about when the action occurred:
- past (She ran to the store),
- present (She runs in the park), and
- future (She will run on Saturday).
The simple past tense of regular verbs is formed by adding -ed to the based form of the verb: plan, planned; generate, generated. However, many verbs are irregular and have an irregular simple past tense: drive, driven; run, ran; see, saw.
Unlike nouns, the third person simple present tense of singular verbs generally end in the letter -s while the plural does not: She goes, They go; He decides, They decide. The first person simple present tense generally does not end in the letter -s: I go, I see, I decide.
The future tense is generally formed with the word will and the simple present base form of a verb: will see, will decide, will navigate.
In addition to past, present, and future verb tenses, there are the progressive and perfect tenses which describe action that is ongoing or action that is completed or to be completed before another action.
The progressive tense describes an action that is ongoing either in the past, present, or future. These are formed with a helper verb and the present participle (-ing form) of the verb.
- She was going to the gym at the time of the accident.
- He is explaining how to complete the exercise
- They will be draining the pool to find the leak.
The perfect tense describes an action that was completed to be completed before another action. These are formed with a helper verb and the past participle (-ed form) of the verb.
- She had gone to the gym before the accident occurred.
- He had explained how to complete the exercise before the students left class.
- They will have drained the pool by the time it rains.
Generally, people don’t have a problem using the proper verb tense when they are talking about a single action. However, sometimes the content of a sentence can make it difficult to determine proper tense.
Incorrect Shifts in Tense
Incorrect: When she goes to the store, she forgot what she went for.
This is an illogical shift in tense. The first part is using the tense for an ongoing situation, but the second part of the sentence is referring to one past.
Corrected: When she goes to the store, she often forgets what she went for.
In this case, both goes and forgets are in the same tense: the present.
Correct Shifts in Tense
Sometimes, it is correct to use different tenses, but only if we really want to indicate different times.
Incorrect: Last year, I took Humanities I; now, I took Humanities II.
Even though both verbs are in the same tense, the past tense, the words Last year and now clearly show a difference in time.
Corrected: Last year, I took Humanities I; now, I am taking Humanities II.
Here, the verb tenses were corrected to reflect the different times involved.
Verb form refers to the variety of ways a verb can be expressed:
base form of verb – the simplest form of a verb: see, run, think
the -s form of the verb – third person present form – She reads
present participle – the -ing form of a verb
past form of the verb – the past tense
the past participle – generally the same as the past tense – the -ed form of the verb