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Verb Tense

Verb Tense

Author: Martina Shabram

Recognize examples of verb tense errors.

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Source: [image of swimmer; public domain;] [image of tripping hazard; public domain;]

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Hello, students. My name is Dr. Martina Shabram, and I will be your instructor for today's lesson. I'm genuinely excited to teach you these concepts, so let's started.

In today's lesson, we'll learn about common verb tenses and about some special kinds of verbs and verb tenses, and we'll practice selecting the appropriate verb tense for any sentence. So let's get started.

A verb is the part of speech that shows action or describes a state of being. Depending on whether we're describing an action that is taking place in the present, future, or past, that verb is going to change to match tense. She walks is happening now. That means it's a present tense verb, which indicates that something is happening in the present.

Do you notice anything special about present tense? She walks could describe what this person is doing in the immediate present or something that she is always going to be doing. Present tense works this way. And if we're talking about the future, then we'd say she will walk. Future tense verbs indicate that something will happen sometime in the future. And if we're describing the past, we'd say she walked. Past tense verbs indicate that something happened in the past and us no longer happening.

There is more than one way to describe what happened in the past, and thus, there are actually several past tenses. The one you'll see and use most commonly is simple past tense. That's what we have here. And you can usually spot simple past tense verbs, because they end with d or ed, like walked and held. These simple verb tenses are the ones we want to use whenever possible.

Let's take a sentence and switch up the tense. We can turn he cooks, present tense, into he cooked, simple past tense. Notice that not only have we changed tense. We might also have changed the implication of the sentence. Instead of knowing that this man is a person who often cooks, the past tense sentence just tells us that he cooked at one point in the past. So tense is an important element of meaning in a sentence, and we have to be careful with it.

Past tense, in fact, can change a lot about the meaning of a sentence, especially when we use a past participle. A past participle is a verb tense that is composed of the past tense of the verb plus have, has, or had. Here, we have a sentence in simple past tense. What happens if I change the verb? The past tense verb danced now has a friend-- the word have. That pair is our past participle, a special form of the verb. The past participle can be used in three different ways.

First, it can be used to speak about the past, as it has in this sentence. Second, it can be used to modify something about a noun, which makes it act like another part of speech-- the adjective. For example, if we were dancing at home, we might end up with bruised knees. In this phrase, the verb bruised is the past tense of the verb bruise. But here, it describes the noun knees, just like an adjective would.

Finally, the past participle can form something called past perfect tense. Let's talk about that in a little more detail. Past perfect tense is a type of past tense the describes something that took place in a more distant past instead of the recent past by using the pairing had plus verb. For example, instead of-- the past perfect would be, in our past perfect sentence, the dancing and the dinner are clearly separated. In the simple past tense sentence, the time period isn't so distinct.

So this is why past perfect can be useful. It prevents confusion. Just look at how easy it is to get confused about when things happened. Did the printer break before or after printing? Let's use past perfect instead. Now we know that the printing took place further back in time, before the time when the printer broke. Changing tenses this way is easy. I researched the project becomes I had researched the project. But unless we need to be really clear about a difference in timing, we generally want to use the simpler form.

So how should we use all of these tenses? Well, in any sentence, it's important that all the verbs use the same tense to clearly mark the time frame. For example, notice that road and stopped are both past tense. But what about now? Ride is in present tense, but stopped is in past tense? This doesn't make any sense.

This is a pretty common mistake to make in the tense of a sentence-- beginning with a verb in one tense but shifting into another tense for the next verb. The way a reader understands this sentence is altered when the tenses shift, so we want to be careful to avoid this error. So to write sentences that don't confound your readers, ask yourself, when did this action take place? If the action is now, use present. If it will be later, use future. If it's happened, use simple past. And if it happened in the past but there are also other events, use past perfect to describe the oldest event.

Let's try together. Here are two different sentences, each missing a verb. Read them and look for context clues that will help you find the proper verb and its tents. In this sentence, the verb is barked, and it's in simple past tense. What context clues demonstrate this? We know that this event happened yesterday, and we don't have any reason to add further complexity to the timeline. In this sentence, the verb phrase we're missing is will eat. Even though we don't have a noun telling us exactly when this meal will happen, we know that the friends will eat before the speaker, so this has not happened yet. Therefore, we must be using future tense.

So let's end by talking about verbs that don't follow the rules for past tense. We call these irregular verbs, because instead of using ed to show past tense, they transform entirely. English is full of these verbs, so it's important to recognize them, and if you're ever unsure, to check a dictionary. Some irregulars that you might see are, for example, what if I want to talk about my trip to the lake? Since swimmed doesn't sound right, I'll write I swam in the lake last year. And what about the time I tripped down the stairs? I wouldn't say that I falled. So instead, I'll say I fell down the stairs.

Wow. We learned a lot today. We modeled past, present, and future tenses and learned about how past tense might use the past participle form. We learned about the difference between past perfect and simple past tense. We discovered the perils of shifting tenses and figured out how to select the proper verb tense. And finally, we checked out some irregular verbs and tried them out in some sentences.

Well, students, I hope you had as much fun as I did. Thank you.

Terms to Know
Future Tense Verbs

Verbs that indicate that something will happen sometime in the future.

Past Participle

A verb tense that is composed of the past tense of the verb plus "have", "has" or "had".

Past Tense Verbs

Verbs that indicate that something happened in the past and is no longer happening.

Present Tense Verbs

Verbs that indicate that something is happening in the present.