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Verb Tenses

Simple Tenses Present (Simple Present): Formed with the base or plain form, the present tense presents customary, habitual, or ongoing actions and general truths. Note that for subject-verb agreement, when the subject is third person singular, the present tense verb ends with -s or -es.

Signal words: often, seldom, never, always, sometimes, usually.

I work at a bookstore. (habitual action) Chris works at a restaurant. (habitual action) The earth is round. (general truth)

Present Continuous: am, is, are + base form + -ing (present participle) to describe actions occurring at the present time, now, immediately. Signal words: now, for the time being, at present, at the moment, temporarily.

I am wearing my new raincoat. We are hoping that the rain will stop soon.

Past (Simple Past): Formed with the addition of d or ed to regular verbs or according to the principal part chart for irregular verbs, the past tense shows completion before the present--a single past occurrence or a definite past time.

Signal words: yesterday, last year, a month ago, when, before.

I walked to school when I lived in Alabama. I worked at a bookstore last summer. I drove to school yesterday.

Past continuous: was or were + base form + ing (present participle) to describe a past action interrupted by another past action.

Signal words: while, as, when.

I was jogging in the park when the rain began. Jane and Roy were painting the living room when the phone rang.

Future (Simple Future): Formed with will plus the present (base) form of the main verb, the future tense shows anticipated action, action that is expected to take place after the present.

Signal words: tomorrow, later, next week, next year, soon.

John will work at a bookstore next summer. Margaret will sing at the concert on Friday.

Future continuous: will + be + base form + ing (present participle) to describe an action that will be in progress in the future. Signal words: this time next year, by the time that.

Kelly will be wearing a new red hat at the concert.

Perfect Tenses

Present Perfect: Formed with the present tense of have (choose either have or, if the subject is third person singular, has) plus the past participle of the main verb, the present perfect tense is used under several circumstances.

Signal words: since, several times, every, just, recently

  1. Action that began in the past and continues to the present with the sense that it will continue in the future. John has worked at the bookstore since last summer.
  2.  Action that occurred more than once or repeatedly in the past. Margaret has sung at every Friday concert held at the school.
  3.  Action that happened at an unknown past time. Our friends have traveled to Paris.
  4. A recent occurrence given extra emphasis. The boys have just found the coins.
  5.  A completed action given extra emphasis. Yes, we have studied for the test.

Past Perfect: Formed with had plus the past participle of the main verb, the past perfect tense emphasizes the earlier of two past actions.

    1. Use the simple past when two past actions are presented in normal chronological (time) order. Use the past perfectwhen two past actions are presented out of time order, as in the examples below.

    Signal words: by the time, after, before, already

    Chronological (normal time) order: The children picked a quart of strawberries and ate them for dessert. Note that these two actions appear in normal chronological order in the sentence; therefore, both verbs are in the simple past tense.

    Nonchronological order: For dessert the children ate the quart of strawberries they had picked. Note that the actions are presented here out of chronological order; the action that happened earlier comes later in the sentence. Therefore, the earlier action is emphasized by the past perfect tense.

    We painted the house blue after we had scrubbed the dirt off. After he had stepped on the nail, his foot began to hurt.

    2. Use the past perfect when two actions appear in normal chronological order with special emphasis on the first action's having been being completed before the beginning of the second action.

    Signal words: after, before, by the time

    No emphasis on completion: The secretary typed the letter, and the boss signed it.

    Emphasis on completion: After the secretary had typed the letter, the boss signed it.

    Future Perfect: Formed with will have plus the past participle of the main verb, the future perfect shows an action that is expected to occur before another future action or before a specific future time.

    The Smiths will have painted their house before you arrive. John will have worked at the bookstore for a year by May.

Last revision: August 4, 2003