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How to Use the Correct Verb Tense

by Ann Moore, Demand Media

    Using verbs incorrectly is one of the most common grammatical mistakes in the English language. Not only are these mistakes obvious in the written word, but they often grate on the hearer's ear when spoken. With an overabundance of grammar rules pertaining to verbs and the many verbs are irregular, meaning they do not follow any rules and their principle parts must be memorized, choosing the correct word can be challengin. One attribute of verbs is called "tense," which means "time." In English, verbs have six tenses: three simple tenses and three perfect tenses, along with six variations of these tenses. All verb tenses take place in the past, present, or future.

    Using the Simple Verb Tenses

    Step 1

    Use simple present tense for an action that happens regularly or permanently. For example, "We watch old movies on Saturday nights" or "He likes buttered popcorn" both use the present tense of the verb.

    Step 2

    Write simple past tense for an action that has ended, as in the sentence, "We watched an old movie last night."

    Step 3

    Indicate an action that will occur in the future with the simple future tense, such as "We will watch an old movie tonight."

    Using the Perfect Verb Tenses

    Step 1

    Form the perfect tenses by using one or more helping verbs with the past participle of the main verb. The following helping verbs are used in these tenses: have, has, had, will, shall.

    Step 2

    Use the present perfect verb tense to indicate an action that has recently ended or that began in the past and is continuing into the present. Use "has" or "have" and the past participle of the main verb. For example, you might write or say, "Maria has finally finished her research paper" or "I have seen this movie twice and plan to watch it again."

    Step 3

    Write about two events that occurred in the past with the past perfect tense to indicate the event that occurred first. Use the helping verb "had" with the past participle of the main verb: By the time she showed up at the meeting, the decision had already been made.

    Step 4

    Use the future perfect tense to indicate a future event that will have occurred before another future event. Use the helping verb "will" or "shall" with "have" and the past participle of the main verb: By this time tomorrow, we will have reached the summit.

    Using the Progressive Forms of the Tenses

    Step 1

    Make all six verb tenses into progressive or continuous forms of the tenses. The progressive form indicates that an action is, was, or will be continuing.

    Step 2

    Use a form of the verb "be" with the "ing" form of the main verb for the simple progressive form: I am doing my homework. (present progressive); I was doing my homework when the phone rang. (past progressive); I will be doing my homework when the program begins. (future progressive)

    Step 3

    Use one or more of the verbs "will" or "shall," "have" or "had" and "been" and the past participle of the main verb for the perfect progressive tenses: I have been doing my homework every night between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. (present perfect progressive); I had been doing my homework every night before I became ill. (past perfect progressive); I will have been doing my homework for five hours by the time I finish. (future perfect progressive)

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    About the Author

    Ann Moore has been an English instructor for over 20 years and started writing professionally in 2011. After teaching junior high and high school, she now teaches writing at Florence-Darlington Technical College in Florence, South Carolina. Moore enjoys writing articles about animals, education, culture and society, health and fitness, and home and garden. She received her Bachelor of Arts at Virginia Commonwealth University.

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