Like people, verbs show the passage of time by changing form. Over the years, some of us get a little thick around the middle while the rest of us get a bit more blond. The tense of a verb shows its time. Verbs add a final -ed or -d to the simple form, use an auxiliary verb, or change their form completely to show that time flies.
The tense of a verb shows its time.
There are six verb tenses in English. Each of the six tenses has two forms: basic and progressive (also known as “perfect”). The following table shows the six forms for the verb to talk.
|Tense||Basic Form||Progressive Form|
|Future||will talk||will be talking|
|Present perfect||have talked||have been talking|
|Past perfect||had talked||had been talking|
|Future perfect||will have talked||will have been talking|
As the preceding table indicates, you form verb tense from principal parts and helping verbs. Every English verb has four main parts, as the following table shows.
|Present||Present Participle||Past||Past Participle|
The simple form of the verb is also called the base form. The simple form shows action, occurrence, or state of being that is taking place right here and now (I pout). The simple form is also the base for the future form (that is, I will pout, they will pout).
English verbs are traditionally divided into two classes, according to the ways they form their past tense and past participles.
Regular verbs form the past tense and past participle by adding -d, -ed, or -t to the present form. They don't change their vowel. Irregular verbs don't form the past by adding -ed or -d. They form the past tense in many other ways.
Over time, we have come to accept regular verbs as the “normal” ones, so now we usually just add -ed or -d to new verbs, as in televise, televised.
The following chart shows the most common irregular verbs.
|Present Tense||Past Tense||Past Participle|
|bear||bore||born or borne|
|dive||dived or dove||dived|
|get||got||gotten or got|
|prove||proved||proved or proven|
|show||showed||showed or shown|
|wake||woke or waked||woken or waked|
The verb to be is the most irregular verb in English. Beware of this quick-change artist. Its principal parts are: be, being, was, were, been, am, are, is.
When you conjugate a verb, you list the singular and plural forms of the verb in a specific tense.
Something must be laid, nothing can be lied.
You can argue whether men are from Mars and women are from Venus, but everyone agrees that lie and lay are definitely from another planet. These two verbs may be the most commonly confused pair of words in English. Here's the problem: They're just plain evil.
Seriously, lie is an irregular verb that conjugates lie, lay, lain. Lay, in contrast, is a regular verb that conjugates lay, laid, laid. Because lay is both the present tense of to lay and the past tense of lie, many speakers and writers use lay when they mean lie.
To add to the confusion, lie and lay have different meanings. Lie means “to repose”; lay means “to put.” It's enough to make you learn Esperanto.
Try these hints to sort out lie/lay:
Study the following table to further clarify lie and lay. Or have it tattooed in your palm for ready reference.
|lie||to repose flat||Present tense: Fido lies down.|
|Past tense: Fido lay down.|
|Future tense: Fido will lie down.|
|Perfect tense: Fido has lain down.|
|lay||to put down||Present tense: Lay your cards down.|
|Past tense: He laid the cards down.|
|Future tense: He will lay his cards down.|
|Perfect tense: He has laid his cards down.|
I know you need this quiz like Sinatra needs singing lessons, but humor me. Circle the correct form of each verb in parentheses. Then identify the verb as regular or irregular.
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style © 2003 by Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.