124 Verb Tense

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Learning Objectives

  1. Use the correct regular verb tense in basic sentences.
  2. Use the correct irregular verb tense in basic sentences.

Suppose you must give an oral presentation about what you did last summer. How do you make it clear that you are talking about the past and not about the present or the future? Using the correct verb tense can help you do this.

It is important to use the proper verb tense. Otherwise, your listener might judge you harshly. Mistakes in tense often leave a listener or reader with a negative impression.

Regular Verbs

Verbs indicate actions or states of being in the past, present, or future using tenses. Regular verbs follow regular patterns when shifting from the present to past tense. For example, to form a past-tense or past-participle verb form, add -ed or -d to the end of a verb. You can avoid mistakes by understanding this basic pattern.

Verb tense identifies the time of action described in a sentence. Verbs take different forms to indicate different tenses. Verb tenses indicate

  • an action or state of being in the present,
  • an action or state of being in the past,
  • an action or state of being in the future.

Helping verbs, such as be and have, also work to create verb tenses, such as the future tense.

Present Tense: Time walks to the store. (Singular subject)
Present Tense: Sue and Kimmy walk to the store. (Plural subject)
Past Tense: Yesterday, they walked to the store to buy some bread. (Singular subject)

Exercise 1

Complete the following sentences by selecting the correct form of the verb in simple present, simple past, or simple future tenses. Write the corrected sentence on your own sheet of paper.

  1. The Dust Bowl (is, was, will be) a name given to a period of very destructive dust storms that occurred in the United States during the 1930s.
  2. Historians today (consider, considered, will consider) The Dust Bowl to be one of the worst weather of events in American history.
  3. The Dust Bowl mostly (affects, affected, will affect) the states of Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico.
  4. Dust storms (continue, continued, will continue) to occur in these dry regions, but not to the devastating degree of the 1930s.
  5. The dust storms during The Dust Bowl (cause, caused, will cause) irreparable damage to farms and the environment for a period of several years.
  6. When early settlers (move, moved, will move) into this area, they (remove, removed, will remove) the natural prairie grasses in order to plant crops and graze their cattle.
  7. They did not (realize, realized, will realize) that the grasses kept the soil in place.
  8. There (is, was, will be) also a severe drought that (affects, affected, will affect) the region.
  9. The worst dust storm (happens, happened, will happen) on April 14, 1935, a day called Black Sunday.
  10. The Dust Bowl era finally came to end in 1939 when the rains (arrive, arrived, will arrive).
  11. Dust storms (continue, continued, will continue) to affect the region, but hopefully they will not be as destructive as the storms of the 1930s.

Irregular Verbs

The past tense of irregular verbs is not formed using the patterns that regular verbs follow. Study Table 2.1 “Irregular Verbs”, which lists the most common irregular verbs.


The best way to learn irregular verbs is to memorize them. With the help of a classmate, create flashcards of irregular verbs and test yourselves until you master them.


Table 2.1 Irregular Verbs

Simple Present Past Simple Present Past
be was, were lose lost
become became make made
begin began mean meant
blow blew meet met
break broke pay paid
bring brought put put
build built quit quit
burst burst read read
buy bought ride rode
catch caught ring rang
choose chose rise rose
come came run ran
cut cut say said
dive dove (dived) see saw
do did seek sought
draw drew sell sold
drink drank send sent
drive drove set set
eat ate shake shook
fall fell shine shone (shined)
feed fed shrink shrank (shrunk)
feel felt sing sang
fight fought sit sat
find found sleep slept
fly flew speak spoke
forget forgot spend spent
forgive forgave spring sprang
freeze froze stand stood
get got steal stole
give gave strike struck
go went swim swam
grow grew swing swung
have had take took
hear heard teach taught
hide hid tear tore
hold held tell told
hurt hurt think thought
keep kept throw threw
know knew understand understood
lay laid wake woke
lead led wear wore
leave left win won
let let wind wound

Here we consider using irregular verbs.

Present Tense: Lauren keeps all her letters.
Past Tense: Lauren kept all her letters.
Future Tense: Lauren will keep all her letters.

Exercise 2

Complete the following sentences by selecting the correct form of the irregular verb in simple present, simple past, or simple future tense. Copy the corrected sentence onto your own sheet of paper.

  1. Marina finally (forgived, forgave, will forgive) her sister for snooping around her room.
  2. The house (shook, shaked, shakes) as the airplane rumbled overhead.
  3. I (buyed, bought, buy) several items of clothing at the thrift store on Wednesday.
  4. She (put, putted, puts) the lotion in her shopping basket and proceeded to the checkout line.
  5. The prized goose (layed, laid, lay) several golden eggs last night.
  6. Mr. Batista (teached, taught, taughted) the class how to use correct punctuation.
  7. I (drink, drank, will drink) several glasses of sparkling cider instead of champagne on New Year’s Eve next year.
  8. Although Hector (growed, grew, grows) three inches in one year, we still called him “Little Hector.”
  9. Yesterday our tour guide (lead, led, will lead) us through the maze of people in Times Square.
  10. The rock band (burst, bursted, bursts) onto the music scene with their catchy songs.

Exercise 3

On your own sheet of paper, write a sentence using the correct form of the verb tense shown below.

  1. Throw (past)
  2. Paint (simple present)
  3. Smile (future)
  4. Tell (past)
  5. Share (simple present)

Maintaining Consistent Verb Tense

Consistent verb tense means the same verb tense is used throughout a sentence or a paragraph. As you write and revise, it is important to use the same verb tense consistently and to avoid shifting from one tense to another unless there is a good reason for the tense shift. In the following box, see whether you notice the difference between a sentence with consistent tense and one with inconsistent tense.

Inconsistent tense:
The crowd starts cheering as Melina approached the finish line.
Consistent tense:
The crowd started cheering as Melina approached the finish line.
Consistent tense:
The crowd starts cheering as Melina approaches the finish line.


In some cases, clear communication will call for different tenses. Look at the following example:

When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a fire fighter, but not I am studying computer science.

If the time frame for each action or state is different, a tense shift is appropriate.

Exercise 4

Edit the following paragraph by correcting the inconsistent verb tense. Copy the corrected paragraph onto your own sheet of paper.

In the Middle Ages, most people lived in villages and work as agricultural laborers, or peasants. Every village has a “lord,” and the peasants worked on his land. Much of what they produce go to the lord and his family. What little food was leftover goes to support the peasants’ families. In return for their labor, the lord offers them protection. A peasant’s day usually began before sunrise and involves long hours of backbreaking work, which includes plowing the land, planting seeds, and cutting crops for harvesting. The working life of a peasant in the Middle Ages is usually demanding and exhausting.

Writing at Work

Read the following excerpt from a work e-mail:

I would like to highlight an important concern that comes up after our meeting last week. During the meeting, we agree to conduct a series of interviews over the next several months in which we hired new customer service representatives. Before we do that, however, I would like to review your experiences with the Customer Relationship Management Program. Please suggest a convenient time next week for us to meet so that we can discuss this important matter.

The inconsistent tense in the e-mail will very likely distract the reader from its overall point. Most likely, your coworkers will not correct your verb tenses or call attention to grammatical errors, but it is important to keep in mind that errors such as these do have a subtle negative impact in the workplace.

Key Takeaways

  • Verb tense helps you express when an event takes place.
  • Regular verbs follow regular patterns when shifting from present to past tense.
  • Irregular verbs do not follow regular, predictable patterns when shifting from present to past tense.
  • Using consistent verb tense is a key element to effective writing.

Writing Application

Tell a family story. You likely have several family stories to choose from, but pick the one that you find most interesting to write about. Use as many details as you can in the telling. As you write and proofread, make sure your all your verbs are correct and the tenses are consistent.


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