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VERBS : What is a Verb? : Verbs - Person & Number : Shall / Will (usage) : Active Voice : Passive Voice : Verb Tenses : Rules for Verb Tenses : Mood : Imperative Mood : Indicative Mood : Subjunctive Mood : Intransitive Verbs : Transitive Verbs : Linking Verbs : Most Troublesome Verbs

Verb Tenses—
Present Tense, Past Tense,
Future Tense

A verb has three principal tenses: the present, the past, and the future.

Each tense refers to action taking place in one of the main divisions of time — present time, past time, or future time. Each of these time forms is called a tense of the verb.

Present Past Future
I walk I walked I shall walk
I write I wrote I shall write
I speak I spoke I shall speak

The present tense is sometimes called the simple form of the verb.

The present tense of a verb denotes present time.

I see I walk I am
I laugh I smile I write

The past tense of a verb denotes past time.

I saw I walked I was
I laughed I smiled I wrote

The future tense of a verb denotes future time.

I shall see I shall walk I shall be
I shall laugh I shall smile I shall write

We shall talk We shall obey We shall go We shall see
You will be there I will obey We will go We will see


NOTE— When we use "I" or "We" as the subject of a verb in the future tense, we use the word "shall" to form the future. When the future verb has any other subject, we use the word "will" to form the future.

The Perfect Tenses

Notice the following sentence: I have written a novel.

This means I wrote the novel at the time I made the statement. In other words, the action of the verb is completed at the time of speaking or writing. We call this tense the present perfect tense.

Notice this sentence: I had written the novel before I proofed it.

This statement shows that I had completed the act of writing at some definite time in the past. We call this tense past perfect tense.

Notice the sentence: By this time tomorrow I shall have written the chapter.

In this sentence the verb phrase indicates that I will complete the act of writing at some time in the future. We call this tense the future perfect tense.

Every action must take place in present time, in past time, or in future time. But if we need to express that we finished an action in the present, we cannot use the present tense and say, "I write the novel," because that means I am doing the writing now. Nor can we use the past tense of the verb and say, "I wrote the novel," because that could mean I might have completed the novel a month ago, or years ago. What we can say is, "I have written the novel"—this verb tells that I completed the writing at the present time. The verb "have written" is not in the present tense (for write is present); nor is it in the past tense (for wrote is past); it is in the present perfect tense.

We always express the perfect tenses by verb phrases introduced by the auxiliary verbs have, has, had, will have, should have, etc.

The part of the verb that we use with have (and has) to form the present perfect tense is called the perfect participle. Thus, in "I have written," the word "written" is the perfect participle; in "he has started writing," the word "started" is the perfect participle; in "he has finished writing, the word "finished" is the perfect participle used with has to form the present perfect tense of the verb finish. We can always tell the present perfect tense of a verb: it always consists of have (or has) together with the perfect participle of the verb.


The auxiliary verbs that I used above to form the verb phrases have written, had written, shall have written, are called the past participles. In other words, the perfect tenses are verb phrases composed of the past participle with an auxiliary verb.

Principal Parts of a Verb

When we combine the three perfect tenses with the three principal tenses, we have a verb with six tenses.

Present Tense: I write
Past Tense: I wrote
Future Tense: I shall write
Present Perfect Tense: I have written
Past Perfect Tense: I had written
Future Perfect Tense: I shall have written

Among the six tenses of the verb "write," we use only three different forms of the verb itself; namely, the present tense "write," the past tense "wrote," and the participle, "written."

We call the other forms compound forms, or verb phrases, obtained by combining the present tense or the past participle with the auxiliary verbs should and have.

If we know these three forms—the present tense, the past tense, and the past participle—it is possible to form all the tenses. They are consequently called the principal parts of the verb.

Regular and Irregular Verbs

Notice the sentences below:

The kids play.
The kids played.
The kids have played.

We like it.
We liked it.
We have liked it.


Both the past tense and the past participle of these verbs are alike and we form them by adding d or ed to the simple form of the verb. Such verbs are called regular verbs because they all form their tenses alike without any difficulties.

Most verbs (of the thousands of verbs in the language) form their past tense by adding ed (or d) to the present tense, first person singular. Examples: I walk, I walked; I enjoy, I enjoyed; I hope, I hoped; I fear, I feared; I like, I liked; I jump, I jumped; I call, I called.

Most verbs form their perfect participle by adding ed (or d) to the present tense, first person singular. That is, with most verbs the perfect participle is the same in form as the past tense. Examples: (present tense) I walk, (past tense) I walked, (perfect participle) I have walked; I call, I called, I have called.

The English language has many verbs whose past tense or past participle do not form regular verbs, but form in other ways. Such verbs are called irregular verbs.

For example:

I see the boat.
I saw the boat.
I have seen the boat.

I do my homework.
I did my homework.
I have done my homework.


We have no rule to help you master the forms of these irregular verbs. It is necessary to memorize them and to practice using them correctly. When in doubt, refer to the dictionary or see our List of Irregular Verbs.

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VERBS : What is a Verb? : Verbs - Person & Number : Shall / Will (usage) : Active Voice : Passive Voice : Verb Tenses : Rules for Verb Tenses : Mood : Imperative Mood : Indicative Mood : Subjunctive Mood : Intransitive Verbs : Transitive Verbs : Linking Verbs : Most Troublesome Verbs





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