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15.2 Choosing Appropriate Verb Tenses

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand the simple verb tenses: past, present, and future.
  2. Recognize the progressive, perfect, and perfect progressive verb tenses.
  3. Correctly use the different verb tenses.

The tenseThe aspect of a verb that gives a sense of time (past, present, or future). of a verb usually gives readers a sense of time. In other words, verb tense explains if the action in the sentence took place previously (past tense), is taking place right now (present tense), or will take place some time in the future (future tense). Tense also can indicate continual or recurring action (progressiveContinual or recurring action.), action that has completely taken place as of a certain time (perfectAction that took place as of a certain time.), and action that began in the past but continues or recurs through the present time (perfect progressiveAction that began in the past but continues or recurs in the present.).

Verbs also have different forms for the different pronouns and numbersWhether a word is singular or plural.. In other words, first personWriting or speaking in which the speakers or writers refer to themselves using words such as “I,” “we,” and “us.” (I, we) might require a different verb form from second personWriting or speaking in which the reader is being spoken to using the word “you.” (singular you, plural you) and third personWriting or speaking that references someone or something that is talked about using words such as “him,” “her,” “they,” “Sara,” and “dog.” (he, she, it, they), and whether the pronoun is singular (I, you, he, she, it) or plural (we, you, they) can also make a difference in the verb form used.

Table 15.1 Verb Tenses for the Regular Verb “Look” and the Irregular Verb “Eat”

Tense Number and Person Past Present Future

Simple

Past: main verb + -ed or irregular variations

Present: main verb

Future: will or shall + main verb

First-person singular I looked. I look. I will look.
I ate. I eat. I will eat.
First-person plural We looked. We look. We will look.
We ate. We eat. We will eat.
Second-person singular You looked. You look. You will look.
You ate. You eat. You will eat.
Second-person plural You looked. You look. You will look.
You ate. You eat. You will eat.
Third-person singular He looked. He looks. He will look.
She ate. She eats. She will eat.
Third-person plural They looked. They look. They will look.
They ate. They eat. They will eat.

Progressive

Verb + -ing and a form of the verb “to be”

Past: was, were

Present: am, is, are

Future: will be

First-person singular I was looking. I am looking. I will be looking.
I was eating. I am eating. I will be eating.
First-person plural We were looking. We are looking. We will be looking.
We were eating. We are eating. We will be eating.
Second-person singular You were looking. You are looking. You will be eating.
You were eating. You are eating. You will be looking.
Second-person plural You were eating. You are eating. You will be eating.
You were looking. You are looking. You will be looking.
Third-person singular He was looking. He is looking. He will be looking.
She was eating. She is eating. She will be eating.
Third-person plural They were looking. They are looking. They will be looking.
They were eating. They are eating. They will be eating.

Perfect

Past participle and a form of the verb “to be”

Past: had

Present: has, have

Future: will have

First-person singular I had looked. I have looked. I will have looked.
I had eaten. I have eaten. I will have eaten.
First-person plural We had looked. We have looked. We will have looked.
We had eaten. We have eaten. We will have eaten.
Second-person singular You had looked. You have looked. You will have looked.
You had eaten. You have eaten. You will have eaten.
Second-person plural You had looked. You have looked. You will have looked.
You had eaten. You have eaten. You will have eaten.
Third-person singular He had looked. He has looked. He will have looked.
She had eaten. She has eaten. She will have eaten.
Third-person plural They had looked. They have looked. They will have looked.
They had eaten. They have eaten. They will have eaten.

Perfect progressive

Verb + -ing and a form of the verb “to be”

Past: had been

Present: has been, have been

Future: will have been

First-person singular I had been looking. I have been looking. I will have been looking.
I had been eating. I have been eating. I will have been eating.
First-person plural We had been looking. We have been looking. We will have been looking.
We had been eating. We have been eating. We will have been eating.
Second-person singular You had been looking. You have been looking. You will have been looking.
You had been eating. You have been eating. You will have been eating.
Second-person plural You had been looking. You have been looking. You will have been looking.
You had been eating. You have been eating. You will have been eating.
Third-person singular He had been looking. He has been looking. He will have been looking.
She had been eating. She has been eating. She will have been eating.
Third-person plural They had been looking. They have been looking. They will have been looking.
They had been eating. They have been eating. They will have been eating.

Key Takeaways

  • The simple verb tenses are past, present, and future.
  • Progressive tenses use a form of the verb “to be” along with the -ing form of the verb to indicate continual or recurring action.
  • Perfect tenses use a form of the verb “to be” along with the past participle form of the verb to indicate action that took place before a certain time.
  • Perfect progressive tenses use a form of the verb “to be” along with the -ing form of the verb to indicate action that began in the past and continues or recurs through the present time.

Exercises

  1. Identify the verb tense used in each of the following sentences:

    1. I have heard that saying before.
    2. Joey seemed uncomfortable when he was at my house yesterday.
    3. You will be running in the second heat this afternoon.
    4. Lois is writing a letter to the editor.
    5. By ten o’clock tonight, we will have been walking for twenty hours.
  2. Write three sentences using simple tense, three using progressive tense, three using perfect tense, and three using perfect progressive tense. Make sure to include each of the following variations at least once: past, present, future, first person, second person, third person, singular, and plural.