This is “Avoiding General Verb Problems”, section 20.2 from the book Writers' Handbook (v. 1.0). For details on it (including licensing), click here.

For more information on the source of this book, or why it is available for free, please see the project's home page. You can browse or download additional books there. You may also download a PDF copy of this book (17 MB) or just this chapter (157 KB), suitable for printing or most e-readers, or a .zip file containing this book's HTML files (for use in a web browser offline).

Has this book helped you? Consider passing it on:
Creative Commons supports free culture from music to education. Their licenses helped make this book available to you.
DonorsChoose.org helps people like you help teachers fund their classroom projects, from art supplies to books to calculators.

20.2 Avoiding General Verb Problems

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand the difference between regular verbs and irregular verbs and use both versions correctly.
  2. Use verb tenses accurately and completely.
  3. Match infinitives and participles to verb tenses.

What if all coffee makers worked the same way, all vehicles had the exact same dashboard setup, and all verbs followed the exact same format? Life would simply be easier all the way around! But we live in a world of variety, and just as you take the needed steps to become familiar with the coffee maker and car you own, you should also take the effort to become familiar with the language you speak. This section presents an overview of common issues that impede the proper use of English verbs. To get ready to understand the possible problems, study the following chart that shows the five main forms of verbs. Notice that for verbs other than be, the present tense for all but third-person singular pronouns is the base verb (third-person singular uses the base verb + -s). The present participleA verb form created to indicate continuing action by adding present tense form of “to be” to the base verb + -ing (e.g., “We are laughing”). is usually a form of “to be” + the base word + -ing, and the past tense and past participleA verb form created to indicate completed action by adding past tense form of “to have” to the conjugated base verb (e.g., “They had eaten”). follow irregular patterns.

Table 20.1 Five Forms of English Verbs

Base Present Tense (+ -s for Third-Person Singular) Past Tense Past Participle (Preceded by Form of “to Have”) Present Participle (Preceded by Form of “to Be”)
run run ran run running
smile smile smiled smiled smiling
sing sing sang sung singing
beat beat beat beaten beating
see see saw seen seeing

Using Irregular Verbs Correctly

Since the present tense of irregular verbs is almost always the same as the base and since the present participle is almost always a form of “to be” + the base + -ing, those two columns are not included in this table. Take note of some underlying patterns in the other three main verb forms for each set of irregular verbs.

Regular Verbs
Base Past Tense Past Participle (Preceded by Form of “to Have”)
accept accepted accepted
bump bumped bumped
dry dried dried
hop hopped hopped
observe observed observed
print printed printed
shrug shrugged shrugged
wobble wobbled wobbled
Irregular Verbs
Base Past Tense Past Participle (Preceded by Form of “to Have”)
break broke broken
bite bit bitten
catch caught caught
teach taught taught
awake awoke awoke/awakened
arise arose arisen
bear bore borne
bring brought brought
choose chose chosen
come came come
do did done
eat ate eaten
fall fell fallen
freeze froze frozen
get got got/gotten
give gave given
go went gone
run ran run
drink drank drunk
ring rang rung
have had had
hear heard heard
know knew known
lay laid laid
lead led led
lie lay lain
ride rode ridden
rise rose risen
say said said
see saw saw
shine* shone shone
shine* shined shined
take took taken
*Note that some words have more than one conjugation based on meaning. For example, the sun and lights shine/shone/shone, but when we deal with shoes, we shine/shined/shined.

Check out Table 15.1 "Verb Tenses for the Regular Verb “Look” and the Irregular Verb “Eat”" in Chapter 15 "Sentence Building", Section 15.2 "Choosing Appropriate Verb Tenses" for an overview of how to use these verb forms.

Handling Specific Problematic Verbs

Some verbs are especially problematic either because their meanings are confused or because some of their forms sound alike. Handle these verbs by knowing which ones give you trouble and then focusing on the conjugation of those specific verbs. Some of these most commonly troublesome verbs are in the following table. You need to know two key verb types to read this table: transitiveA type of verb that acts on a direct object (e.g., “He hit the ball”). (when an object receives the action of the verb; in other words, something is done to something) and intransitiveA type of verb that does not take a direct object (e.g., “He laughs”). (a verb that does not act on an object).

Problematic Verb Set (Base, Past, P. Part.) Guidelines Examples
borrow…lend The verb borrow means “to temporarily get from someone else,” and lend means “to temporarily give to someone else.” I borrowed Kyle’s backpack since I had lent mine to Alice.
borrow, borrowed, borrowed
lend, lent, lent
bring…take The starting point of the action causes the confusion between these two verbs. If you bring something, you have to start somewhere else and end up at the common location. If you take something, you have to start at the common location and end up somewhere else. He brought his clean life jacket to the river and took away a filthy life jacket.
bring, brought, brought
take, took, taken
feel…think The verb feel is emotion based and the verb think is logic based. I feel excited about the tree-top ride, but I think it might cost more than I can afford.
feel, felt, felt
think, thought, thought
lay…lie The verb lay is transitive and means “to put,” so whenever you put something down, use lay. If you could replace the verb with put or place, you should use lay. The verb lie means “to rest” or “to tell a falsehood.” I laid my sunglasses down on a rock.
lay, laid, laid I lay on the rock myself for twenty minutes.
lie, lay, lain (rest) The ranger jokingly lied about the trail being a short one.
lie, lied, lied (fib)
learn…teach The verb learn always means to “take in information” and to teach always means to “give out information.” I learned that Yellowstone was the first national park in the United States. When we go there this summer, I’m going to see what Old Faithful can teach me about geysers.
learn, learned, learned
teach, taught, taught
raise…rise The verb raise is transitive, so you always have to raise something. The verb rise means to “go up” or “get up.” We are planning to rise early so that we are ready to start hiking when the sun rises, so raise your hand now if you have a problem with that plan.
raise, raised, raised
rise, rose, risen
set…sit The verb sit is always intransitive and set usually transitive. The most common confusion is when referring to putting something down. Whenever the meaning is to put, use set. The squirrel set his nut on the ground and sat looking at me.
set, set, set
sit, sat, set

Adding -s and -es for the Third Person

Many verbs require the addition of -s or -es when used in the third-person singular present tense. Although these verbs are slightly different from the present tense form of the verb, they are not considered a separate verb form.

Example

Present tense verb: walk

Present tense verb used in first person: I walk for hours looking at the trees and plants.

Present tense verb used in second person: You walk too quickly for me.

Present tense verb used in third person: He walks around as if he knows where he’s going.

Using Verb Tenses Accurately and Completely

Verb tenses allow you to attach timing to sentences you write and say. To make your meaning clear, you need to choose the correct tense for the timing and you need to be sure to include all the needed words for that tense.

Verb Tenses Timing of Action Additional Words and Endings Needed to Complete Verb Examples
Simple present Taking place right now None I hike.
You hike.
She hikes.
Simple past Started and finished in the past Add -ed to verb. I hiked.
You hiked.
She hiked.
Simple future Will take place after now Add will or shall to the present-tense verb I will hike.
You will hike.
She will hike.

Present progressiveShows continuing action.

Taking place right now and will continue to take place Add am, is, or are to the verb + -ing I am hiking
You are hiking.
He is hiking.
Past progressive Took place in the past at the same time that another action took place Add was or were to the verb + -ing I was hiking.
You were hiking.
He was hiking.
Future progressive Will take place in the future and will continue on indefinitely Add will be or shall be to the verb + -ing I will be hiking.
You will be hiking.
He will be hiking.
Present perfect Happened at an indefinite time in the past or started in the past and continues now Add has or have to the past participle of the verb (usually-ed) I have hiked this trail before. (in the past)
I have hiked this trail since I was five years old. (in the past and continues)
Past perfect Took place before some other past action Add had to the past participle of the verb (usually -ed) By the time I saw Jenny, I had hiked past the food station.
Future perfect Will take place some time in the future before some other action Add will have to the past participle of the verb (usually-ed) I will have hiked for two hours before you even wake up.
Present perfect progressive Began in the past, continues now, and might continue into the future Add has or have been to the verb + ing I have been hiking for a while.
Past perfect progressive Took place on an ongoing basis in the past and was completed before another past action Add had been to the verb + -ing You had been walking for an hour when you saw the swans.
Future perfect progressive Takes place in the future on an ongoing basis Add will have been to the verb + -ing They will have been hiking once a week by then.

Matching Infinitives and Participles to Verb Tenses

Verbals are words formed from verbs that function as other parts of speech. One type of verbals, gerunds (laughing, eating), always function as nouns (e.g., “Laughing is good for you”). Present, past, and present perfect participles are verbals that function as adjectives (e.g., “The sound of laughing children always cheered him up,” “The sight of the broken tricycle left in the rain made him gloomy”). Infinitives (to laugh, to have eaten) are another main type of verbals that function as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs. When using any of these verbals, make sure you match the tense of the verb in the sentence.

Infinitives

When the action of the infinitive takes place after or at the same time as the action of the main verb, use the present tense:

We plan to camp in the National Redwood Forest this week.

When the action of the infinitive takes place before the action of the main verb, present the infinitive in perfect tenseShows action that took place before some other action.:

We planned to have been camping in the National Redwood Forest last week.

Participle Phrases

Participle phrases can begin with the present participle, past participle, or present perfect participle.

The present participle is the correct choice when the action of the participle is happening at the same time as the action of the main verb:

Resulting in large openings called goosepen scars, fire ravages redwood trees without killing them.

When the action of the participle takes place before the action of the main verb, you can use either a past participle or a present perfect participle:

Scarred by a fire years ago, the large redwood tree still stands tall and awesome. (past participle in participle phrase)

Having posed for several pictures inside the redwood trunk, we climbed out and previewed the shots.

Key Takeaways

  • The present and past participles of regular verbs are formed by adding -ing and -ed to the base verb. Irregular verbs do not follow a set pattern, so you have to fix them in your mind so you use them correctly.
  • Verbs have twelve tenses that indicate different timings. Due to the complexity of the complete set of tenses, you simply have to memorize the uses for the different tenses and the methods of constructing each.
  • You should match both infinitives and participle phrases to the main verb in a sentence.

Exercises

  1. Write a set of three sentences each using one of the verbs go, went, and gone.
  2. Write a sentence using the verb freeze in present progressive tense.
  3. Write a sentence using the verb ride in past perfect progressive tense.
  4. Write a sentence using the verb lie in simple future tense.
  5. Write a sentence using the verb learn in past perfect tense.
  6. Write three sentences using each of the following verbs as gerunds, infinitives, and participle phrases. Identify the part of speech in each case.

    1. love
    2. kick
    3. play
    4. eat
    5. drive