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Lesson 6: The different forms of verbs

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Most languages use different forms - that is, different spellings or special endings -with their verbs to tell us whether the action took place in the past, is happening right now, is going to take place sometime in the future, happens often, or might not happen at all.  This is true of English.  Also, like other European languages with which we are familiar, many of the most commonly used verbs have the most irregular forms.  You can study several of these irregular verbs in Lesson 11 in the  Learn to Write English series.   

This Basic English lesson will explain to you what the verb forms are and when you need to use them.

Regular Verbs:

Infinitive Present Tense Past Tense Present Participle Past Participle
to park park, parks parked parking parked
to watch watch, watches watched watching watched
to call call, calls called calling called
to jump jump, jumps jumped jumping jumped
to study study, studies studied studying studied

The infinitive form is made by adding the word "to" to the  Present Tense.  This is the base from which all the other forms are built.  It does not show any particular time for the action.  Examples: to park, to watch, to call, to sing, to run, to jump, to fight, to study, to sleep, to wash, to patch

The Present Tense is used to talk about something that is taking place now or that takes place on a regular basis.  It is usually formed by dropping the "TO" from the Infinitive Form.  

Examples: park, watch, call, sing, run, jump, fight, study, sleep, wash, patch

Something different happens with the Third Person Singular form (the form used with HE, SHE or IT).   "S" or "ES" is added to the end of those verbs.  Here are some examples:  

I park the car each day. We park the car each day. They park the car each day. He parks the car each day. She parks the car each day.  The car (it) parks itself each day.
I often watch parades.  We often watch parades.  They often watch parades. He often watches parades.  She often watches parades, too.  It rarely watches parades.
I jump over the wall. We jump over the wall.  They jump over the wall. He jumps over the wall.  She jumps over the wall.  It jumps over the wall.
I wash my face.  We wash our faces.  They wash their faces. He washes his face.  She washes her face.  It washes its face.

The "S" or "ES" forms, or the Third Person Singular forms, are also used when the subject of the sentence is someone or something that could be replaced by HE, SHE or IT.  Examples:

Betty runs to the store each morning.  My father washes his car every week.    The old man fishes in the river every morning.
Mr. Smith sings in the shower.    Frank studies for his history test.  The opera star sings every day.
The policeman parks his car on the street. Sally often plays in the park. Mother patches her favorite jeans.

    Note: "ES" is added to verbs that end with S, SS, CH, SH, TCH, Z, or X.  (washes, passes, fishes, wishes, buzzes, fizzes, faxes, fixes, switches, latches, buses, gases, misses )  Verbs that end with a Consonant + Y  (study, carry, hurry, marry) must change the Y to I before adding ES.  (study = studies , carry = carries , hurry = hurries , marry = marries )  Most verbs follow the simple rule of adding S to form the Third Person Singular forms.

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When you should use the Present Tense:  

"They park their car on the street."  "Tom watches the football games on television."  "We call my mother twice a week." 
I love peanut butter fudge. You use your computer every day. She sings in the church choir.

They park = a regular action ; Tom watches = something done each week ; We call = a regular activity ; I love = an on-going feeling ; you use = a regular action ; She sings = regular action

In the first two sentences, the action might have taken place just one time or many times - the sentences do not make it clear to us.  Note the difference when we add more words:  "They park their car on the street  when the parking lot is full."  This may have happened once before or many times, but the sentence makes it clear that whenever the parking lot is full, THEY will park on the street.   "Tom watches the football game on television every Sunday."  It is a regular thing for Tom to watch football on Sundays.  He started doing it on past Sundays and will continue doing it on future Sundays.  In the sentence, "We call my mother twice a week." , the regular nature of the calls is given with the phrase "twice a week".  "I love peanut butter fudge." describes an on-going feeling, one that began in the past, is now, and will continue into the future.  The regular use of your computer is given with the phrase "every day".  For this person, singing in the church choir is a regular activity.  The sentence doesn't say whether "she" sings only on Sundays or for special occasions, but the use of "sings" tells us that this is a regular activity.

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The Past Tense  is used to talk about an action that happened before now, sometime in the past.  The action is finished, completed.  It might have taken place two minutes ago, last week, or a thousand years ago.  The Regular Past Tense is formed by adding -ED to the infinitive form, or by just adding -D if the verb ends with an E (bake + ed = baked). Irregular Past Tense forms are ... well ... Irregular

Examples: parked , watched , called , loved , used , sang

"They parked their car on the street this time."  The action is over.....the car is now located on the street. 
"Tom watched the football game on television last Sunday."  The action is over.  The watching started last Sunday and ended last Sunday. 
"We called my mother twice a week."  This tells us that the twice-a-week calls started sometime in the past and ended in the past.  We no longer call my mother twice a week.  Maybe we call her three times a week now, or maybe we don't call at all.  If we said, "We called my mother twice a week while she was sick."  this would make it easier to understand that the two calls a week were for a special purpose - to check up on her while she was sick, and since she is well now, we no longer need to call so often.
"I loved peanut butter fudge."  Peanut butter fudge used to be one of my favorites, but now it is not. Maybe I ate too much of it, or my taste changed, but now it is not one of my favorites.
"You used your computer every day."  This says that last week,  all last year, or sometime in the past, you operated your computer each day. You might still do that, but the sentence doesn't say so.  All the words tell us is that during some unknown period of time in the past, you used your computer daily.
"She sang in the church choir."  This sentence tells us that some female person had a singing position with the church's choir. We don't know for how long or how often she did this, but the use of "sang" tells us that SHE doesn't do it any more.  SANG is the Irregular Past Tense of the verb TO SING.  Irregular verbs will be covered in another lesson.

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The Present Participle of a verb is made by adding -ING to the infinitive form.  When used with  AM, IS, or  ARE, it  forms the Present Progressive Tense and talks about an action or state that is going on RIGHT NOW!  It started sometime in the past and is still going on.  The Present Participle used with WAS or WERE forms the Past Progressive Tense and is used for actions that began in the past, went on for a period of time, then ended in the past.

Examples:  (Present Progressive = happening now)

to park = I am parking.  You are parking.  He is parking.  She is parking.  It is parking.  We are parking. They are parking.  

to watch = I am watching. You are watching.  He is watching.  She is watching.  It is watching.  We are watching.  They are watching.  

to call = I am calling.  You are calling.  He is calling.  She is calling.  It is calling.  We are calling.  They are calling.

to love = I am loving.  You are loving.  He is loving.  She is loving.  It is loving.  We are loving.  They are loving.  (Note: the E on LOVE is dropped before adding -ING)

to use = I am using.  You are using.  He is using.  She is using.  It is using.  We are using.  They are using.  (Note: The E on USE is dropped before adding the -ING)

to sing = I am singing.  You are singing.  He is singing.  She is singing.  It is singing.  We are singing. They are singing.

Examples: Past Progressive = began in the past, went on for a while, then ended in the past.

to park = I was parking.  You were parking.  He was parking.  She was parking.  It was parking.  We were parking.  They were parking.

to watch = I was watching.  You were watching.  He was watching.  She was watching.  It was watching.  We were watching.  They were watching.

to call = I was calling.  You were calling.  He was calling.  She was calling.  It was calling.  We were calling.  They were calling. 

to love = I was loving. You were loving.  He was loving.  She was loving.  It was loving.  We were loving.  They were loving.  (drop E, add -ING)

to use = I was using.  You were using.  He was using.  She was using.  It was using.  We were using.  They were using.  (drop E, add -ING) 

to sing = I was singing.  You were singing.  He was singing.  She was singing.  It was singing.  We were singing.  They were singing. 

"I am writing this lesson."  The action is taking place right now and is not finished yet. "I was writing this lesson."  I began writing sometime in the past, but then I either finished it or got tired of writing, so I stopped working on it.  The writing started, went on for a while, then ended - all in the past.
"They are parking their car in our driveway."  It is happening right now. "They were parking their car in our driveway."  This began in the past and maybe happened several times, but then for some reason, they stopped parking their car there.  Could it be because we called the police?
"He is waiting for a bus."  The bus has not arrived yet, so he is STILL waiting. "He was waiting for the bus."  He started waiting a while ago, but he is not waiting now.  Maybe the bus came, or maybe he got tired of waiting.

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The Past Participle  of a verb must also be used with a helping verb.  The Past Participle with HAVE or HAS forms the Present Perfect Tense.  The Past Participle used with HAD forms the Past Perfect Tense.  It will be the helping verb which tells us when the action takes or took place.

Examples: 

"They have parked their car on the street."  This usually refers to a single action that took place in the past, with the idea that the car is still there.  "They have parked their car on the street ten times."  It still refers to an action that took place in the past, but might happen again. "They had parked their car on the street the entire summer."  Now that summer is over, they no longer park their car on the street.
"He has waited for the bus for an hour."  He began waiting in the past and is still waiting. "He had waited for the bus an hour before he decided to walk to work."  The waiting began in the past, went on for a while, then ended in the past when he did something different.
"We have called my mother several times, but have not received an answer yet."   "We had called my mother several times."  The calling started in the past, ended in the past, and is over now.

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The Future Tense  of a verb is made from the Present Tense form plus auxiliary verbs such as WILL and SHALL.  Often,  the phrase IS GOING plus the Infinitive Form of a verb is used to talk about the future, although it is not a true future tense.  SHALL is used with I or WE (first person) subjects; WILL is used with YOU, HE and THEY subjects (second and third person).  The Future Tense  is used to talk about an action that has not happened yet, but that is expected to happen sometime in the future.  The future can be in a few minutes, tomorrow or next year.

Examples:

"They will park their car on the street."  Parking their car on the street is an action THEY plan to take.
" We shall wait ten minutes more."  This puts a definite limit on the length of time WE expect to wait.
"He is going to call his mother tomorrow."  This tells us what action HE is planning to do in the future.

There are several other combination verb forms, each with its own special purpose and an official grammar title, but we will not cover them in this lesson.  The main purpose for explaining what we have so far is to help you understand a chart like the one below, or to help you understand a listing for a verb in a dictionary where the principle parts of the verb are often given before the definition.  In fact, this is a good reason to look up a verb in a good dictionary - to find out if the verb is irregular and if so, what the irregular forms are.

Infinitive (base) form Present tense (with 3rd person singular) Past tense Present Participle Past Participle
to park park, parks (-s) parked  (-ed) parking  (-ing) parked  (-ed)
to sing sing, sings  (-s) sang singing (-ing) sung
to carry carry, carries  (-ies) carried (-ied) carrying  (-ing) carried  (-ied)
to write write, writes  (-s) wrote writing (drop e before -ing) written
to take take, takes  (-s) took taking (drop e before -ing) taken
to be am, is (singular), are (plural) was (3rd person singular), were being (-ing) been
to set set, sets  (-s) set setting  (double T, add -ing) set
to think think, thinks  (-s) thought thinking (-ing) thought
to drink drink, drinks (-s) drank drinking (-ing) drunk
to have have, has had having (drop E before -ing) had

NOTE: A dictionary will list regular endings in parentheses ( ) as we have in the chart above (-s), (-ed), (-ing) if it lists them at all.  If the form is irregular or includes spelling changes (took, carried), they will be written in full.  Some of the spelling changes from the list above will be illustrated or explained in the Spelling Lessons on this site.

(Another note: The following section on Progressive and Perfect Verbs has been contributed by Ola Zur. You can see more of her work at  www.really-learn-english.com  .

 

Progressive and Perfect Verb Tenses

 

A reminder: a tense is a form of the verb that shows the time of the action.

For example, "ate" is a form of the verb "eat", and it shows the action happened in the past.

"Thinks" is a form of the verb "think", and it shows the action happens in the present.

  There are three Simple Tenses. We call them Simple because they merely express the time of the action.

  These are:

  Simple Past ("Lisa worked yesterday.")

  Simple Present ("Lisa works every day.")

  Simple Future ("Lisa will work next week.")

All these verbs simply state the time of the action (past, present or future).  So far, so good. Here is where things get a little more interesting.

  When using the English language you can choose to communicate additional data about the action. Specifically, is the action ongoing or finished?  

In the sentence "I am eating lunch right now", the verb indicates the action is still ongoing it continues. I am in the middle of having lunch.

  In the sentence "I have eaten lunch already", the verb indicates the action is finished. I am no longer eating lunch.  Now let's dive a little deeper.

Progressive (Continuous) Tenses

  "Progressive" means "ongoing, continuing". The action is in progress.  We usually use the Progressive Tenses when we want to emphasis the fact that the action continues.

  Present Progressive is a form of the verb that shows the action is in progress.

  I am waiting for the bus right now. (The action is in progress at this moment.)

  I am writing my third book. (The action is in progress these days.)

  Past Progressive is a form of the verb that shows the action was in progress.

  Yesterday at five o'clock I was waiting for the bus. (The action was in progress yesterday at five o'clock.)

  I was writing my third book the entire summer. (The action was in progress last summer.)

  Future Progressive is a form of the verb that shows the action will be in progress.

  Tomorrow at nine o'clock I will be waiting for the bus. (The action will be in progress tomorrow at nine o'clock.)

  I will be writing my third book the following winter. (The action will be in progress next winter.)

Perfect Tenses

  "Perfect" means "complete, finished". The action is finished.  We usually use the Perfect Tenses when we want to emphasis the fact that the action is complete.

  Present Perfect is a form of the verb that shows the action is finished already.

  I have written my homework. (The action is already complete. My homework is finished.)

  I have watched this movie already. (The action is already complete. I have the experience of watching this movie.)

  Past Perfect is a form of the verb that shows the action was finished already.

  I had written my homework before she came. (The action was already complete when she arrived.)

  I had watched that movie before she offered to rent it. (I watched the movie, and later she offered to rent it. At that point I already had the experience of watching it.)

  Future Perfect is a form of the verb that shows the action will be finished.

  By the time she comes, I will have written my homework. (The action will be complete before she arrives.)

  We will have watched that movie by midnight. (We will watch the movie, and we will finish watching it before midnight.)

  Why do you need to worry about all the different forms?  The best reason is so you can be fairly sure that the person you are writing to will understand exactly what you mean.  If you use the wrong verb form, the reader of your words will not know for sure if something happened but is finished now, or if it is still going on, or if you are not positive that it happened at all.  It is all part of CLEAR, ACCURATE COMMUNICATION.  

NOTE: It is more important to use the correct verb forms and tenses than it is to know all the grammar terms.  Please do not be discouraged by terms such as Present Progressive and Past Perfect.  Study the examples given in this lesson.  Read English every time you have the chance.  Try to decide what the verbs are telling you.  Ask questions if you do not understand something.

Exercise A:  Circle the verbs in the following sentences.  Above the verbs, write the tense or form.  Use a good English dictionary or text book to find verbs that are not in the list above.  Examples of tenses or forms:  INFINITIVE = inf., PRESENT = pres.,  PAST = past,  PRESENT PARTICIPLE = pres. part., PAST PARTICIPLE = past part., FUTURE = fut.; PRESENT PROGRESSIVE = pres. prog.; PAST PROGRESSIVE = past prog.; PRESENT PERFECT = pres. perf.; PAST PERFECT = past perf. 

1.  Mr. Jones had gone to the store to buy a loaf of bread.

2. I listen to the radio while I do my homework.

3. Steve was driving his new car to work.

4. Everybody in the office was working when the lights went out.

5. Sally said she will write me a letter when she gets to Miami.

6. Have you seen the new television show?

7. Many people drink coffee for breakfast, but others prefer to drink tea.

8. Anna, who sang in the musical stage play, had also sung in her church choir.

9. He is sick now, but he will  be better soon.

10. It has been difficult to learn English without a teacher, but you will succeed someday.

Exercise B:  For practice and for your own information.  Find an English-language newspaper, magazine or book and pick out 10 verbs.  Write those verbs in the correct column in the chart below, then fill in all the principle forms of each verb.  Use a dictionary.  If you need help, ask someone where you live or E-mail us.  Example:  From the instructions for Exercise B, we will choose USE.  USE is in the Present Tense, so that is where we will write it in the chart.  Then we would add all the other forms of USE - Infinitive (TO USE),  Past (USED), Present Participle (USING), and Past Participle (USED).

Infinitive Present Past Present Participle Past Participle
1.        
2.        
3.        
4.        
5.        
6.        
7.        
8.        
9.        
10.        
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Answers to Exercise A, Lesson 6:

1.   gone (past participle); had gone (past perfect tense);  to buy (infinitive)

2.  listen (present);  do (present)

3.  driving (present participle); was driving (past progressive tense)

4. working (present participle;  was working (past perfect tense)

5. said (past); will write (future); gets (present, third person singular)

6. seen (past participle); have seen (present perfect tense)

7. drink (present); prefer (present); to drink (infinitive)

8. sang (past); sung (past participle); had sung (past perfect tense)

9. is (present, third person singular); will be (future)

10. been (past participle; has been (present perfect); will succeed (future)

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