Posted by: Idioma Extra | December 14, 2011

Thursday Tidbit: Do You Know Your Verb Tenses?


Do you know your verb tenses?

Do you know how many verb tenses there are in English? The answer is 12 (not including 2 emphatic tenses). However, there are 4 that are the most commonly used in conversation: simple past, present progressive, past progressive, and the present perfect (arguably, the future tense can be included, but for the moment let’s focus on these 4). Understanding these 4 verb tenses well will go a long way in improving your English conversation skills. Let’s take a brief look at these 4 important tenses, their context, and their form, both in statement and question form.

Present Progressive

The present progressive is simply a form of the auxiliary verb “to be” (is, are, am) plus the “-ing” form of the principle verb. It is used when describing an on-going action in present (and also for the future). Here are some examples:

Statement form

They are working very hard on the project.

Your mother is preparing dinner for them.

Question form

Are they working very hard on the project?

Is your mother preparing dinner for them?

*Notice that for questions, you simply change the subject and the auxiliary verb to form the question.

Simple past

The simple past is basically used when describing a single moment that happened in the past. In the positive form, the verb is simply conjugated. Also, unlike the present form, there is no change in the verb for third person (he, she, it).  In the negative form, didn’t is added and the verb itself remains in the simple form. Here are some examples:

Statement form

You traveled with your family to the beach.

The doctor told him some good news.

Question form

Did you travel with your family to the beach?

Did the doctor tell him some good news?

Past Progressive

The past progressive is simply a form of the auxiliary verb “to be” (was, were) plus the “-ing” form of the principle verb. The same as the present progressive, it is used when describing an on-going action, but in the past. Here are some examples:

Statement form

They were working very hard on the project.

Your mother was preparing dinner for them.

Question form

Were they working very hard on the project?

Was your mother preparing dinner for them?

*Notice, again, that for questions, you simply change the subject and the auxiliary verb to form the question.

Present Perfect

The present perfect verb tense is formed with an auxiliary verb (has or have) plus the participle form of the principle verb. It is used for describing events in the past, but it is used in different contexts than the simple past. Here are the contexts:

1) Non-specific moment – She has traveled to Japan.

2) Multiple times – They have seen that movie many times.

3) Past to present – I have worked there for many years.

4) Never – He has never tried sushi before.

Here are some other examples of this verb form. Both statement and question form:

Statement form

They have gone bungie jumping.

His boss has explained the problem several times.

He has studied English for a long time.

Question form

Have they gone bungie jumping?

Has his boss explained the problem?

Has he studied English for a long time?

 * Once again, notice that for questions, you simply change the subject and the auxiliary verb to form the question.

Check Yourself

Change the example simple present verb tense sentence to the verb form indicated. Also notice if it is the statement or question form.

Example:  She gives him a present.

Simple past statement: __She gave him a present.__

Past progressive question: __Was she giving him a present?__

1. They buy the tickets.

Simple past question: __________________________________________________________?

Present progressive statement: __________________________________________________.

2. She listens to the song.

Present perfect statement: _____________________________________________________.

Past progressive question: ______________________________________________________?

3. They think of a solution to the problem.

Simple past question: __________________________________________________________?

Past progressive statement:______________________________________________________.

4. He flies to Chicago.

Simple past question: ___________________________________________________________?

Present perfect question:_________________________________________________________?

5. My friend runs in the park.

Present progressive statement:____________________________________________________.

Past progressive question: ________________________________________________________?

Answers to Last Week’s Check Yourself

When walking home from work, Diana saw a man sitting on the side of the street. He looked tired, beaten, and like he was (1)  down on his luck  . Diana had recently had a (2)lucky streak  , because she had had a lot of good fortune. She decided that today, the man was (3)in luck   because she wanted to give him some of her money, to help him. But the man decided to (4) push his luck  and ask for food and a place to live as well. Diana told the man, “(5)Tough luck  ! You (6) lucked out  once, but don’t get greedy!”


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