Introduction to Verb Tense


A verb tells about an action or describes the subjects of the sentence. Verbs change form to show tense. That is, verbs change their spelling to indicate when the action occurred.

Regular verbs change form in predictable ways. In the past tense, regular verbs add –ed; in the future tense, they add will. Irregular verbs do not follow a pattern, and their forms must be memorized.

In general, tense is consistent within sentences and within paragraphs. A paragraph that opens with a present tense verb like argues should end with a present tense verb like concludes.

Sometimes changing tense is necessary. This unit will help you learn when to change tense and how to form the verbs correctly.


The two videos discuss regular and irregular verbs in simple and perfect tenses.

Simple tenses include past, present, and future.

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Perfect tenses express subtle differences in the timing of past events.

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Verbs convey a lot of information. They tell about actions like acknowledge, suggest, and invest. They also describe subjects; for example, became, seem, and tastes are linking verbs that connect the subjects with their descriptions in another part of the sentence.

One type of information that verbs convey is tense. Tense shows when something occurs. To show tense, verbs change form.

Regular verbs follow a pattern, as shown in the example below with the verb to walk. Irregular verbs change form too, but they do not follow a pattern. Thus, it is a good idea to keep a list of common irregular verbs handy.


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Usually, all the verbs in a sentence or paragraph will be in the same tense. Consider the verbs in the previous paragraph: follow, change, do not follow, and is. They are all present tense verbs.

Sometimes, shifting tenses is necessary to convey the timing of events. Knowing when to shift tenses requires an understanding of their fundamentally different roles.

The present tense is used to state facts or make generalizations. The past tense is used to narrate events completed in the past. Look at this example about Michelle’s commute.


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In the example, whenever she has to work is a generalization. Generalizations require the present tense. Took is past tense, so it does not accurately convey that Michelle continues to work. The correct form is takes. Now, takes (present) is consistent with has (present).

Sometimes writers aim for tense consistency and mistakenly use the past tense when they should use either the present perfect or the past perfect. Let’s consider an example about an event that has had a lasting impact.


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In the sentence, the two verbs show consistent tense; both felt and installed are in the past tense. The problem, however, is that the feeling of being more secure is not over, so felt is the wrong tense. To convey that an action begun in the past continues to the present, the present perfect tense is required.

The perfect tenses are made with the helping verb have followed by a verb in the past participle form. If you use a present tense form of have with a participle, you create a present perfect verb.

These sentences mean that the subjects (I, you, we, he, they) saw the movie previously and maybe again soon. Note that has is the form of the helping verb used with Jesse (also, other individuals and the pronouns he/she/it).

If you use the past tense had with a participle, you create a past perfect verb.

These sentences mean that the subjects (I, you, we, he, they) read the book a few weeks ago and, even before that, they saw the movie. Note that had is the form of the helping verb in past perfect verbs.

Though they are just one of the eight basic parts of speech, verbs convey a lot of information. Choose the right tense to convey the timing of events.


The study pages explain tense and appropriate tense shifts in more detail. As read you through the study pages and practice with LearningCurve before taking the post-test, try to picture each verb in the time chart for the different tenses. Checking verb tenses to be sure they convey the appropriate timeframe will help you be more precise in your own writing.

Don’t forget to work smartly!