College Prep Writing
English main verbs have two tense forms, present and past, and four principle parts: a base form, a past tense form, a past participle, and a present participle. The present tense is formed from the base form.
base past past participle present participle
go went gone going
have had had having
be was, were been being
Simple Present Tense
The present tense often has little to do with present time. In fact, the simple present tense usually expresses habitual action. The present tense of be and some other verbs can also describe a present state or condition.
Simple Past Tense
The simple past refers to a point in the past. The past time may be stated or implied.
Alia started college in 2002, and she graduated four years later.
The suffix -ed is added to the base form of regular verbs to make the simple past tense.
want—wanted • like—liked
Irregular verbs do not use the -ed suffix; irregular verbs have other ways to form the past, including spelling or pronunciation changes.
teach—taught • read—read
The verb be is also irregular, and it has two past tense forms: was and were.
Continuous Forms (Progressive)
Make the continuous (or progressive) with forms of be + a present participle (verb + -ing). The continuous form describes an on-going activity.
He's considering a trip to Antarctica.
The present continuous expresses an on-going activity, intention, or, with an adverb of future time, the future.
• I'm learning a new language.
• He's not forgiving anyone.
• We're leaving next week.
• At this time yesterday, I was preparing my speech.
• We were making plans for the weekend.
be + going to + verb
Be + going to + verb is also an example of the continuous.
Present: Everything is going to be all right.
Past: I was just going to do it.
(See also continuous in perfect forms and in the passive voice below.)
English does not have future forms of verbs. The simple present or the present continuous and a time expression, like tomorrow or next week, are often used to express future meaning.
• Flight 324 leaves at 12:34 pm tomorrow.
• We are getting the airport bus at around 8 in the morning.
• We are going to eat lunch in a few minutes.
The present form of the modal will is often used to express the future; however, will is more often used to express assurance, to indicate intention, or to make a promise in American English.
• I'll be there. I promise I won't be late.
• If you will let me use your car tonight, I'll buy you dinner.
• We will leave for the airport very early tomorrow morning.
• I won't allow us to miss that plane.
The verb have and a past participle are used to make the perfect verb forms.
Colin has lived in Toronto for two months.
Before he came to Toronto, he had lived in Hawaii for three years.
present perfect continuous
Since he moved to Toronto, he has been studying at a university.
past perfect continuous
Until he moved to Canada, he had been working as a swimming coach in Manila.
modals with perfect forms
These modals may be used with the present perfect: should, could, will, may, might, must.
Colin will have lived in Toronto for three months at the end of next week.
He should have stayed in Manila.
English has two voices, active and passive. In the active voice, the performer of the action is the subject of a sentence. Nimo is the subject and the food is the object in the following example of the active voice.
Nimo prepared the food.
Notice that the object in the active voice becomes the subject in the passive. Therefore, the passive requires the use of a transitive verb. Make the passive with the verb be and a past participle. All verb tenses and forms may be used in the passive voice. In the passive voice, the performer of an action is not the subject of the sentence, as the following example demonstrates.
The food was prepared by Nimo.
A form of the verb be and a past participle of a main verb are used to form each of the verb tenses in the passive examples below. The forms of be and the past participles are underlined.
Simple present tense
Opportunities to retake tests are provided in the Learning Center.
Simple past tense
The new library was called a waste of money by the student newspaper.
Extra chairs are being set up in the gymnasium.
A box of books has been stolen from the library.
By the time I got to class, the test had already been discussed.
Unfortunately, the test schedule cannot be revised.
The passive voice has gotten a lot of unjustifiably bad publicity in recent years. Part of this is the result of the policy of some publishers to avoid the passive in children's books. Publishers sometimes defend this policy with the unsubstantiated claim that the passive is too difficult for children.
As linguists know, children easily learn a language only if they are given the proper exposure to it. One result of this short-sighted publishing policy is a new generation of students who falsely believe that the passive is grammatically incorrect, and this misconception is reinforced when they notice that grammar-check software highlights passive voice constructions.
Even some teachers have the erroneous notion that the passive is not as clear as the active voice. Like the driver of a car that has caused an accident, they want to blame the vehicle and not the misuse of it. Many languages use the passive construction more frequently than it occurs in English and to no child's detriment.