Verb tenses

Lately, many tutors in the Writing Center have noticed students coming in with papers that display issues with verb tense. In this post, I will go over the basic verb tenses and how and when to use each.

There are six basic tenses in English, but only past and present require a change to the spelling of the verb. The others add a word or words (auxiliaries) to create the desired tense. The six tenses are simple present, present perfect, simple past, past perfect, future, andfuture perfect.

Simple Present
Verb: to walk

  • I walk.
  • You walk.
  • He/she/it walks.
  • We walk.
  • They walk.

Simple present is the most basic verb tense. It is used to describe something that is happening in the present, i.e. right now. Note the difference in the conjugation for he, she, and it. Instead of “walk,” the verb is “walks.” This is because “he, she, and it” are in the singular form, while “they,” for instance, is plural.

Present Perfect
Verb: to jump

  • I have jumped.
  • You have jumped.
  • He/she/it has jumped.
  • We have jumped.
  • They have jumped.

The present perfect tense is used to describe completed actions that have consequences in the present. While the jump in the examples happened in the past, something about them is affecting the present state of the speaker. Again, note the singular form for he, she, and it.

Simple Past
Verb: to talk

  • I talked.
  • You talked.
  • He/she/it talked.
  • We talked.
  • They talked.

The simple past is the basic form of past tense. It is used to describe something that was completed in the past and is not happening now. Conjugations are the same for all subjects.

Past Perfect
Verb: to wash

  • I had washed.
  • You had washed.
  • He/she/it had washed.
  • We had washed.
  • They had washed.

The past perfect tense is used when describing an event in the past that happened before other events in the past, as in I had woken up just before my alarm went off. Conjugations are the same for all subjects.

Verb: to go

  • I will go.
  • You will go.
  • He/she/it will go.
  • We will go.
  • They will go.

The future tense is used to describe something that has not happened but will happen in the future. In the examples, the subjects have not gone yet, but they are planning to go. Conjugations are the same for all subjects.

Future Perfect
Verb: to see

  • I will have seen.
  • You will have seen.
  • He/she/it will have seen.
  • We will have seen.
  • They will have seen.

The future perfect tense is used to describe something that will have happened by a certain time or point in the future, as in I will have seen the Great Wall of China by the time I am old. Conjugations are the same for all subjects.

In academic writing, it is important to remember when to use each tense. Present tenses are used to describe events that are currently happening, while past tenses are used to describe events that have already happened and future tenses are used to describe events that are going to happen. In most academic work, it is important to remain consistent in your verb tense throughout the paper, usually sticking to either all past or all present tense. However, it is acceptable to interchange the tenses when speaking about separate events that happened in either the past or the present–it is not acceptable, though, to change the tense within the same sentence. It is also important to remember that when writing about literature, you must always refer to the events of the text in the present tense. This is because those events will still be taking place in the text any time the reader looks at it. Those events never end because the text is in a constant state of existence.

We hope this helps clear up any confusion about verb tenses, but if you ave any questions, please stop by and see us in the Writing Center. We would be more than happy to assist you. You can also visit the “verb tenses” link in the first paragraph for more help.

Happy First Day of Spring!


This post was originally published on March 20, 2014.


Valentine’s day

Valentine’s Day is tomorrow, and whether you love the love or take a more cynical approach to the holiday, you cannot deny that it is an important part of our culture.

Before Valentine’s Day became quite the commercial success it is today, it was very popular–and expected–to create hand-written sentiments, cards, or letters for your loved one(s). Today, it is leass common, so stick out to your valentine and do something unexpected–make a hand-written card.

When trying to come up with an original valentine, it can be easy to fall into the cliches of “roses are red, violets are blue.” You can stay away from this by creating an original rhyme of your own or by expressing a specific reason you love or care about the recipient: “I love the way you are obsessed with Harry Potter” or “Your laugh when you’re embarrassed is what first drew me to you.” The more specific the better. Show your loved one that you really pay attention to what makes them who they are.

After you create a rough draft of your valentine, show it around to some of your friends and get feedback. Does this sound too cheesy? Does this sound too cliche? Getting feedback on your work can give you a sense of how your loved one will react to their card, while also giving you the benefit of an extra pair of eyes to catch any mistakes.

Editing and revision are very important elements in any part of writing, but especially in a love letter or card. If you leave an obvious grammatical error in such a personal piece of writing, it can give the impression that you don’t care enough about the card’s recipient to edit and look over your work. On the other hand, by editing and revising your card–no matter how short–you prove that you are willing to spend the extra time on making sure your gift is perfect for you loved one.

After editing, create the final version of your card or letter and give it to your loved one. They will more than appreciate the thought, time, and effort put into your gift.

Have a lovely Valentine’s Day, everyone.


This post was originally published on February 13, 2014.