1.3: Get Tense Verb Tense, Principal Parts, and Irregular Verbs (2023)

This chapter is long, but be at ease, Louise. Much of this chapter consists of examples that illustrate the ideas discussed here. Most of it is not difficult.

There’s a good deal to know about verbs, including the matters of verb tenses and the related notions of the principal parts of verbs and the regular and irregular verbs.

The good news is that you know much of this already. You’ve used the tenses and principal parts ever since you learned to talk. What may be new to you here are the terms that we apply to them and the way we organize them. So relax, Max.

THE TENSES

Tense? We don’t mean over-caffeinated verbs. We mean that, in the right context, verbs communicate that an action took place in the present, past, or future.

English has four sets of tenses, and each set contains a present, a past, and a future tense, each with its own distinctions in refer- ence to time. Here we’ll examine briefly all four sets:

The simple tenses: present, past, and future. The perfect tenses: present, past, and future.

SIMPLE PRESENT: SIMPLE PAST: SIMPLE FUTURE:

Today I phone my mother. Yesterday I phoned my mother. Tomorrow I will phone my mother.

The simple progressive tenses: present, past, and future. The perfect progressive tenses: present, past, and future.

THE SIMPLE TENSES

These are the tenses we use most often:

Notice that we seldom use the simple present in a sentence like “Today I phone my mother.” Instead, we use the simple past:

Today I phoned my mother. Or we use the simple future,

Today I will phone my mother.

Or we use a tense that we’ll examine in a moment, the present progressive tense:

I’m phoning my mother right now.

But we’ll continue to use this somewhat unusual form in our examples of the simple present.

Here are more examples of the simple tenses:

SIMPLE PRESENT: SIMPLE PAST: SIMPLE FUTURE:

Today I talk. Yesterday I talked. Tomorrow I will talk.

SIMPLE PRESENT: SIMPLE PAST: SIMPLE FUTURE:

SIMPLE PRESENT: SIMPLE PAST: SIMPLE FUTURE:

Today I walk. Yesterday I walked. Tomorrow I will walk.

Today I build. Yesterday I built. Tomorrow I will build.

As these examples show, we create the simple present tense by using the simplest possible form of a verb. The simple present ends with -s in cases like these: he phones, he talks, he builds.

For the great majority of English verbs, we create the simple past tense by adding -d (as in phoned) or -ed (as in talked, walked, or hunted) to the present form. In a few cases, we make the past by adding -t (as in built).

With all verbs, we create the simple future tense by adding the auxiliary verb will to the simple present form.

THE PERFECT TENSES

The perfect tenses are not called perfect because they’re flawless. (Only your grammar teacher is flawless.) They are called perfect because the perfect tenses describe actions that have already been completed (i.e., perfected) at some point in the past, present, or future.

All the perfect tenses are based on a form of the main verb called the past participle, which in most verbs is identical to the form in the simple past tense. (We’ll see more of the past participle a bit later.)

Verbs in the present perfect tense always add the auxiliary verb have (or has) to the past participle form. They refer to actions that were recently completed:

I have called my mother today. She has called her mother today.

Verbs in the past perfect tense always add the auxiliary had to the past participle form. They refer to actions completed at some point in the past:

I had called my mother by noon yesterday.
The future perfect tense, like the simple future tense, always begins with the auxiliary will, followed by have:
By noon tomorrow I will have called my mother. Here are some examples:

PRESENT PERFECT: PAST PERFECT: FUTURE PERFECT:

PRESENT PERFECT: PAST PERFECT: FUTURE PERFECT:

PRESENT PERFECT: PAST PERFECT: FUTURE PERFECT:

Today I have talked.
As of yesterday, I had talked.
By this time tomorrow I will have talked.

Today I have walked.
As of yesterday, I had walked.
By this time tomorrow I will have walked.

Today I have complained.
As of yesterday, I had complained.
By this time tomorrow I will have complained.

If you compare the main verbs in these perfect tense sentences with the main verbs in the simple past sentences that we saw earlier, you’ll see that they are exactly the same words. This is a point that we’ll return to when we discuss regular and irregular verbs.

THE SIMPLE PROGRESSIVE AND PERFECT PROGRESSIVE TENSES

The simple progressive tenses refer to actions that have been in progress at a particular point in time. The main verbs in the progressive tenses always end in -ing, and they always take an auxiliary verb that is a form of the verb be.

The future progressive tense always begins with the auxiliaries will be. Here are some examples:

PRESENT PROGRESSIVE: PAST PROGRESSIVE: FUTURE PROGRESSIVE:

PRESENT PROGRESSIVE: PAST PROGRESSIVE: FUTURE PROGRESSIVE:

PRESENT PROGRESSIVE: PAST PROGRESSIVE: FUTURE PROGRESSIVE:

Today I am phoning. Yesterday I was phoning. Tomorrow I will be phoning.

Today I am hunting. Yesterday I was hunting. Tomorrow I will be hunting.

Today I am griping. Yesterday I was griping. Tomorrow I will be griping.

In the perfect progressive tenses, we describe actions that have been in progress but were completed (or will be completed) in the present, past, or future.

The main verb is still an -ing form, and it always has two aux- iliaries: a form of have followed by been. In fact, all the auxiliaries in all tenses of the perfect progressive are perfect tenses of the verb be. In the present perfect progress, the auxiliaries are have been or (with third-person singular subjects) has been. In the past, they are had been. And, of course, in the future perfect progressive, the auxiliaries are will have been.

PRESENT PERFECT PROGRESSIVE: PAST PERFECT PROGRESSIVE: FUTURE PERFECT PROGRESSIVE:

PRESENT PERFECT PROGRESSIVE: PAST PERFECT PROGRESSIVE: FUTURE PERFECT PROGRESSIVE:

Today I have been phoning. Yesterday I had been phoning. By this time tomorrow I will have been phoning.

Today I have been hunting. Yesterday I had been hunting. By this time tomorrow I will have been hunting.

PRESENT PERFECT PROGRESSIVE: PAST PERFECT PROGRESSIVE: FUTURE PERFECT PROGRESSIVE:

Today I have been grousing. Yesterday I had been grousing. By this time tomorrow I will have been grousing.

THE THREE (OR FOUR) PRINCIPAL PARTS

Most English verbs have consistent verb forms that we use to create the tenses we’ve just examined. These are called regular verbs, which means that the form to create the past tense and the perfect tenses are the same. That is, in both the simple past tense and the perfect tenses, we add –d or -ed, or (in a few cases) add a final -t. No other change in spelling happens, as you’ll see in the table below.

So we say that every verb (except some auxiliary verbs) has three principal parts: the present, the past, and the past participle (which is the form used with have for perfect tenses). These are usually presented in a table like this:

present

I talk
I hunt
I phone I build

past past participle

I talked I have talked I hunted I have hunted I phoned I have phoned I built I have built

All of these are regular verbs. The past and past participle are the same word.

Notice the relatively new verb to phone. Newly-created English verbs are always regular: fax, faxed; text, texted; friend, friended. (But there is at least one exception: We hung out at the mall.)

When we speak of a fourth principal part, it’s always the present participle, the -ing form used for progressive tenses: talking, hunting, phoning, building. And the -ing form is easy.

IRREGULAR VERBS

Irregular verbs are less consistent in their past and past participle forms. Although English has fewer irregular verbs than regular, there are hundreds of them. Many are among the most commonly used verbs in English.

Here are a small number:

present

I begin I break I bring I drink I drive I fly

I freeze I know I ride
I ring

I see
I sink
I speak I swim I swing I take
I write

past

I began
I broke
I brought I drank
I drove
I flew
I froze
I knew
I rode
I rang
I saw
I sank
I spoke
I swam
I swung
I took
I wrote

past participle

I have begun
I have broken I have brought I have drunk
I have driven
I have flown
I have frozen
I have known I have ridden I have rung
I have seen
I have sunk
I have spoken I have swum
I have swung
I have taken
I have written

All of us make errors now and then with some of the irregular verbs, and it’s a good idea to identify those that give you the most trouble and study them. The table above gives you some of the most common irregulars, and you can find complete lists in many grammar books and on the Internet. A dictionary can always help you with specific verbs.

One way to study irregulars is to group the verbs that are similar in their past and past participle forms, like this:

present

I begin I drink I ring
I sink I swim

I break I freeze I speak

I drive I ride I write

I fly
I know

past

I began I drank I rang
I sank I swam

I broke I froze I spoke

I drove I rode I wrote

I flew I knew

past participle

I have begun I have drunk I have rung
I have sunk I have swum

I have broken I have frozen I have spoken

I have driven I have ridden I have written

I have flown I have known

The following are verbs that you may also want to study. The verb dive is in fact regular:

I dive I dived I have dived

But dove, as a past and past participle, has become so common that it is now widely accepted.

We might call the verb burst “super-regular”. It doesn’t change at all:

Today I burst Yesterday I burst I have burst

Other super-regular verbs include hit, set, and split.

Shine is a peculiar case. Used as a transitive verb (which we’ll study soon), it’s regular: They have shined their trophies every month.

They shine They shined They have shined

As an intransitive verb (another term that’s coming up), it’s irregular: The sun has shone all day.

It shines It shone It had shone

The verb hang is also peculiar, taking different forms depending on its meaning. Imagine you’re in a dusty little town in the Old West, and you ask a gnarled old-timer, “Whatever happened to that grammar teacher?” And the old-timer answers,

We’ve hanged that danged grammar teacher. He was all the time correctin’ us!

But if you’re proudly displaying your framed diploma on the wall, you could say,

I’ve finally hung my diploma.
There are six verbs (grouped in pairs below) that confuse us all at some point:

I sit down. I lie down. I rise up.

I set the books down. I lay the books down. I raise the books up.

present

I sit I set

past

I sat I set

past participle

I have sat I have set

past participle

I have risen I have raised

present

I rise I raise

past

I rose
I raised

In the left column, the verbs indicate the way you are positioning yourself. They are all irregular verbs. In the right column, the verbs indicate the way you are positioning the object (or anything else separate from yourself). They are all regular.

It’s easy to keep these two sets of verbs straight: The verbs on the left all have the letter i as their first vowel. Remember that “the i-verbs indicate how I change my position.”

Let’s take a look at the principal parts of these three pairs of verbs. Notice that the second verb in each pair is regular. You probably know these already:

You may also know these:

Perhaps the most difficult of all irregular verbs are lie and lay:

present

I lie (recline)
I lay (set down) I lie (fib)

past

I lay I laid I lied

past participle

I have lain I have laid I have lied

As you see here, there are two verbs to lie. One means to recline, and one means to fib. Lie (to fib) is easy—it’s a regular verb. Lay (to set down) is also a regular verb.

Lie (to recline) is irregular, and it confuses many people because its past form, I lay, is identical to the present form of to lay (set down).

To add to the confusion, in speech I lay down (the correct form) sounds exactly like I laid down (the wrong form), so we’re often making mistakes because we’re repeating the forms we hear—or think we hear. (The whole thing makes us want to lie down, no lie.)

It is probably accurate to say that many English speakers, perhaps most of us, misuse lie sometimes, but you can master it in a few moments and remember it with a little review now and then.

Even with irregular verbs, the past participle is always used with the auxiliary have (or its other forms has or had) to create perfect tenses (have lain). Forms of the verb be are always used with the -ing form (the present participle) to create progressive tenses.

EXERCISES

3a. Write from memory the simple and perfect tenses of the verb call.

3b. Write from memory the simple progressive and perfect progressive tenses of the verb call.

3c. Write from memory the simple and perfect tenses of the verb know.

3d. Write from memory the simple progressive and perfect progressive tenses of the verb know.

3e. Complete these sentences using the correct verb and the correct principal part:

1. I will ___ here. (sit / set)
2. I will ___ my suitcase in the corner. (sit / set)

Get Tense: Verb Tense, Principal Parts, and Irregular Verbs | 27

3. I will ___ my bag to the top shelf. (rise / raise) 4. I will ___ from my seat. (rise / raise)
5. I have ___ from my seat. (risen / raised)
6. I have ___ my bag. (risen / raised)

7. I will ___ down. (lie / lay)
8. I will ___ my bag over here. (lie / lay)
9. I have ___ here for an hour. (lain / laid)
10. An hour ago, I ___ my bag there. (lain / laid)

3f. Complete the sentences using one or more auxiliary verbs:

  1. The perfect tenses use forms of the auxiliary verb ___.
  2. The progressive tenses use forms of the auxiliary verb ___.
  3. The perfect progressive tenses use forms of two auxiliary verbs: ___ and ___.
  4. All future tenses use the auxiliary ___.

3g. Identify the tense of the verb in each of the following sentences using one of these twelve terms:

  • Simple past, present, or future
  • Present perfect, past perfect, or future perfect
  • Present progressive, past progressive, or future progressive

• Present perfect progressive, past perfect progressive, or future perfect progressive

  1. She was here yesterday.
  2. We have been waiting for you for an hour.
  3. She broke her glasses.
  4. She has broken her glasses twice.
  5. Yesterday’s news burst all our illusions.
  6. I will speak to the principal.
  7. I will be speaking to the principal.
  8. We had spoken to the principal already.
  9. You will have been speaking to the principal by now.

10. I have sung this song before.

3h. Complete the sentences using the names of principal parts of the verbs, or with the auxiliaries will, have, and be.

  1. The perfect tenses are constructed using the third principal part, called the ___.
  2. The progressive tenses are constructed using the fourth principal part, called the ___.
  3. All future tense verbs begin with the auxiliary ___.
  4. All perfect tenses are constructed using some form of the auxiliary ___.
  5. All progressive tenses are constructed using some form of the auxiliary ___.
  6. The tenses constructed using both the auxiliaries have and be are called the ___ tenses.
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