Studies have shown that verb tense is one of the most challenging areas for most English language learners.
In fact, some native speakers encounter difficulties with verb tenses as well. But what are verb tenses exactly? Are there really only two tenses of verbs? How do they function?
If you are looking for answers to these questions, then you are in luck! We have them all here and more in this article. Please keep reading.
The verb tense of a sentence indicates whether the activity in the phrase took place in the past, is taking place now, or will take place in the future.
Most verbs have three tenses: past, present, and future.
This means that the verb may take on new forms (adding an ending, changing spellings somewhat, etc.) to express something that has previously occurred, something that is presently occurring or is an ongoing truth/reality, or something that will occur in the future.
How is Tense Identified in a Language?
When you ask native speakers, teachers, and students how many tenses there are in the English language, you will probably receive a variety of responses.
Some may say three, while others may say twelve, and the majority of individuals are unlikely to know for sure. This is due to the fact that grammar is theoretical, and how we recognize tense can differ.
Most people understand that tense is tied to ‘verbs’ and ‘time’, but some people believe that any statement of time is related to tense – which is not exactly correct.
The fact that there are three different types of verb functions that relate to time: tense, aspect, and modality, contributes to the misunderstanding around tense.
- Tense: Alters the form of the first verb in a verb phrase to reflect a fixed point in time: (clean > cleaned)
- Aspect: Adds extra verbs to the verb phrase and alters the primary verb to reflect time periods: (clean > is cleaning; has cleaned)
- Modality: Adds extra verbs or adverbs to the verb phrase to convey past and future possibilities and hypotheticals: (clean > will clean; could learn)
Are There Really Only Two Verb Tenses in English?
As previously stated, tense is the expression of a specific point in time. It’s demonstrated by altering the form of the first verb in a verb phrase.
This indicates that there are only two tenses in English: past and present.
|Past Tense||Present Tense|
|“I studied French when I was in Paris.”||“She studies at a public school.”|
|“He served the dinner late.”||“The waitress serves the food with a smile on her face.”|
|“She liked pizza and pasta before.”||“He likes to jog in the evening.”|
|“I knew about the plan.”||“They know how to pacify their children.”|
As shown in the instances above, the past tense is typically constructed by adding a ‘-ed’ suffix to the end of a verb, regardless of who is performing the activity.
The suffix ‘-s/-es’ appears on a verb in the present tense only when the third-person singular subjects it, ‘he’, and ‘she’ are responsible for the verb’s activities.
Is There No Future Tense in English?
No, technically there is no future tense in English, according to this definition of tense. This is due to the fact that changes in the form of a verb (such as ‘loves’> ‘loved’; ‘writes’> ‘wrote’) do not indicate the future.
Instead, we can use modal verbs (such as ‘will’, may’, or ‘might’) at the beginning of the verb phrase to convey the future. This function of the verb is known as verb modality.
|“I will watch a movie with my friends tonight.”|
|“He will finish his post-graduate degree in two years.”|
|“We might throw a farewell party for him next week.”|
|“She may move with her family to the city.”|
Why Do People Say There are Twelve Tenses in English?
We can observe that there are twelve patterns in English when we mix tense, aspect, and modality.
It is up to an individual’s experience, background, and tastes to determine if teachers/professors overgeneralize the word ‘tense’ because it is easier for their students or because they are unaware of aspect and modality.
Most English-language tutors, especially those with an EFL background, will refer to the twelve patterns below as tenses because they are easier to understand.
We believe it is beneficial for you to master tense, aspect, and modality separately and in combination, because they all function differently and have various laws.
|Simple||“She baked a cake last night.”||“She bakes cookies in her free time.”||“She will bake some cupcakes tomorrow.”|
|Progressive||“He was teaching his son how to ride a bike last week.”||“He is teaching his wife how to cook.”||“He will be teaching the new employee how to operate the machine on Monday.”|
|Perfect||“I had lived in Chicago before.”||“I have lived with my sister since I moved to the city.”||“I will have lived in my new home by the time my parents come to visit me.”|
|Perfect Progressive||“They had been studying for the exam when they found out the exam was postponed.”||“They have been studying English for the last three years.”||“They will have been studying the project for four months.”|
How are the Past and Present Tense Verbs Formed?
We will now be discussing how to build the present and past tenses in both regular and irregular verbs.
There are various ways how to form verbs and it all depends on whether the verb is regular or irregular.
How Do I Conjugate Present-Tense Verbs?
In English, verbs are conjugated (formed) for the present in a very uniform manner. You can follow the following two rules:
Make no changes to the verb for first– and second–person singular subjects (‘I’, ‘you’, and ‘us’) and third–person plural subjects (‘they’).
“I walk to school.”
“You look great!”
“They work at a bank.”
To show the present tense, add the suffix ‘-s/-es’ to the end of the verb for third-person singular subjects.
“It looks fantastic.”
“He loves chocolates and candies.”
“She prepares dinner whenever she has the time.”
For the vast majority of academic verbs, these two norms are ideal:
adapt – adapts
cook – cooks
drive – drives
write – writes
yell – yells
However, some verbs, notably those ending in ‘-sh’, ‘-ss’, or ‘-y’, are constructed differently in the third-person singular forms (‘he’, ‘she’, and ‘it’).
You should add the suffix ‘-es’ or replace ‘y’ with ‘-ies’ in these cases:
push – pushes
rush – rushes
toss – tosses
kiss – kisses
carry – carries
3 Rules for Forming the Past Tense in English
The rule for forming the past tense of verbs is easier and simpler compared to the present tense.
The rule is the same irrespective of whether the doer of the action is singular or plural.
1. To make the past tense, add the suffix ‘-ed’ to the end of the verb.
ask – asked
pull – pulled
shout – shouted
wait – waited
2. Simply add ‘-d’ to the end of the verb if it already ends in ‘e’.
love – loved
perceive – perceived
place – placed
serve – served
wire – wired
3. Remove the ‘y’ and add ‘-ied’ to the end of the verb if it ends in ‘y’.
try – tried
rely – relied
modify – modified
comply – complied
occupy – occupied
However, there is no structure for expressing the past tense for a small number of academic (irregular) verbs.
Instead, you should study these verbs on their own.
eat – ate
drink – drank
buy – bought
sell – sold
write – wrote
How Is a Verb Tense Used in Academic English Essays?
Now that you have learned how to make the two tenses in English (present and past), it is time to look at how these tenses are employed in everyday situations.
Let us start by looking at how the past and present tenses are used in general situations before diving deeper into how they are used in academic articles.
We have put up a list of 150 verbs that are widely used in academic writing that you can utilize while writing thesis statements, subject sentences, and supporting information.
What are the Uses of the Past and Present Tenses?
The present and past tenses can be used in various ways when paired with aspects (such as progressive or perfect).
These tenses are typically possible to represent a limited number of functions in their simple form (since the aspect is not the emphasis of this reader), such as how:
The past simple is used to indicate events that occurred at a specific time in the past.
“She made the purchase last week.”
“He went to the beach yesterday.”
“They moved to the country a year ago.”
The present simple is used to communicate timeless generalizations, facts, and widely held beliefs.
“Life is beautiful.”
“Experiments are useful.”
“Education is important.”
The future simple is used to represent future occurrences that will be accomplished or experienced.
“We will be spending the holiday in Japan.”
“The actors will be having a press conference later.”
“I will be leaving my current job.”
While the future tense is mentioned earlier, remember that verb modality, not verb tense, determines this.
Uses of the Present and Past Simple Tenses in Academic Contexts
The present simple tense is the most prevalent tense in academic writing, and it is frequently referred to as the ‘default’ tense.
This tense has six different purposes. You can utilize the present simple tense in the following situations:
Formulating thesis statements
“The effects of secondhand smoking on the vulnerable population are assessed in this research.”
“Many teenagers are stressed by cyberbullying, which can lead to despair, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts.”
Pertaining to graphs or tables
“The table illustrates the increase in the company’s sales in the last three decades.”
“The graphs show the transportation method of the people in the city.”
Describing the outcome of an experiment
“The results tell us that smoking is clearly harmful to one’s health.”
“The findings prove that air pollution has worsened over the last decade.”
Presenting appropriate source-based viewpoints
“Smith (2012) states that the change is brought about by the invention of smartphones.”
“Tanner and Lee (2018) claim that the internet has done more good than bad.”
Creating definitions, explanations, and consequences
“Tobacco smoke contains a complex mixture of toxins and contaminants.”
“It takes around 8 minutes for sunlight to reach the earth.”
Describing a source’s results or broad notions
“Brooke’s 2010 study indicates a global decline in the use of personal computers in the first half of 2008.”
“Brown’s findings state that water shortage is more rampant in the city than in the country.”
Is the Past Tense Also Useful in Essays?
The past tense is almost as prevalent as the present simple.
While the past simple is most usually used to indicate accomplished activities in the past, it has a few additional particular purposes in academic settings. This tense is useful in situations like:
Pertaining to research results
“The investigation’s findings were not as significant as expected.”
“The results of the study did not match with previous research.”
Introducing events in history
“In 1945, World War II ended.”
“Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865.”
Reporting research processes
“The respondents were given a day to answer the questionnaire.”
“The experiment took three hours to finish.”
Employing phrases that denote a period of time in the past
“Smith (2020) maintained his examination of the high rates after the publication.”
“Before the conclusion of her research, Hayes (2015) started another study on water pollution.”
Supplying current background information
“A similar study was first conducted by Jones (2004).”
“The term was first coined in Greece by Miller (2010).”
Providing a source’s discredited opinions
“Johnson (1997) claimed that manufacturers were to blame for the improved results, but it was later shown that government policy was to fault.”
“Peterson (2007) argued that air pollution is not the only cause of the depletion of the ozone layer.”
Why Do Verb Tenses Matter?
The English language’s backbone is made up of tenses.
If you do not utilize the tense that best expresses the idea, your sentence will be completely different than what you intended to say or write.
Correct tense usage necessitates using the correct verb form with the appropriate auxiliary.
Furthermore, it is important to note that English is a chronological language. We use verb tenses to express chronology or the order in which events and dates occur.
That being said, and with the explanations and examples cited above, it is obvious that verb tenses play a vital role in our daily conversations and our academic and professional lives.
We hope this page has answered every query you might have about verb tenses and eventually made you more confident in using them.
Additional Reading — ENGLISH GRAMMAR
- What is British English?
- What is American English?
- What is Canadian English?
- What is Australian English?
- 30+ Tips to Speak English Without Grammar Mistakes
- What Are Idioms?
- What Are Verbs?
- What Are Nouns?
- What Are Adjectives?
- What Are Pronouns?
- What Are Adverbs?
- What Are Punctuation Marks?
- What Are Prepositions?
- What Are Loanwords?
- What are Phrasal Verbs?
- What Are Collocations?
- What Are Conjunctions?
- What are Modals?
- What is Subject-Verb Agreement?
- What Are Sentence Structures?
- What Are Sentence Parts?
- What are Sentence Functions?
- What Are Clauses?
- What are the Common Slang Words in the English Language?
- What are the Commonly Misspelled Words in English?