Using verbs incorrectly is one of the most common grammatical mistakes in the English language. Not only are these mistakes obvious in the written word, but they often grate on the listener's ear when spoken. With an overabundance of grammar rules pertaining to verbs, choosing the correct word can be challenging. In English, verbs have six tenses: three simple tenses and three perfect tenses, along with six variations of these tenses. All verb tenses take place in the past, present, or future.
Using Simple Verb Tenses
Use simple present tense for an action that happens regularly or permanently. For example, "We watch old movies on Saturday nights" or "He likes buttered popcorn." Both use the present tense of the verbs, "watch" and "likes."
Write simple past tense for an action that has ended, as in the sentence, "We watched an old movie last night."
Indicate an action that will occur in the future with the simple future tense, such as "We will watch an old movie tonight."
Using Perfect Verb Tenses
It's possible to form the perfect tenses by using one or more helping verbs with the past participle of the main verb. The following helping verbs are used in these tenses: have, has, had, will, shall.
Use the present perfect verb tense to indicate an action that has recently ended or that began in the past and is continuing into the present. Use "has" or "have" and the past participle of the main verb. For example, you might write or say, "Maria has finally finished her research paper" or "I have seen this movie twice and plan to watch it again."
Write about two events that occurred in the past with the past perfect tense to indicate the event that occurred first. Use the helping verb "had" with the past participle of the main verb: "By the time she showed up at the meeting, the decision had already been made."
Use the future perfect tense to indicate a future event that will have occurred before another future event. Use the helping verb "will" or "shall" with "have" and the past participle of the main verb: "By this time tomorrow, we will have reached the summit."
Using the Progressive Forms of the Tenses
Make all six verb tenses into progressive or continuous forms of the tenses. The progressive form indicates that an action is, was, or will be continuing.
Use a form of the verb "be" with the "ing" form of the main verb for the simple progressive form:
"I am doing my homework." This is present progressive.
"I was doing my homework when the phone rang." This is past progressive.
"I will be doing my homework when the program begins." This is future progressive.
Using one or more of the verbs "will" or "shall," "have" or "had" and "been" and the past participle of the main verb will create the perfect progressive tenses:
"I have been doing my homework every night between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m." This is present perfect progressive.
"I had been doing my homework every night before I became ill." This is past perfect progressive.
"I will have been doing my homework for five hours by the time I finish." This is future perfect progressive.
Ann Moore has been an English instructor for over 20 years and started writing professionally in 2011. After teaching junior high and high school, she now teaches writing at Florence-Darlington Technical College in Florence, South Carolina. Moore enjoys writing articles about animals, education, culture and society, health and fitness, and home and garden. She received her Bachelor of Arts at Virginia Commonwealth University.