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English sentences often heavily rely on the verb (action word) to carry a lot of meaning. In this section, you will learn how the verb can show tense (time) within a sentence. Verb tense is critical as using the wrong tense can make the reader believe an event happened at a different time than you intend. This can create a lot of confusion! The English verb tense system may seem complex, but it is relatively simple, as the forms follow mostly regular patterns.
English has three major times: present, past, and future. Each time has four variations: simple, perfect, continuous (Some may refer to the continuous as progressive), and perfect continuous. To form each of the tenses, you can use a formula, indicated in parentheses. The definitions for the terms are included in the table below. Please see the Subject Verb Agreement chapter to see verb conjugations.
|base form/simple||A form of the verb that indicates no agreement or tense.|
|continuous||A form that indicates an ongoing action within a sentence. This is always formed with the helping verb to be, depending on agreement with the subject and tense, and the main verb ending in -ing (the present participle form).|
|helping verb||A verb that helps the main verb to function in some way. Typical helping verbs include forms of to be (am, is, are, was, were), to have (has, have, had), and modal verbs (would, could, should, may, might, can, will).|
|past participle||A form of the verb used in the perfect tenses, regardless of time. It usually ends in -ed or -en, though there are many irregular forms.|
|perfect||A form that indicates movement from one time to another (for example, from past to present) within a sentence. The perfect tenses are always formed with the helping verb to have, depending on agreement with the subject and tense.|
|present participle||A form of the verb used in the continuous tenses, regardless of time. It always ends in -ing|