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2.6 Verbs: A Verb's Four Forms

Verbs show up in four forms: base, simple past, present participle, and past participle.

Study this chart and complete the last four rows.

Name of verb Base form Past form Present participle Past participle
to watchI can watch.
I watch.
I watched. I am watching.I have watched.
to waitI can wait.
I wait.
I waited. I am waiting. I have waited.
to tryI can try.
I try.
I tried. I am trying. I have tried.
to laughI can laugh.
I laugh.
I laughed. I am laughing. I have laughed.
to yellI can yell.
I yell.
I . I am yelling. I have .
to danceI can .
I dance .
I danced. I am . I have danced.
to winkI can wink.
I .
I winked. I am . I have .
to stopI can .
I .
I . I am . I have .

Study the chart again. Which forms can stand alone as single-word verbs? Which ones act as main verbs in verb strings? Draw your own conclusions before going on to the explanations of each form below.

The base form comes directly from the name of the verb.

to watch -- watch
to wait -- wait
The base form can combine in a string with any of these auxiliaries:

  Auxiliaries   Examples of Verbs Strings
can, will, shall
could, would, should
may, might, must
do, does, did
can watch, will watch, shall watch
could wait, would wait, should wait
may try, might try, must try
do laugh, does laugh, did laugh
The fireworks will scare Saeed, so probably we should go home.

He may object, but after all, he does need some sleep.

Application 12


Used without any auxiliary, the base form expresses present or recurring time. This way of expressing time is called the simple present tense.

Under warm air, water evaporates faster than under cold air.
The minerals in the water remain behind, so south sea waters contain a higher concentration of salt than northern seas do.
Notice that in some cases, the base form adds an -s. Chapter 11 explains how this -s ending works.

Application 13

The simple past form is usually the base form + -ed:

watch -- watched
wait -- waited
It works without any auxiliary, expressing past time. This way of expressing time is called the simple past tense.
The spider webs collected dew and sparkled when the wind moved them. The light grew on them slowly, and no animal disturbed them.
Notice that one simple past verb above (grew) does not end in -ed. We'll examine the exceptions to the -ed ending rule when we study irregular verbs later in this chapter.
Chapter 10 also explains more about how the -ed ending works.

Application 14
The present participle is always the base form + -ing.
watch -- watching
wait -- waiting
It combines with a form of the auxiliary to be (am, are, is, was, were, being, been, be) in a verb string that expresses a continuing action.
Two storm systems are converging on the island. This morning schoolteachers were bringing blankets to the shelter. The trucks will be arriving soon for emergency assignments.
Application 15
The past participle usually looks the same as the simple past form.
I watched. I have watched.
I waited. I have waited.
It can combine with a form of the auxiliary to have (have, has, had) to express a completed action.
Marty has cooked me dinner twice since Saturday. When he had finished last night's clean-up, he joked that by the time my leg has healed, he will have weaned me from junk food entirely.
Application 16
A past participle can also combine with a form of to be to express the passive voice, a sentence structure in which the subject isn't performing the action of the sentence.
The tree was damaged by the wind.
Our house was not harmed, though.
The subjects above are are tree and house, and neither the tree nor the house is doing anything. Both are simply sitting there passively, having something done to them. Notice how a past participle and a form of the auxiliary to be (am, are, is, was, were, being, been, be) combine to form a verb string in each sentence below.

The umpire's call was drowned out by the clamor of the fans.
The camera crew is amazed by the enthusiasm.
This play will be remembered for years.
Application 17

Sometimes a sentence with two verbs may use two different tenses, but only if the two verbs clearly reflect different times for the events they report on.


Chapter 15 will offer more work on consistency of tenses.

Sentences that express conditions and results also show a contrast in verb tenses.

  • If it had rained we wouldn't have had a fire drill.

TIP FOR ESL STUDENTS:
Click on the ESL icon at left to visit "Conditional Sentences" for help with the way English combines tenes to express conditions and results. Practice these forms with a teacher or tutor.

If you would like more work on conditional sentences, click on "Check this out!"

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