verbs and Tenses

By | November 30, 2021

A verb expresses an action or a state of being. Verbs (doing words) are those essential words that enable us to say something about a noun or pronoun.



One kind of verb indicates action. The action may be visible or unseen. Action verbs are normally the dominating actions in the sentence.

Example:  1. A plane landed.

  1. A storm raged.
  2. King expects a call.


Some verbs simply tell that something exists. Such verbs express a state of being rather than action. Most-state-of being verbs link the subject with a word or words in the predicate. These verbs are called linking verbs. The most common linking verbs are: be ( am, are, is, was, were, been being), become, became, look, appear, feel, smell, taste, grow, seem, sound.

Example: 1. The journey is Friday.

  1. Abigail was a virgin.
  2. Matilda became a nurse.
  3. Thomas seems sad.

Sometimes, linking verbs can also be used as action verbs. When you look at the verb in the sentence, notice how it is used. Decide whether it expresses action or simply links the subject with a word in the predicate. Look at the following examples:

Linking verbs: 1. The  jersey looked dirty.

  1. The dish grew cold.


Action verbs:   1. Ken looked at the design.

  1. The farmer grew cereals.



In many sentences, an action verb expresses an idea by itself. In other sentences, a direct object completes the action of the  verb. The direct tells who or what receives the action of the verb.

Verbs that have direct objects are transitive verbs. 


  1. Samuel met the minister. (The direct object “minister” completes the meaning of the verb )
  2. The officer carried many boxes. ( The  direct object “boxes” completes the meaning of the verb carried.)



On the other hand, verbs that do not have a direct object are called intransitive verbs.

Examples:  1. The champions rejoiced.

  1. Sammy rested (under a tree).


Notice that in the second sentence, the phrase under a tree following the verb rested is modifying it. It does not receive the action of the verb and is therefore not object of the verb.

Some action verbs are always transitive or always intransitive. Other verbs may be transitive in one sentence and intransitive in another. Compare these sentences:

Transitive verb                                               Intransitive verb

  • The ladies swam a mile. The ladies swarm.
  • The artist sketched the model. The artist sketched by the sea.
  • Maggie sings the lead.                        Maggie sings



Many verbs are made up of a main verb plus one or more helping verbs. Another name for helping verbs is auxiliary verbs.  Auxiliary verbs are classified into primary and modal auxiliaries. The most common helping verbs are forms of be, have and do. They may also be used as main verbs. Here are the details of the forms:

  • Be: am, is , be, are , was were, been
  • Have: has, have, had
  • Do: does, do , did

These are known as primary auxiliary verbs.


Other frequently used helping verbs are: can, could, will, would, shall, should, may, might, must. These are known as modal auxiliary verbs.

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Helping verbs combine with the main verb to become part of the verb.

Helping verbs         +        Main verb                                                                            =         VERB   

Had                                     stayed                          had stayed

Will                                      stay                              will stay

Are                                       watching                     are watching

Am                                       going                            am going

Must                                    enter                            must enter

Should have                        waited                         should have waited

Has                                        left                                has left


Sometimes the parts of the verb are separated. The words that come between them are not part of the verb. Consider these examples:

  1. Indian food has always seemed
  2. The class was barely paying
  3. When will the chief of staff hold his press conference?
  4. Did the deputy minister speak?



Verb tenses and aspects in addition to expressing action or a state of being, a verb can also tell when that action or state of being occurs.  By changing form, verbs can indicate past time, present time or future time. These changes in form to indicate time are called tenses.  

In English, there are three simple tenses  and three perfect tenses. Let’s take a look at them.


The simple present tense indicates time in the present. It shows an event that is done regularly or habitually. The simple present tense form is usually the same as the name of the verb. ( i.e. it uses the original form of a verb). When verbs are used with the third person singular subjects, an “s” or “es” is added to the end the verb.    Example: I agree  becomes she agrees.


Uses of the simple present tense.

  1. Pre-meditated action: This shows an action will happen at a certain time in the future but which is definite to happen.



  • The headmaster receives the delegation tomorrow.
  • The president arrives for the AU Summit this evening.
  • I meet them on Friday.


  1. The historic present: This expresses a person’s comment on an action or event that has occurred.


  • We believe the ceremony has closed.
  • We understand the new chief has been installed.
  • I know the team has arrived.


  1. Habitual present: This shows an event or action that is repeated or done at regular interval.
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  • The students attend classes every morning.
  • The evangelist preaches at dawn.


  1. Instantaneous present: It talks about an action or event that is taking place at the present moment. Here, the action is brought alive as we find in commentaries  during an activity such as football, boxing, athletics etc.



Ben takes the lead, bolt follows closely, Maurice closes in but Aziz overtakes them and wins the race.


click here to read comprehensive  notes on prepositions and conjunctions. 



This expresses an event or action which happened at a certain time in the past, which is completed and may have no link with the present.


  • Joana visited the UK two years ago.
  • The lady repented in 2003.

Usually, the “d” or “ed” to regular verbs to form their simple past tenses.

Example: visit + ed   becomes  visited.

dance+ d  becomes  danced.

But for irregular verbs, it varies.

Example:  eat    becomes    ate.

come    becomes    came.

hit   remains   hit.



This tense expresses an action that will take place in the future or is yet to occur at a certain time beyond the present moment. It is formed as follows:

Subject + will/shall + original or infinitive form of a ver

  • Mary shall marry.
  • You will sleep.



The perfect tenses are used when we have to speak of two different times, one earlier than the other. The perfect tenses are formed by using helping verbs has, have and had. The three tenses under this are:


This tells of an action or state of being in some indefinite time before the present. It is formed or constructed as follows:

Subject + the auxiliary/ helping verb has or have + a verb in the past participle or present perfect form.



  • The students have eaten.
  • The dancer has performed.



It tells of an action or state of being that preceded some other past action or state of being. In other words, it expresses a situation where two actions or events happened in the past with one happening before the other. It may be referred to as past before past tense, that is, one event occurring before the other and both in the past.  The first event is put in the past perfect and the second one is put in the simple past. It is formed as follows:

Subject + the auxiliary/helping verb had + a verb in the past participle or present perfect form.


  • The patient had died before the doctor came.
  • The armed robber had escaped before the security arrived.
  • The children had been lonely until the parents came.
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This tells of an action or state of being that will occur before some other future action or state of being. It is formed as follows:

Subject + will/shall + have + past participle or present form of a verb.



  • Around this time on Monday, you will have received the money.
  • I shall have completed my professional law course by June, 2023.
  • Before the close of today, the headmaster will have announced the vacation date.




There is another way that a verb can show time. The progressive or continuous  form if a verb indicates an event which is ongoing. The action can be  in the past or the present the future.

Progressive forms are made by using the forms of be ( is, am, are, was ,were, been, being) with the present participle  (that is –ing) form of verb. The various forms are:




It expresses an action which is in progress or ongoing ( at the moment). It is formed as follows:

Subject + to be  forms ( is, are, am).

  • The lady is coming.
  • I am

This is used to express an action which began same time ago but which has continued over a period of time even to the present. It is formed as follows:

Subject +  has/have + been + -ing form of the main verb.

  • The orphans have been crying all night.
  • Josephine has been praying since morning.



It expresses an event or action that continued over a period of time in the past. It is formed as follows:

Subject +  were/was + -ing form of the particular verb verb.


  • The labourers were weeding throughout the day.
  • Abigail was learning the whole night.



It is used to describe an action in the past that started but which covered a period of time before another event. It is formed as follows:

Subject + had + been + the –ing form of the main or particular verb.


  • I had been doing my house chores before I married.
  • The students had been shouting before the teacher came.



It describes an action that is to occur in the future, and when it does, will  continue for some time. It is formed as follows:

Subject + will/shall + be + -ing or progressive form of the verb.


  • I shall be leaving early.
  • Rosemary will be preparing our dinner.







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