What a verb
is and what it does
A verb is a
word (run) or a phrase (run out of) which expresses the existence of a
state (love, seem) or the doing of an action (take, play). Two facts are
used to express distinctions in time (past, present, future) through
tense (often with adverbials of time or frequency).
verbs are used with full verbs to give other information about actions
and states. For example, be may be used with the present
participle of a full verb to say that an action was going on ('in
progress') at a particular time (I was swimming); have may be
used with the past participle of a full verb to say that an action is
completed (I have finished).
Simple and Progressive
grammarians believe that tense must always be shown by the actual form of
the verb, and in many languages present, past and future are indicated by
changes in the verb forms. On this reckoning, English really has just two
tenses, the present and the past, since these are the only two cases where
the form of the basic verb varies: love, write (present); loved, wrote
is usual (and convenient) to refer to all combinations of ''be +
present participle'' and ''have + past participle'' as tenses.
The same goes for ''will + bare infinitive'' to refer to the future
(It will be fine tomorrow). But we must remember that tense in English is
often only loosely related to time.
two forms, simple and progressive (sometimes called 'continuous').
The progressive contains ''be + present participle'':
have been working
had been working
I will be
will have been working
forms and progressive combinations can also occur with:
and progressive forms usually give a general idea of when an action takes
place. But the progressive forms also tell us that an activity is (or was,
or will be, etc.) in progress, or thought of as being in progress.
activity may be in progress at the moment of speaking:
or not in
progress at the moment of speaking:
activity may be temporary or changeable:
activity may be uncompleted:
decision about which tense to use depends on the context and the
impression we wish to convey.
and Dynamic Verbs
are not generally used in progressive forms. They are called stative
because they refer to states (e.g. experiences, conditions) rather than to
actions. In a sentence like:
(or loved) describes a state over which the mother has no control:
it is an involuntary feeling. We could not use the progressive forms (is/was
verbs, on the other hand, usually refer to actions which are deliberate or
voluntary (I'm making a cake) or they refer to changing situations (He's
growing old), that is, to activities, etc., which have a beginning and an
end. Dynamic verbs can be used in progressive as well as simple forms.
Compare the following:
forms simple forms
verbs with progressive and simple forms:
which are nearly always stative (simple forms only):
that have dynamic or stative uses:
weighing myself. I weigh 65 kilos.
tasting the soup. It tastes salty.
feeling the radiator. It feels hot.
verbs usually occur in the simple form in all tenses. We can think of
'states' in categories like:
like, love, etc.
Thinking/believing: think, understand, etc.
3 Wants and
preferences: prefer, want, etc.
Perception and the senses: hear, see, etc.
Being/seeming/having/owning: appear, seem, belong, own, etc.
verbs describing physical sensations can be used in simple or progressive
forms with hardly any change of meaning:
and could/couldn't often combine with verbs of perception to refer
to a particular moment in the present or the past where a progressive form
would be impossible:
references with adverbs
adverbs like yesterday and tomorrow refer to past or future:
adverbs, such as already, always, ever, often, never, now, still
can be used with a variety of tenses, though they may often be associated
with particular ones. For example, always is often associated with
the Simple Present or Past for habits:
But it can
be used with other tenses as well:
always remember this holiday. (Future)
has always been generous. (Present Perfect)
Biggs said he had always travelled first class. (Past Perfect)
1. Read the
following sentences, underline tenses in them and write names of the
been expecting them to arrive since last Thursday.
the ball into the net. __________________
time you get home I will have finished my homework. __________________
only been driving for an hour when the car ran out of petrol.
never been in a plane before. _____________________
Monday, the President will be celebrating ten years in power.
was looking at me in a very strange way. __________________
to Belgrade twice a month. ___________________
I will have been working as a teacher for 20 years.