Introduction to Academic Writing

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Grammar: Verb Tense


Verb Tense

Read the following excerpt from a work e-mail:

The inconsistent tense in the e-mail will very likely distract the reader from its overall point. Most likely, your coworkers will not correct your verb tenses or call attention to grammatical errors, but it is important to keep in mind that errors such as these do have a subtle negative impact in the workplace.


  1. Use the correct regular verb tense in basic sentences.
  2. Use the correct irregular verb tense in basic sentences.

Suppose you must give an oral presentation about what you did last summer. How do you make it clear that you are talking about the past and not about the present or the future? Using the correct verb tense can help you do this.

It is important to use the proper verb tense. Otherwise, your listener might judge you harshly. Mistakes in tense often leave a listener or reader with a negative impression.

Regular Verbs

Verbs indicate actions or states of being in the past, present, or future using tenses. Regular verbsfollow regular patterns when shifting from the present to past tense. For example, to form a past-tense or past-participle verb form, add -ed or -d to the end of a verb. You can avoid mistakes by understanding this basic pattern.

Verb tense identifies the time of action described in a sentence. Verbs take different forms to indicate different tenses. Verb tenses indicate

  • an action or state of being in the present,
  • an action or state of being in the past,
  • an action or state of being in the future.

Helping verbs, such as be and have, also work to create verb tenses, such as the future tense.

Irregular Verbs

The past tense of irregular verbs is not formed using the patterns that regular verbs follow. Study the list below, which lists the most common irregular verbs.


The best way to learn irregular verbs is to memorize them. With the help of a classmate, create flashcards of irregular verbs and test yourselves until you master them.

 Irregular Verbs

Simple Present Past Simple Present Past
be was, were lose lost
become became make made
begin began mean meant
blow blew meet met
break broke pay paid
bring brought put put
build built quit quit
burst burst read read
buy bought ride rode
catch caught ring rang
choose chose rise rose
come came run ran
cut cut say said
dive dove (dived) see saw
do did seek sought
draw drew sell sold
drink drank send sent
drive drove set set
eat ate shake shook
fall fell shine shone (shined)
feed fed shrink shrank (shrunk)
feel felt sing sang
fight fought sit sat
find found sleep slept
fly flew speak spoke
forget forgot spend spent
forgive forgave spring sprang
freeze froze stand stood
get got steal stole
give gave strike struck
go went swim swam
grow grew swing swung
have had take took
hear heard teach taught
hide hid tear tore
hold held tell told
hurt hurt think thought
keep kept throw threw
know knew understand understood
lay laid wake woke
lead led wear wore
leave left win won
let let wind wound

Here we consider using irregular verbs.

Maintaining Consistent Verb Tense

Consistent verb tense means the same verb tense is used throughout a sentence or a paragraph. As you write and revise, it is important to use the same verb tense consistently and to avoid shifting from one tense to another unless there is a good reason for the tense shift. In the following box, see whether you notice the difference between a sentence with consistent tense and one with inconsistent tense.


In some cases, clear communication will call for different tenses. Look at the following example:

If the time frame for each action or state is different, a tense shift is appropriate.


  • Verb tense helps you express when an event takes place.
  • Regular verbs follow regular patterns when shifting from present to past tense.
  • Irregular verbs do not follow regular, predictable patterns when shifting from present to past tense.
  • Using consistent verb tense is a key element to effective writing.

This lesson is adapted from Successful Writing. If you need more information on verb tenses, please see this chapter from  Writers’ Handbook or this short lesson from OWL at Purdue.


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