16 Verb Tenses and Agreement

Tenses

There are three standard tenses in English: past, present and future. All three of these tenses have simple and more complex forms. For now we’ll just focus on the simple present (things happening now), the simple past (things that happened before), and the simple future (things that will happen later).

  • Simple Present: work(s)
  • Simple Past: worked
  • Simple Future: will work

The singular third person requires a slightly different present then other persons. Look at the tables below to see the correct tenses for each person:

Person Past Present Future
I verb + ed verb will verb
We verb + ed verb will verb
You verb + ed verb will verb
He, She, It verb + ed verb + s (or es) will verb
They verb + ed verb will verb

Let’s look at the verb to walk for an example:

Person Past Present Future
I walked walk will walk
We walked walk will walk
You walked walk will walk
He, She, It walked walks will walk
They walked walk will walk

Practice

Identify the tense of the following sentences. You can type your answers in the text field below:

  1. Alejandra directed a play.
  2. Lena will show me how to use a microscope.
  3. Isaac eats a lot of steaks.

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[reveal-answer q=”474778″]Show Answer[/reveal-answer]
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  1. Directed is in the past tense; the word ends with an –ed.
  2. Will show is in the present tense; the first part of the two-word verb is will.
  3. Eats is in the present tense; the only ending it has is indicating that Isaac is a third-person subject of the sentence.

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Irregular Verbs

There are a lot of irregular verbs. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of memorization involved in keeping them straight. This video shows a few of the irregular verbs you’ll have to use the most often (to beto have, to do, and to say):

Here are the tables for to be and to have for a quick reference:

To be

Person Past Present Future
I was am will be
We were are will be
You were are will be
He, She, It was is will be
They were are will be

To have

Person Past Present Future
I had have will have
We had have will have
You had have will have
He, She, It had has will have
They had have will have

Here’s a list of several irregular past tense verbs.

Practice

Change the tense of each sentence as directed below. You can type your answers in the text field below:

  1. Make this sentence present tense: Ysabella was really good at getting others to open up.
  2. Make this sentence past tense: Rodrigo will have a B+ in his math class.
  3. Make this sentence future tense: Amanda said she didn’t want to go to the party.
  4. Make this sentence past tense: Jordan does five hundred sit-ups.
  5. Make this sentence present tense: Marcela ran a car wash down the street from my house.

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[reveal-answer q=”474777″]Show Answer[/reveal-answer]
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  1. Ysabella is really good at getting others to open up.
  2. Rodrigo had a B+ in his math class.
  3. Amanda will say she doesn’t want to go to the party.
    • Notice that when the tense of the first verb changed, the tense of the second verb did as well.
  4. Jordan did five hundred sit-ups.
  5. Marcela runs a car wash down the street from my house.

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Tense Agreement

Icon of two speech bubbles; one has a thumbs-up sign in itThe basic idea behind sentence agreement is pretty simple: all the parts of your sentence should match (or agree). Verbs need to agree with their subjects in number (singular or plural) and in person (first, second, or third). In order to check agreement, you simply need to find the verb and ask who or what is doing the action of that verb, for example:

  • I really am (first-person singular) vs. We really are (first-person plural)
  • The boy sings (third-person singular) vs. The boys sing (third-person plural)

Compound subjects are plural, and their verbs should agree. Look at the following sentence for an example:

A pencil, a backpack, and a notebook were issued to each student.

Verbs will never agree with nouns that are in phrases. To make verbs agree with their subjects, follow this example:

The direction of the three plays is the topic of my talk.

The subject of “my talk” is the direction, not plays, so the verb should be singular.

In the English language, verbs usually come after subjects. But when this order is reversed, the writer must make the verb agree with the subject, not with a noun that happens to precede it. For example:

Beside the house stand sheds filled with tools.

The subject is sheds; it is plural, so the verb must be stand.

Practice

Choose the correct verb to make the sentences agree:

  1. Ann (walk / walks) really slowly.
  2. You (is / am / are) dating Tom?
  3. Donna and April (get / gets) along well.
  4. Chris and Ben (is / am / are) the best duo this company has ever seen.

[reveal-answer q=”813087″]Show Answer[/reveal-answer]
[hidden-answer a=”813087″]

  1. Ann walks really slowly.
    • Ann is a singular, third-person subject.
  2. You are dating Tom?
    • You is a singular, second-person subject.
  3. Donna and April get along well.
    • Donna and April is a plural, third-person subject.
  4. Chris and Ben are the best duo this company has ever seen.
    • Chris and Ben is a plural, third-person subject.

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Consistency

One of the most common mistakes in writing is a lack of tense consistency. Writers often start a sentence in one tense but ended up in another. Look back at that sentence. Do you see the error? The first verb start is in the present tense, but ended is in the past tense. The correct version of the sentence would be “Writers often start a sentence in one tense but end up in another.”

These mistakes often occur when writers change their minds halfway through writing the sentence, or when they come back and make changes but only end up changing half the sentence. It is very important to maintain a consistent tense, not just in a sentence but across paragraphs and pages. Decide if something happened, is happening, or will happen and then stick with that choice.

Read through the following paragraphs. Can you spot the errors in tense? Type your corrected passage in the text frame below:

A hiker at the top of a mountain. Other mountain peaks can be seen at lower elevations. The hiker is raising their hands in triumph.If you want to pick up a new outdoor activity, hiking is a great option to consider. It’s a sport that is suited for a beginner or an expert—it just depended on the difficulty hikes you choose. However, even the earliest beginners can complete difficult hikes if they pace themselves and were physically fit.

Not only is hiking an easy activity to pick up, it also will have some great payoffs. As you walked through canyons and climbed up mountains, you can see things that you wouldn’t otherwise. The views are breathtaking, and you will get a great opportunity to meditate on the world and your role in it. The summit of a mountain is unlike any other place in the world.

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[reveal-answer q=”792647″]Show Answer[/reveal-answer]
[hidden-answer a=”792647″]As we mentioned earlier, you want to make sure your whole passage is consistent in its tense. You may have noticed that the most of the verbs in this passage are in present tense; we’ve edited the passage be consistently in the present tense. All edited verbs have been bolded:

If you want to pick up a new outdoor activity, hiking is a great option to consider. (1) It’s a sport that can be suited for a beginner or an expert—it just depends on the difficulty hikes you choose. However, even the earliest beginners can complete difficult hikes (2) if they pace themselves and are physically fit.

(3) Not only is hiking an easy activity to pick up, it also has some great payoffs. (4) As you walk through canyons and climb up mountains, you can see things that you wouldn’t otherwise. (5) The views are breathtaking, and you get a great opportunity to meditate on the world and your role in it. The summit of a mountain is unlike any other place in the world.

Here’s each original sentence, along with an explanation for the changes:

  1. It’s a sport that is suited for a beginner or an expert—it just depended on the difficulty hikes you choose.
    • depended should be the same tense as is; it just depends on the difficulty
  2. if they pace themselves and were physically fit.
    • were should be the same tense as pace; if they pace themselves and are physically fit.
  3. Not only is hiking an easy activity to pick up, it also will have some great payoffs.
    • will have should be the same tense as is; it also has some great pay offs
  4. As you walked through canyons and climbed up mountains
    • walked and climbed are both past tense, but this doesn’t match the tense of the passage as a whole. They should both be changed to present tense: As you walk through canyons and climb up mountains.
  5.  The views are breathtaking, and you will get a great opportunity to meditate on the world and your role in it.
    • will get should be the same tense as are; you get a great opportunity

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Practice

Read the following sentences and identify any errors in verb tense. Type your corrections in the text frame below:

  1. Whenever Maudeline goes to the grocery store, she had made a list and stick to it.
  2. This experiment turned out to be much more complicated than Felipe thought it would be. It ended up being a procedure that was seventeen steps long, instead of the original eight that he had planned.
  3. I applied to some of the most prestigious medical schools. I hope the essays I write get me in!

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[reveal-answer q=”615298″]Show Answer[/reveal-answer]
[hidden-answer a=”615298″]

  1. had made and stick do not match the present tense that was set up by goes. The sentence should read, “Whenever Maudeline goes to the store, she makes a list and sticks to it.”
  2. This sentence is correct.
  3. applied and write do not match tense. If you’ve already applied, hopefully you’ve already written your essays as well! The sentences should read, “I applied to some of the most prestigious medical schools. I hope the essays I wrote get me in!”

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English Composition I by Lumen Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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