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A step by step approach on how to gather information on current events and stories and be able to write opinions and express personal points of view


Ajarn Willard Van De Bogart - TESOL Certificate May 2003-SIT


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Chapter six:

How to use verb tenses

Using Verb Tense

In preparation for writing your final story is is good to know how to use verbs to locate events in time.

Use verbs-of-doing to indicate what the author, the story, or the event does (example verbs below can be used with different subjects)

  1. The character shows...
  2. The event suggests...
  3. The character creates...
  4. The character indicates...
  5. The event reveals...
  6. The story illustrates...
  7. The character presents...
  8. The character establishes...
  9. The story provides...
  10. The story demonstrates...
  11. The character describes...
  12. The character seems to believe...

Assignment 1:
Complete the above #12 beginings as it applies to your story.

A verb indicates the time of an action, event orcondition by changing its form. Through the use of a sequence of tenses in a sentence or in a paragraph, it is possible toindicate the complex temporal relationship of actions, events, andconditions

There are many ways of categorising the twelve possibleverb tenses. The verb tenses may becategorised according to the time frame: past tenses,present tenses, and future tenses.

Assignment 2:Write a sentence for each type of the time frame tenses using the material from your story. There will be a total of #12 time frame sentences. An example is given for each type of tense in each time frame.

Review the following verb tenses
a. The four past tenses
b. The four present tenses
c. The four future tenses

Verb Tense:

Complete the verb tenses using sentences from your story.

The four past tense are

  1. the simple past ("I went")
  2. the past progressive ("I was going")
  3. the past perfect ("I had gone")
  4. the past perfect progressive ("I had been going")

The four present tenses are

  1. the simple present ("I go")
  2. the present progressive ("I am going")
  3. the present perfect ("I have gone")
  4. the present perfect progressive ("I have beengoing")

Note that the present perfect and present perfect progressive are a present not past tenses -- that idea isthat the speaker is currently in the state of having gone orhaving been going.

The four future tenses are

  1. the simple future ("I will go")
  2. the future progressive ("I will be going")
  3. the future perfect ("I will have gone")
  4. the future perfect progressive ("I will have beengoing")

On your own time
To brush up on your verbs I suggest you review as many as these verb tenses as you have time for.

Verb Tense: Aspect

Verb tenses may also be categorisedaccording to aspect. Aspect refers to thenature of the action described by the verb. There arethree aspects: indefinite (or simple), complete (or perfect),continuing (or progressive).

The three indefinite tenses, or simple tenses, describe an action but do not statewhether the action is finished:

A verb in the indefinite aspectis used when the beginning or ending of an action, an event, orcondition is unknown or unimportant to the meaning of the sentence.The indefinite aspect is also used to used to indicate anhabitual or repeated action, event, or condition.

The three complete tenses, or perfect tenses, describe a finishedaction:

A verb in the complete aspectindicates that the end of the action, event, or condition is known andthe is used to emphasise the fact that the action is complete. Theaction may, however, be completed in the present, in the past or inthe future.

The three incomplete tenses, or tenses"progressive tenses, describe an unfinished action:

A verb in the continuing aspect indicates that theaction, event, or condition is ongoing in the present, the pastor the future.

It is also possible to combine the complete tenses andthe incomplete tenses, to describe an action which was inprogress and then finished:

The Function of Verb Tenses

The Simple Present Tense

The simple present is used to describe anaction, an event, or condition that is occurring in the present, atthe moment of speaking or writing. The simple present is used whenthe precise beginning or ending of a present action, event, orcondition is unknown or is unimportant to the meaning of thesentence.

Each of the highlighted verbs in the followingsentences is in the simple present tense and eachsentence describes an action taking place in the present:

Deborah waits patiently while Bridget books the tickets.
The shelf holds three books and a vase of flowers.
The crowd moves across the field in an attempt to see therock star get into her helicopter.
The Stephens sisters are both very talented; Virginia writesand Vanessa paints.
Ross annoys Walter by turning pages too quickly.

The simple present is used to express general truthssuch as scientific fact, as in the following sentences:

Rectangles have four sides.
Canada Day takes place on July 1, the anniversary of thesigning of the British North America Act.
The moon circles the earth once every 28 days.
Calcium is important to the formation of strong bones.
Menarche and menopause mark the beginning and the ending of awoman's reproductive history.

The simple present is used to indicate a habitualaction, event, or condition, as in the following sentences:

Leonard goes to The Jumping Horse Tavern every Thursdayevening.
My grandmother sends me new mittens each spring.
In fairy tales, things happen in threes.
We never finish jigsaw puzzles because the cat always eatssome of the pieces.
Jesse polishes the menorah on Wednesdays.

The simple present is also used when writing about worksof art, as in the following sentences.

Lolly Willowes is the protagonist of the novel Townsendpublished in 1926.
One of Artemisia Gentleschi's best known paintings representsJudith's beheading of Holofernes.
The Lady of Shallot weaves a tapestry while watching thepassers-by in her mirror.
Lear rages against the silence of Cordelia and only belatedlyrealizes that she, not her more vocal sisters, loves him.
The play ends with an epilogue spoken by the fool.

The simple present can also be used to refer to a futureevent when used in conjunction with an adverb oradverbial phrase, as in the following sentences.

The doors open in 10 minutes.
The premier arrives on Tuesday.
Classes end next week.
The publisher distributes the galley proofs next Wednesday.
The lunar eclipses begins in exactly 43 minutes.

The Present Progressive

While the simple present and the present progressive are sometimes used interchangeably, the present progressive emphasises the continuing natureof an act, event, or condition.

Each of the highlighted verbs in the followingsentences is in the present progressive tense. In eachsentence the on-going nature of the action is emphasised by the use ofthe present progressive rather than the simple present.

Nora is looking for the first paperback editions of all ofRaymond Chandler's books.
Deirdre is dusting all the shelves on the second floor of theshop.
The union members are pacing up and down in front of thefactory.
KPLA is broadcasting the hits of the 70s this evening.
The presses are printing the first edition of tomorrow'spaper.

The present progressive is occasionally used to refer toa future event when used in conjunction with an adverb oradverbial phrase, as in the following sentences.

The doors are opening in 10 minutes.
The premier is arriving on Tuesday.
Classes are ending next week.
The publisher is distributing the galley proofs nextWednesday.

The Present Perfect Tense

Thepresent perfect tense is used to describeaction that began in the past and continues into the present or hasjust been completed at the moment of utterance. The present perfectis often used to suggest that a past action still has an effect uponsomething happening in the present.

Each of the highlightedcompound verbs in the followingsentences is in the present perfect tense.

They have not delivered the documents we need.

This sentence suggest that the documents were not delivered inthe past and that they are still undelivered.

The health department has decided that all high schoolstudents should be immunised against meningitis.

The writer of this sentence uses the present perfect inorder to suggest that the decision made in the past is still ofimportance in the present.

The government has cut university budgets; consequently, thedean has increased the size of most classes.

Here both actions took place sometime in the past and continue toinfluence the present.

The heat wave has lasted three weeks.

In this sentence, the writer uses the present perfect toindicate that a condition (the heat wave) began in past and continuesto affect the present.

Donna has dreamt about frogs sitting in trees every nightthis week.

Here the action of dreaming has begun in the past and continuesinto the present.

The Present Perfect Progressive Tense

Like the present perfect, the progressive">present perfect progressive is used to describe an action, event, orcondition that has begun in the past and continues into the present.The present perfect progressive, however, is used tostress the on-going nature of that action, condition, or event.

Each of the highlighted verbs in the followingsentences is in the present perfect progressive tense andeach sentence suggests that the action began in the past and iscontinuing into the present.

That dog has been barking for three hours; I wonder ifsomeone will call the owner.
I have been relying on my Christmas bonus to pay for thegifts I buy for my large family.
They have been publishing this comic book for ten years.
We have been seeing geese flying south all afternoon.
Even though the coroner has been carefully examining thecorpse discovered in Sutherland's Gully since early this morning,we still do not know the cause of death.

The Simple Past Tense

The simple past is used to describe anaction, an event, or condition that occurred in the past, sometimebefore the moment of speaking or writing.

Each of the highlighted verbs in the followingsentences is in the simple past tense and eachsentence describes an action taking place at some pointin past.

A flea jumped from the dog to the cat.
Phoebe gripped the hammer tightly and nailed the boardstogether.
The gem-stones sparkled in a velvet lined display case.
Artemisia Gentilsechi probably died in 1652.
The storyteller began every story by saying "A long time agowhen the earth was green."

The Past Progressive Tense

The past progressive tense is used to describedactions ongoing in the past. These actions often take place within aspecific time frame. While actions referred to in the present progressive have some connection to the present, actionsreferred in the past progressive have no immediate orobvious connection to the present. The on-going actions took placeand were completed at some point well before the time of speaking orwriting.

Each of the highlighted verbs in the followingsentences is in the past progressive tense.

The cat was walking along the tree branch.

This sentence describes an action that took place over a periodof continuous time in the past. The cat's actions have noimmediate relationship to anything occurring now in the present.

Lena was telling a story about the exploits of a red cow whena tree branch broke the parlour window.

Here the action "was telling" took place in the past andcontinued for some time in the past.

When the recess bell rang, Jesse was writing a long divisionproblem on the blackboard.

This sentence describes actions ("ran" and "was writing") thattook place sometime in the past, and emphasises the continuingnature of one of the actions ("was writing").

The archivists were eagerly waiting for the delivery of theformer prime minister's private papers.

Here the ongoing action of "waiting" occurred at some timeunconnected to the present.

Between 1942 and 1944 the Frank and Van Damm families werehiding in a Amsterdam office building.

In this sentence, the action of hiding took place over anextended period of time and the continuing nature of the hidingis emphasised.

The Past Perfect Tense

The past perfect tense is used to refer toactions that took place and were completed in the past. Thepast perfect is often used to emphasis that one action,event or condition ended before another past action, event, orcondition began.

Each of the highlighted verbs in the followingsentences is in the past perfect.

Miriam arrived at 5:00 p.m. but Mr. Whitaker had closed thestore.

All the events in this sentence took place in the past, but theact of closing the store takes place before Miriam arrives at thestore.

After we located the restaurant that Christian had ravedabout, we ate supper there every Friday.

Here the praise ("had raved") precedes the finding ("located") ofthe restaurant. Both actions took place sometime before themoment of speaking or writing.

The elephant had eaten all the hay so we fed it oats for aweek.

In this sentence, both actions take place in the past, but theeating of the hay ("had eaten") preceded the eating of the oats("fed").

The heat wave had lasted three weeks.

While the sentence "The heat wave has lasted three weeks"suggests that a condition began in the past and continues intothe present, this sentence describes an action that began andended sometime in the past ("had lasted"). By using thepast perfect the writer indicates that the heat wave hasno connection to any events occurring in the present.

After she had learned to drive, Alice felt more independent.

Here the learning took place and was completed at a specific timein the past. By using the past perfect rather than thesimple past ("learned"), the writer emphasises that thelearning preceded the feeling of independence.

The Past Perfect Progressive Tense

The past perfect progressive is used toindicate that a continuing action in the past began before anotherpast action began or interrupted the first action.

Each of the highlighted compound verbs in the followingsentences is in the past perfect progressive tense.

The toddlers had been running around the school yard for tenminutes before the teachers shooed them back inside.

Here the action of the toddlers ("had been running") is ongoingin the past and precedes the actions of the teachers ("shooed")which also takes place in the past.

We had been talking about repainting the front room for threeyears and last night we finally bought the paint.

In this example, the ongoing action of "talking" precedes anotherpast action ("bought").

A construction crew had been digging one pit after another inthe middle of my street for three days before they found thewater main.

Here, the action of digging ("had been digging") took place inthe past and occurred over a period of time. The digging wasfollowed by the action of finding ("found").

Madeleine had been reading mystery novels for several yearsbefore she discovered the works of Agatha Christie.

In this sentence the act of discovery ("discovered") occurred inthe past but after the ongoing and repeated action of reading("had been reading").

The chef's assistant had been chopping vegetables for severalminutes before he realized that he had minced his apron strings.

This sentence is a bit more complex in that it contains threedifferent past verb tenses. The sequence of tensesconveys a complex set of information. The past perfect progressive ("had been chopping") is used to emphasise theongoing nature of the past act of chopping. While a secondpast perfect progressive ("had been mincing") could beused, the past perfect ("had minced") is used to suggestthat act of mincing was completed. The simple past("realized") is used to describe the action closest to thepresent, an action that followed both the chopping and themincing.

The Simple Future Tense

The simple future is used to refer to actionsthat will take place after the act of speaking or writing.

Each of the highlighted verbs in the followingsentences is in the simple future tense.

They will meet us at the newest cafˇ in the market.
Will you walk the dog tonight?
At the feast, we will eat heartily.
Bobbie will call you tomorrow with details about the agenda.
The Smiths say that they will not move their chicken coop.

The Future Progressive Tense

The <future progressive tense is used todescribe actions ongoing in the future. The future progressive isused to refer to continuing action that will occur in the future.

Each of the highlighted compound verbs in the followingsentences is in the future progressive tense.

The glee club will be performing at the celebration of thetown's centenary.
Ian will be working on the computer system for the next twoweeks.
The selection committee will be meeting every Wednesdaymorning.
We will be writing an exam every afternoon next week.
They will be ringing the bells for Hypatia next month.

The Future Perfect Tense

The future perfect is used to refer to anaction that will be completed sometime in the future before anotheraction takes place.

Each of the highlighted verbs in the followingsentences is in the future perfect tense.

The surgeon will have operated on 6 patients before sheattends a luncheon meeting.

In this sentence, the act of operating ("will have operated")takes place in the future sometime before the act of attending("attends").

The plumber and his assistant will have soldered all the newjoins in pipes before they leave for the next job.

Here, the plumbers' act of soldering ("will have soldered") willprecede the act of leaving ("leave").

By the time you get back from the corner store, we will havefinished writing the thank you letters.

In this sentence, the act of returning from the store ("getback") takes place after the act of writing ("will havewritten").

If this year is like last year, I will have finished myholiday shopping long before my brother starts his.

In this example, the act of finishing ("will have finished")occurs well before the act of starting ("starts").

They will have written their first exam by the time we getout of bed.

Here, the act of getting out of bed occurs sometime after thewriting of the exam.

The Future Perfect Progressive Tense

The future perfect progressive tense is usedto indicate a continuing action that will be completed at somespecified time in the future. This tense is rarely used.

Each of the highlighted verbs in the followingsentences is in the future perfect progressive tense.

I will have been studying Greek for three years by the end ofthis term.

In this sentence, the future perfect progressive is usedto indicate the ongoing nature of the future act of the studying.The act of studying ("will have been studying") will occur beforethe upcoming end of term.

By the time the meeting is over, the committee will have beenarguing about which candidate to interview for three hours.

Similarly in this sentence, the ongoing nature of a future act("will have been arguing") is emphasised by the use of thefuture perfect progressive. The act of sustained arguingwill take place before the meeting is over.

When he returns, the wine will have been fermenting for threemonths.

Here the ongoing action of fermentation will precede ("will havebeen fermenting") the act of returning.

Written by Heather MacFadyen
Copyright © 1994, 1995 and 1996 by the University of Ottawa

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