First off, I wanted to thank all those new followers I gained over the past week, probably in thanks to Alexandra Needham’s blog about “Ten Timesucks of Excellent Advice.” I’m honored to be included in such a list! I love to hear from my visitors, so feel free to comment below if you have something to add, share, or a question to discuss.

Last week’s post on the passive voice got me thinking more about verb tenses. I haven’t really focused on conjugating English verbs since my elementary school days, but I have to say that trying to learn Latin actually has taught me a lot more about English grammar than any other method of study.

Okay, so I hear a lot of you rolling your eyes at me. Latin? Grammar? Verb tenses? Why does an English-speaking writer need to know these things?

Well, partly because of last week’s post; if you don’t understand grammar tenses, you may not be understanding the passive voice and it may be frustrating you. Now, maybe I just wasn’t paying attention in elementary school when my teachers tried to teach me grammar–I can’t even remember learning English grammar, to be honest. But trying to tackle Latin grammar in college taught me much about my own native language.

Without further ado, I’m going to break down the English verb tenses. For this example, I’ll use the verb “to love,” since it’s the Latin verb (amo, amare, amavi, amatum) that is often used in teaching first declension verbs.

Present Tenses

Simple Present tense:
indicates an action occurring at the present time, implies the action is true for past, present, and future.

I love
you love
(s)he loves
we love
you love (plural)
they love

*Present Perfect tense:
indicates an action begun and completed at an unspecified time prior

I have loved
you have loved
(s)he has loved
we have loved
you have loved (plural)
they have loved

Present Progressive/Continuous:
indicates an action that is occurring now

I am loving
you are loving
(s)he is loving
we are loving
you are loving (plural)
they are loving

Present Perfect Progressive/Continuous:
indicates an action that began at an unspecified time in the past and continues to the present (times such as “for the past few minutes” can be used here)

I have been loving
you have been loving
(s)he has been loving
we have been loving
you have been loving (plural)
they have been loving

Past Tenses

Simple Past tense:
indicates an action that occurred at a specific time in the past (specific time may not be mentioned, but it is implicit)

I loved
you loved
(s)he loved
we loved
you loved (plural)
they loved

*Perfect Past tense:
used to indicate an action that occurred prior to another action in the past

I had loved
you had loved
(s)he had loved
we had loved
you had loved
they had loved

Past Progressive/Continuous:
used to indicate an action that occurred in the past and was interrupted by another action

I was loving
you were loving
(s)he was loving
we were loving
you were loving (plural)
they were loving

Future Tenses

Simple Future tense:
used to suggest an action that is to occur in the future (can be used with “going to,” “shall,” “will,” etc.)

I will love
you will love
(s)he will love
we will love
you will love (plural)
they will love

*Perfect Future tense:
used to indicate an action that is completed before another action in the future

I will have loved
you will have loved
(s)he will have loved
we will have loved
you will have loved
they will have loved

Future Progressive/Continuous:
used to indicate an action that will be continuing in the future

I will be loving
you will be loving
(s)he will be loving
we will be loving
you will be loving (plural)
they will be loving

Future Perfect Continuous:
used to indicate an action that is already occurring and will be occurring it the future

I will have been loving
you will have been loving
(s)he will have been loving
we will have been loving
you  will have been loving (plural)
they will have been loving

*perfect tenses can be formed by adding an auxiliary verb such as do, be, can, may, must, ought, shall, will, etc.

So seriously, why bother?

One of the beautiful things about the English language is how intricate it is, how an ending or word order or spelling can make a sentence mean something completely different. With verb tenses, however, the difference can often be subtle and often goes over a person’s head.

For example, let’s take “I loved him” and “I have loved him.” At first sight, they appear nearly interchangeable. So you loved. Great. But, that little “have” makes a grave difference. “I loved him” implies a past action, one that is completed at this time. In other words, it implies that I no longer love him. On the other hand, “I have loved him” implies a continuing action–that is, I am still loving him.

For the sake of further example, I will inflict upon you this paragraph from a WIP of mine.

I pressed my lips together and did not reply. I realized that the poor economy would effect a lot of things, but since Stephanie and I had started working here almost ten years ago, I had thought we would have the greater job security in the law office with our seniority. Besides, law offices typically fared well, even in times of recession. After all, crime only heightened at those times… I must have been mistaken.

The bolded words are different verb tenses which go beyond the immediate setting to prior times. The entire story is written first-person POV, simple past tense, thus pressed and realized. However, quickly I go into a future supposition, that the poor economy would effect many things, possibly the character’s job status. She reveals that she and her friend had started working in a time prior, revealing that both are still working there at the time of this story. Finally, we end with must have been mistaken, suggesting that her mistake has been ongoing until this point in the story. (Note also that “must have been mistaken” is a passive construction of the present perfect verb tense. I could elaborate an say what she has been mistaken by, but it’s not necessary in this sentence to do so, as I wish the emphasis to be on her having been mistaken, and not on what, exactly, has caused her to be mistaken.)

I do hope that this all made sense. I tried to keep it simple and clear, but I’m sure I’ve come across as confusing to some. 🙂

For more information, check out some of these links:
English Verb Tenses

English Page

For help with conjugating English verbs is a great tool