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Basic Grammar and Punctuation: Verbs

The tutorials below address basic grammar and punctuation errors writers routinely have. Use these guidelines to proofread and correct errors in your papers before submission. For hands-on help, see a tutor in your campus Learning Support Commons.

About Verbs

A verb shows the action (read, walk, run, learn), or state of being (is, am, are, were) in the sentence. Identify the verb by asking what is happening in this sentence?  

For example:
We ran to the store.
My father is an excellent cook.
 
Verbs also tell the time when the action took place.
I teach school. (present tense)
We walked home from school. (past tense)

Common Error #1:
 
Using verbs correctly means choosing the correct form. It should match the subject of the sentence. The who of the sentence, whether it's I, you, or they, determines the form of the action.
 
For example:
Wrong He listen carefully in class. (3rd person subject, but 1st person verb)
RightHe listens carefully in class. (3rd person subject, and 3rd person verb)
 
In the present tense, note how he, she, and it use a verb with an s.
Present tense
Singular
Plural
1st person
I listen
We listen
2nd person
You listen
You listen
3rd person
He, she, it listens
They listen
 

Not every verb follows the standard format. The three most common helping verbs are irregular:

 

Singular

Plural

1st person

I am

We are

2nd person

You are

You are

3rd person

He, she, it is

They are


1st person
I have
We have
2nd person
You have
You have
3rd person
He, she, it has
They have

1st person
I do
We do
2nd person
You do
You do
3rd person
He, she, it does
They do

 
Common Error #2: Sometimes students get the the past participle form of the verb mixed up with the simple past tense.
 

The participle form of the verb looks like the action, but it acts like an adverb. It describes the action. It can complete the verb, but it is not the verb itself. It must be combined with a form of is or has. When in doubt, doublecheck with this printable chart.

 
For example:

Wrong I seen my friends over the weekend. 
RightI saw my friends over the weekend. 

RightI had seen my friends over the weekend.


Common Error #3: Using verbs correctly also means choosing the right tense. Tense refers to the time indicated by the verb. You should stay in whatever tense you started in throughout your paper.

The past tense of most verbs is formed by adding ed to the end.
Past tense
Singular
Plural
1st person
I listened
We listened
2nd person
You listened
You listened
3rd person
He, she, it listened
They listened
 
For example:

Wrong He asked me to dinner, ordered an expensive meal, then leaves me the check.
 
(Asked and ordered are in past tense, but leaves is present tense. When did the action take place?)
 
RightI go to school, hurry to work, and then fall asleep at the end of day. (All present tense)