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Ken Ward's Writing Pages
Writing: Grammar: Parts of Speech

Main Page: Parts of Speech
Page Contents

  1. Verbs
      1. Identifying Verbs
        1. Pronoun Test
      2. Parts of Verbs
      3. Auxiliary Verbs
      4. Verb Phrases
      5. Verb Tenses
      6. Present Tense
        1. Simple Present
        2. Present Progressive (Present Continuous)
        3. Present Perfect 
          1. has been and has gone
        4. Present Perfect Progressive (Present Perfect Continuous)
      7. Past Tense
        1. Simple Past
        2. Past Progressive (Past Continuous)
        3. Past Perfect 
        4. Past Perfect Progressive (Past Perfect Continuous)
          1. lie and lay
      8. Future
        1. Simple Future
        2. Future Progressive (Future Continuous)
        3. Future Perfect 
        4. Future Perfect Progressive (Future Perfect Continuous)
      9. Linking Verbs
      10. Active and Passive Voice
        1. Is it Passive or Active?
      11. Active or Passive - More.
        1. State or Condition
      12. Examples of Passive Voice
      13. Passive and Time


Verbs have person, number, tense, voice and mood. Sometimes even the most obvious errors (typos) can creep in, as in this headline:
The verb should, of course, be go.

Identifying Verbs

A verb shows an action, or a state or condition. The verbs in the table below are in bold.
Example Comment
The elephant trumpeted. trumpeted is what the elephant did.
The store is open. is tells us the state of the store.
The point strikes you at once. strikes tells us what the point did.
I feel good feel tells us I am in a good condition.
She is wrong. is tells us she is in a wrong state.
We can identify verbs in sentences by asking the question: What is (the subject) doing (or being)?

Pronoun Test

Only a verb can follow a personal pronoun (I, you, he, she, it) and make sense.
verb non-verb
I think tick.gif I dog x.gif
I ran tick.gif I running x.gif
I sneezed tick.gif I at x.gif
I contemplated tick.gif I and x.gif
I am tick.gif I ouch! x.gif
I feel tick.gif I what x.gif
Therefore, we can test whether a word is a verb by seeing if it makes sense when it following I, you, he, she, it. However, it might not be a verb in the given sentence. The test shows the word can be a verb sometimes. However, if we replace the subject of the sentence (or clause) with a personal pronoun, the word following must be a verb.

For instance:
The lost boys returned home.
In the sentence, we can replace "The lost boys" with the pronoun They to get "They returned home". Because returned follows a pronoun in the given sentence, returned is a verb in that sentence.

In addition, we can ask "What did they do?". Here we are applying the definition of a verb. The answer, "They returned", shows returned is the verb.

Parts of Verbs

The main parts of a verb are:

Auxiliary Verbs

There are verbs that help other verbs to form verb phrases. The primary auxiliary verbs are:
be, do and have.

In these sentences:
I am going tomorrow.
I did answer the letter.
I have eaten enough.
The auxiliary verbs help other verbs to make a verb phrase.

The three main auxiliary verbs in English can also be main verbs, when they can stand alone:
I am happy.
I did it.
I have a coat.

There are 11 other auxiliary verbs, called modal auxiliary verbs:
can, could, will, would, shall, should, may, might, must, and ought to and used to

These help other verbs to indicate certainty and uncertainty, and in various ways show time.

Verb Phrases

A verb phrase is the verb part of a sentence. It can have one verb or several.
He ran.
He could have run.
The dog is being stroked by him.
The words in bold above are verb phrases.

Verb Tenses

We have two verb tenses in English: present and past; the future is formed by using auxiliary verbs. There is no future verb tense in English.

Present Tense

Simple Present

The present simple is simply the present tense of the verb.
The simple present is used to indicate something that is always true, or a present state or disposition. The following examples are statements that are always true, now, yesterday, and in the future, so we use the present simple:
The sun rises every morning.
Animals can move.
Mathematics is the science of number.
Hydrogen is the lightest gas.
Scientific truths and principles are often stated in the simple present.

The next statements are ones that are true habitually, or under certain circumstances, but not necessarily at the time they are said:
I seek the truth.
Do you play tennis.
The army moves on the enemy.
He loses his temper.
The statements may not be true at the time they are uttered. For instance, a person might claim they play tennis, but this does not mean they are playing it at the time. Similarly, a scientist might seek the truth, but might not be seeking it at the time the statement is made. We use the present progressive to say what we are doing at the moment.

The present simple is used to indicate a present state:
I feel good.
I am full.
She is happy
These statements are true at the time they are uttered. In speaking of feelings we often use the present simple to refer to the present state. (This is an exception because normally we use the present progressive for reporting on the present.)

The simple present can be used to refer to the future:
The bus leaves in 5 minutes.

Or the past:
The car drives at me. I scream and try to avoid it. There is a screech of brakes...
This is sometimes called the historic past and is meant to dramatize the action, making the reader think it is happening now.

Present Progressive (Present Continuous)

This is formed by using the present tense of the verb to be and the present participle.
The present progressive is used to refer to what is happening at the moment:
The sun is rising.
The birds are chirping.
Share prices are dropping.

Sometimes it is used to refer to something that is true temporarily:
I live in London, but I am living in New York (temporarily, at the moment).
I am coughing a lot. (As I have a cold at the moment.)
She is travelling to work by horse, while here car is in the garage.

Present Perfect 

The present perfect is formed from the present tense of have and the past participle.
The present perfect form of the verb is used to refer to something that has been happening up to the present, but has now stopped.

I have eaten the food.
I have played sport this morning.
I have studied physics.
I have had a cold.
These refer to past events which have now finished.
has been and has gone
Consider these sentences:
He has been to America.
He has gone to America.
The first means has has travelled to America and returned. The second means he has travelled to America, but has not yet returned. These are two forms of the past participle of the verb to go.

Present Perfect Progressive (Present Perfect Continuous)

The present perfect progressive is formed from the present tense of have, been (the past participle of be) and the past participle of the verb. It is used to refer to something that has been going on in the past and is still going on.
It has been snowing all day.
The road works have been going on for ages.
I have been waiting for ages.

Past Tense

Simple Past

The simple past tense is formed from the past tense of the verb. For instance:
He went home.
I wrote a story.
It was late.
The simple past often refers to an event which occurred at a definite time in the past.

It is also used to refer to unreal present or future time:
If I were king, then I would stay in bed till lunchtime.
If I studied harder, I would do better.

Past Progressive (Past Continuous)

The past progressive form is formed using was or were and the present participle. This is used to refer to a past time when some state or activity was temporarily going on.
I was eating a hamburger and listening to the radio.
They were laughing and joking when he arrived.

It is also used to refer to unreal present and future time:
I would be happier if we were making more money.
The captain said "If the ship were sinking, I would not be standing here."

Past Perfect 

The past perfect is formed by using had and the past participle. It is used to refer to an action or state that was completed before a past time.
He had finished the book by the time they came.
They had completed the work before the owners returned.

The past perfect is also used to refer to the unreal past.
If I had not studied hard, then I would not have passed the exam.
If you had paid, you could have gone in.
If it had not snowed, you wouldn't have been able to ski.

Past Perfect Progressive (Past Perfect Continuous)

This is formed by using had, been and the present participle.

It had been raining for some time, when the lightning started.
Most of the staff had been working hard up to lunchtime.
Only a few people had been eating in the restaurant when the manager arrived.
I had been feeling bored, when I noticed an interesting film was on the television.
The past perfect progressive refers to a state or activity that was going on before something else in the past.
lie and lay
Choosing between the verbs lie and lay may cause confusion. The verb 'to lie' means 'to recline', 'to be situated' or 'put in a certain state'. The verb 'to lay' means 'to place' (something). Their main forms are as follows:
Simple Presentlielay
Present Participlelyinglaying
Simple Pastlaylaid
Past Participlelainlaid
The verb 'to lie' does not take an object; the verb 'to lay' does. 

Examples using lie and lay
lie (no object)lay (takes an object)
Simple PresentShe lies on the floor
The islands lie to the south.
Our future lies in their hands.
He lay the cat on the floor.
Will you lay the table.
Present ProgressiveShe is lying on the floor.
In autumn, the leaves lie everywhere.
We lay at their mercy.
He is laying it on the floor.
This was a difficult task to lay on anyone.
Simple PastShe lay down on the floor.
The rubbish lay everywhere.
He laid it on the floor.
They laid the victim on the bed.
PerfectShe has lain on the floor for ages.
The snow has lain over the land for some months.
They have laid the foundations.


There isn't a future tense of English verbs. The future can be formed in various ways, some of which have been mentioned under the past and present tenses. Here we will simply mention the use of the future auxiliary will. The use of shall as a future auxiliary seems to have disappeared in English since about the 1950s. Some people, however, think the future auxiliary will should not be used with the first person and shall ought to be be used.

Simple Future

I will go shopping tomorrow. r_arrow.gif I'll go shopping tomorrow.
As will is contracted in speech, no one knows whether the speaker meant will or shall.

Future Progressive (Future Continuous)

Next week, I will be going shopping r_arrow.gif Next week, I'll be going shopping.

Future Perfect 

By this time next week, I will have started my new job.  r_arrow.gif  By this time next week, I'll have started my new job.

Future Perfect Progressive (Future Perfect Continuous)

By this time next month, I'll have been working at my new job for a week.

Linking Verbs

Linking verbs join the subject of the sentence to an adverb, noun or phrase, which describes the subject. The main linking verb is the verb to be. The linking verbs in the table below are in bold.
Richard was angry.
Sara is a scientist.
Brenda was in a pensive mood.
The scientist feels glum.
The music sounds fine.
The spy must keep out of sight.
In the examples, the verbs link the subject with a phrase that describes the subject, rather than receives the action of the subject. The verbs are therefore linking verbs. The phrase is called a complement, rather than an object.

Active and Passive Voice

Normally verbs (and clauses) are in active voice. The subject of the sentence is the agent that performs the action of the verb. Sometimes clauses are in the passive voice, where the subject receives the action of the verb, and is not the agent.
Active Passive
The dog bit the man. The man was bitten by the dog.
The scientists disputed the inferences. The inferences were disputed by the scientists.
He is stroking the dog. The dog is being stroked by him.
I will eat the crisps. The crisps will be eaten by me.
The boss fired Henry. Henry got fired.
He had had a good time. A good time had been had by him.
The form of the passive is a form of the verb to be plus a past participle.

Is it Passive or Active?

When the state or condition of something is indicated by the verb to be, it is often followed by an adjective. For instance:
The cat is hungry.
When the adjective has the same form as the past participle, some confusion can result.
She is educated.
Here educated is an adjective. If we try to convert the sentence into an active voice, we have:
They educated her. a
This is not what we mean! We are not referring to an activity or process of educating, but to her state, or one of her characteristics. The word educated is therefore an adjective, and the sentence, She is educated, isn't passive.
The following may be confusing (they are all active):
Example Active Voice Comment
He was tired. tired is an adjective. And is is a linking verb.
The shop is closed. A bit tricky. We do not mean "The shop was closed by the shopkeeper. But, who knows, it might be open now". closed is an adjective, not part of a verb.
She is enraged. Again, is is a linking verb, and enraged is an adjective.
The plane is damaged.  damaged is an adjective.
Sometimes we need to know the context to be sure whether an expression is actually passive.

Active or Passive - More.

State or Condition

When the verb to be occurs with a word in the form of a past participle and it means the state or condition of something, it might not be passive, but might be an adjective.
While a passive sentence can be identified by noting the presence of the verb to be and the past participle, not all sentences having this form are in the passive voice. The past participle form can sometimes be an adjective, not a part of a verb phrase.
The shop is closed, so we cannot get any milk till tomorrow. tick.gif
The word closed, which is in the form of a past participle, is an adjective, not a verb. We are sympathetic to those who argue it is in the passive voice, but ask them to consider the sentence:
The shop is open, so we can get some milk now.tick.gif
The word open is an adjective. If we use the passive in the first sentence, why not use it in this sentence?
The shop is opened, so we can get some milk now. x.gif [This is not English! No one would say this.]
Clearly, it is not the activity of closing or opening the shop that we are referring to, but the state of the shop - whether it is open or closed (adjectives) state.
[These questions were raised by a beginner in English as a foreign language.]

The tyres were worn.tick.gif
It is difficult to convert this into a passive. For instance:
The road wore the tires. s2.gif
This does not seem right. It doesn't capture the meaning of the state of the tyres. Even more, in the following sentence:
They were lost in the woods.  tick.gif
If we try to convert it to an active form, it seems we would have:
They lost themselves in the woods.s
Which seems a very strange thing to say, and does not sound like English.

I suggest the words worn and lost in the above sentences are really adjectives, and the sentences aren't in the passive voice. [Controversial statement!]

Examples of Passive Voice

In the above examples, the past participle and the verb to be appear in all the examples, except the one with got. The agent in a passive sentence may be mentioned in a by + noun phrase. If the sentence has a to be form followed by a past participle, you determine whether a sentence is in the passive, by asking the following questions:

Sentence Comment and Questions
He is going to town. This sentence does not have a past participle, so it isn't passive.
We can ask "Who is doing the going?", and the answer is he, and he is the subject of the sentence. The sentence isn't in the passive.
The king was crowned by the bishop. The sentence has a to be form (was) and a past participle (crowned), so it could be passive.
Ask "Who was doing the crowning?", and the answer is the bishop. The bishop isn't the subject of the sentence, so the sentence is in passive form.
The house was built. The sentence has a to be form (was) and a past participle (built), so it could be passive.
Ask "Who was doing the building?", and the answer is not mentioned in the sentence, but we can guess it was the builders. The subject of the sentence isn't the builders, so the sentence is in the passive. 
It is a house designed by Mary and built by Tom. Supplying missing words, we have:
It is a house (that was) designed by Mary and (that was) built by Tom.
The sentence has a form of the verb to be, and a past participle.
Ask: Who did the designing? It was Mary. She designed it. However, Mary is not the subject of that (the house) was designed.
Who did the building? It was Tom. Also, Tom is not the subject of the clause that was built. The sentence is therefore in the passive voice.
The book will be completed tomorrow. The sentence has a to be form (be) and a past participle (completed), so it could be passive.
Ask "Who will be doing the completing?", and the answer is not mentioned in the sentence, but we can guess an author is completing it. The subject of the sentence isn't the author, so the sentence is in the passive. 
Tom has been there often. The sentence has a to be form (been)
Ask "Who was doing the being (there)?", and the answer is Tom, the subject of the sentence. The sentence is in the active voice, and is in the present perfect tense.
The story is an allegory of justice delivered by Angelo and embodied in the Duke. We see the sentence may be passive when we add some omitted parts:
The story is an allegory of justice (which is) delivered by Angelo and (which is) embodied in the Duke.
So, Angelo delivered it, and the Duke embodied it are the active forms.

Passive and Time

The table below illustrates the passive voice in the past and present tenses and in the future.
Passive Voice and Time
Time Type Example
Present Simple The ball is thrown.
Progressive The ball is being thrown.
Perfect The ball has been thrown.
Past Simple The ball was thrown.
Progressive The ball was being thrown.
Perfect The ball had been thrown.
Future Simple The ball will be thrown.
Progressive The ball will be being thrown.
Perfect The ball will have been thrown.

Ken Ward's Writing Pages

The Last Place in Space
- by Ken Ward

When pilot Philip Turner is accidentally transported by an anomaly and marooned on an unknown planet, he discovers the planet is threatened by a group of ruthless aliens similarly marooned. With the help of a group of young women with superpowers, and a powerful being called a god, he reluctantly uses his advanced knowledge and technology to help the planet's inhabitants, but will he succeed when outnumbered by aliens, opposed by greedy and squabbling kings, and limited by his gentle nature and moral beliefs? Paperback and Kindle:
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