English Grammar Review
Verbs and Verbals

Tenses and Auxiliary Verbs

The tense of a verb allows us to re-create the reality of time in the sentences we write. There are more than 20 tenses in English. A verb by itself provides only two of these, the present (hire) and the past (hired). Most other tenses are formed by adding auxiliary verbs.

Here are the six tenses most commonly used, with the auxiliary verbs in bold:

regular verb: select

Present:
   They select.

Present Perfect:
   They have selected.

Past:
   They selected.

Past Perfect:
   They had selected.

Future:
   They will select.

Future Perfect:
   They will have selected.

irregular verb: choose

Present:
   They choose.

Present Perfect:
   They have chosen.

Past:
   They chose.

Past Perfect:
   They had chosen.

Future:
   They will choose.

Future Perfect:
   They will have chosen.

Note: English teachers use the word Perfect instead of the word completed. They do not mean the adjective "flawless" (perfect: PUHR fict); they mean the verb "to finish" (perfect: puhr FECT). It's their pronunciation that causes confusion. They could have said Perfected, but that would have sounded awkward.

The most common auxiliary verbs are:

is . are . was . were
be . being . been
can . could
do . did
has . have . had
may . might . must
shall . should
will . would

The completed, or perfect, tenses are the most difficult, so we will concentrate on them. In a way, they are simple because they are similar: they all use the past participle with an auxiliary verb.

Present, completed tense (present perfect)

This tense is constructed by placing "has" or "have" in front of the past participle of the verb. It indicates that the action of the verb began in the past and still continues, to the present.

Greta worked for 20 years.
[past]

  time explanation: She worked in the past; she does not work now. Those 20 years occurred prior to this year.

Greta has worked for 20 years.
[present, completed]

  time explanation: She worked in the past; she continues to work at this time. Those 20 years include this year.

Past, completed tense (past perfect)

This tense is constructed by placing "had" in front of the past participle of the verb. It indicates that the action of the verb began and ended in the past.

Lukas finished the report when Karolina arrived.
[past]

  time explanation: He finished it in the past, at the same time that she arrived.

Lukas had finished the report when Karolina arrived.
[past, completed]

  time explanation: He finished it in the past, prior to the time that she arrived.

Future, completed tense (future perfect)

This tense is constructed by placing two auxiliary verbs in front of the past participle of the verb. The first auxiliary verb is "will" to show that it is in the future; the second auxiliary verb is "have" to show the expected completion. The resulting verb phrase indicates that the action of the verb will be completed at a specific time in the future.

By next Thursday, she will visit the factory in Vilnius.
[future]

  time explanation: Imagining the future ahead of us, we expect that on any day, including next Thursday, she does visit the factory.

By next Friday, she will have visited the factory in Vilnius.
[future, completed]

  time explanation: Imagining being in the future at a specific time, we expect that we will be able to look back in time and verify that she did visit the factory.

Conditional actions in time

When we write a sentence with a condition and a result:

      If X, then Y.

The condition, X, is usually written in the past completed (past perfect) tense.

regular verb: complete

If I completed the form, then I would have been accepted.
[wrong]

If I had completed the form, then I would have been accepted.
[right]

irregular verb: go

If you went to the meeting, then you would have understood the decision.
[wrong]

If you had gone to the meeting, then you would have understood the decision.
[right]

Note: The word then is most often implied and not included:

If I had completed the form, I would have been accepted.
[still right]

If you had gone to the meeting, you would have understood the decision.
[still right]

Lesson: Tenses and Auxiliary Verbs
Module: Verbs and Verbals
Course: English Grammar Review