Uses of English verb forms
This article describes the uses of various verb forms in modern standard English language. This includes:
- Finite verb forms such as go, goes and went
- Nonfinite forms such as go, going and gone
- Combinations of such forms with auxiliary verbs, such as was going and would have gone
For details of how inflected forms of verbs are produced in English, see English verbs. For the grammatical structure of clauses, including word order, see English clause syntax. For certain other particular topics, see the articles listed in the adjacent box. For non-standard dialect forms and antique forms, see individual dialect articles and the article, thou.
Inflected forms of verbsA typical English verb may have five different inflected forms:
- The base form or plain form, which has several uses—as an infinitive, [|imperative], [|present] [|subjunctive], and present indicative except in the third-person singular
- The -s form, used as the present indicative in the third-person singular
- the [|past tense] or preterite
- The past participle – this is identical to the past tense in the case of regular verbs and some irregular ones
- The -ing form, used as a present participle, [|gerund], and verbal noun
For full details of how these inflected forms of verbs are produced, see English verbs.
Verbs in combinationIn English, verbs frequently appear in [|combinations] containing one or more auxiliary verbs and a nonfinite form of a main verb. For example:
The first verb in such a combination is the finite verb, the remainder are nonfinite. Such combinations are sometimes called compound verbs; more technically they may be called verb catenae, since they are not generally strict grammatical constituents of the clause. As the last example shows, the words making up these combinations do not always remain consecutive.
For details of the formation of such constructions, see English clause syntax. The uses of the various types of combination are described in the detailed sections of the present article.
Tenses, aspects and moodsAs in many other languages, the means English uses for expressing the three categories of tense, aspect and mood are somewhat conflated. In contrast to languages like Latin, though, English has only limited means for expressing these categories through verb conjugation, and tends mostly to express them periphrastically, using the verb combinations mentioned in the previous section. The tenses, aspects and moods that may be identified in English are described below. In common usage, particularly in English language teaching, particular tense–aspect–mood combinations such as "present progressive" and "conditional perfect" are often referred to simply as "tenses".
TensesVerb Tenses are all used to express action that has taken place in the [|past], present, and [|future].
There are three kinds of tenses– past, present and future. The past tenses describe things that happened before the time of reporting, while present tenses describe what is happening as the thing is happening. Finally, the future tense describes what will happen after the time the statement is being made.
Presentis used, in principle, to refer to circumstances that exist at the present time and general truths. However the same forms are quite often also used to refer to future circumstances, as in "He's coming tomorrow". For certain grammatical contexts where the [|present tense] is the standard way to refer to the future, see [|conditional sentences] and dependent clauses below. It is also possible for the present tense to be used when referring to no particular real time, or when recounting past events. The present perfect intrinsically refers to past events, although it can be considered to denote primarily the resulting present situation rather than the events themselves.
The present tense has two moods, indicative and subjunctive; when no mood is specified, it is often the indicative that is meant. In a present indicative construction, the finite verb appears in its base form, or in its -s form if its subject is third-person singular. For the present subjunctive, see English subjunctive.
For specific uses of present tense constructions, see the sections below on simple present, [|present progressive], present [|perfect] and present perfect progressive.
Pastforms express circumstances existing at some time in the past, although they also have certain uses in referring to hypothetical situations. They are formed using the finite verb in its preterite form.
Certain uses of the past tense may be referred to as subjunctives; however the only distinction in verb conjugation between the past indicative and past subjunctive is the possible use of were in the subjunctive in place of was. For details see English subjunctive.
For specific uses of past tense constructions, see the sections below on [|simple past], past progressive, [|past perfect] and past perfect progressive. In certain contexts past events are reported using the present perfect.
FutureEnglish is sometimes described as having a future tense, although since future time is not specifically expressed by verb inflection, some grammarians identify only two tenses. The English "future" usually refers to a periphrastic form involving the auxiliary verb will. There also exist other ways of referring to future circumstances, including the going to construction, and the use of present tense forms. For particular grammatical contexts where the present tense substitutes for the future, see [|conditional] sentences and dependent clauses below. For discussion and comparison of the various ways of making [|future reference] in English, see going-to future.
For specific uses of future constructions formed with will/shall, see the sections below on [|simple] future, future progressive, [|future perfect] and future perfect progressive.
Future-in-the-pastA "future-in-the-past" tense is sometimes referred to. This takes essentially the same form as the conditional, that is, it is made using the auxiliary would.
This form has a future-in-the-past meaning in sentences such as She knew that she would win the game. Here the sentence as a whole refers to some particular past time, but would win refers to a time in the future relative to that past time. See.
For specific uses, see the sections below referring to the conditional.
Simple"Simple" forms of verbs are those appearing in constructions not marked for either progressive or perfect aspect.
Simple constructions normally denote a single action, as in Brutus killed Caesar, a repeated action, as in I go to school, or a relatively permanent state, as in We live in Dallas. They may also denote a temporary state, in the case of stative verbs that do not use progressive forms.
For uses of specific simple constructions, see the sections below on simple present, simple past, simple future and simple conditional.
ProgressiveThe progressive or continuous aspect is used to denote a temporary action or state that began at a previous time and continues into the present time. It is expressed using a form of the auxiliary verb to be together with the present participle of the main verb: I am reading; Were you shouting?; He will be sitting over there.
Certain stative verbs make limited use of [|progressive aspect]. Their nonprogressive forms are used in many situations even when expressing a temporary state. The main types are described below.
- The copular verb to be does not normally use progressive forms. However its progressive aspect is used in appropriate situations when the verb expresses the passive voice, and when it has the meaning of "behave" or "act as".
- The verb to have does not use progressive forms when it expresses possession, broadly understood, but it does use them in its active meanings. See also have got below. Other verbs expressing a state of possession or similar, such as possess, own, belong and owe, also do not normally use progressive forms.
- Verbs of mental state, sense perception and similar are generally used without progressive aspect, although some of them can be used in the progressive to imply an ongoing, often temporary situation, or an activity. See also can see below.
- Verbs denoting positional state normally do use the progressive if the state is temporary: He is standing in the corner.
PerfectThe perfect aspect is used to denote the circumstance of an action's being complete at a certain time. It is expressed using a form of the auxiliary verb have together with the past participle of the main verb: She has eaten it; We had left; When will you have finished?
Perfect forms can also be used to refer to states or habitual actions, even if not complete, if the focus is on the time period before the point of reference. If such a circumstance is temporary, the perfect is often combined with progressive aspect.
The implications of the present perfect are similar to those of the simple past, although the two forms are generally not used interchangeably – the simple past is used when the time frame of reference is in the past, while the present perfect is used when it extends to the present. For details, see the relevant sections below.
For all uses of specific perfect constructions, see the sections below on the present perfect, past perfect, future perfect and [|conditional perfect].
By using nonfinite forms of the auxiliary have, perfect aspect can also be marked on infinitives, and on participles and gerunds. For the usage of such forms, see the section below on [|perfect and progressive nonfinite constructions].
Although all of the constructions referred to here are commonly referred to as perfect, some of them, particularly nonpresent and nonfinite instances, might not be considered truly expressive of the perfect aspect. This applies particularly when the perfect infinitive is used together with modal verbs: for example, he could not have been a genius might be considered to be a past tense of he cannot/could not be a genius; such forms are considered true perfect forms by some linguists but not others. For the meanings of such constructions with the various modals, see English modal verbs.
Perfect progressiveThe perfect and progressive aspects can be combined, usually in referring to the completed portion of a continuing action or temporary state: I have been working for eight hours. Here a form of the verb have is used together with been and the present participle of the main verb.
In the case of the stative verbs, which do not use progressive aspect, the plain perfect form is normally used in place of the perfect progressive: I've been here for half an hour.
For uses of specific perfect progressive constructions, see the sections below on the present perfect progressive, past perfect progressive, future perfect progressive and conditional perfect progressive. For perfect progressive infinitives, participles and gerunds, see.
Indicative, in English, refers to finite verb forms that are not marked as subjunctive and are not imperatives or conditionals. They are the verbs typically found in the main clauses of declarative sentences and questions formed from them, as well as in most dependent clauses. The information that a form is indicative is often omitted when referring to it: the simple present indicative is usually referred to as just the simple present, etc..
SubjunctiveCertain types of clause, mostly dependent clauses, use a verb form identified with the subjunctive mood. The present subjunctive takes a form identical to the [|bare infinitive], as in It is necessary that he be restrained. There is also a past subjunctive, distinct from the indicative only in the possible use of were in place of was in certain situations: If I were you,...
For details of the formation and usage of subjunctive forms in English, see English subjunctive.
ImperativeAn independent clause in the imperative mood uses the base form of the verb, usually with no subject. Negation uses do-support. For example:
Sentences of this type are used to give an instruction or order. When they are used to make requests, the word please is often added for politeness:
First person imperatives can be formed with let us, as in "Let's go". Third person imperatives are sometimes formed similarly, with let, as in "Let him be released".
More detail can be found in the Imperative mood article.
ConditionalThe status of the conditional mood in English is similar to that of the future tense: it may be considered to exist provided the category of mood is not required to be marked morphologically. The English conditional is expressed periphrastically with verb forms governed by the auxiliary verb would. The modal verb could is also sometimes used as a conditional.
In certain uses, the conditional construction with would/should may also be described as "future-in-the-past".
For uses of specific conditional constructions, see the sections below on simple conditional, conditional progressive, conditional perfect and conditional perfect progressive, as well as the section on conditional sentences.
Active and passive voiceThe active voice is the unmarked voice in English. To form the passive voice, a periphrastic construction is used. In the canonical form of the passive, a form of the auxiliary verb be is used, together with the past participle of the lexical verb.
Passive voice can be expressed in combination together with tenses, aspects and moods, by means of appropriate marking of the auxiliary. For example:
The uses of these various passive forms are analogous to those of the corresponding tense–aspect–mood combinations in the active voice.
The passive forms of certain of the combinations involving the progressive aspect are quite rare; these include the present perfect progressive, past perfect progressive, future progressive, future perfect progressive, conditional progressive and conditional perfect progressive. Because of the awkwardness of these constructions, they may be paraphrased, for example using the expression in the process of.
For further details of passive constructions, see English passive voice.
Negation and questionsof verbs usually takes place with the addition of the particle not to an auxiliary or copular verb, with do-support being used if there is otherwise no auxiliary. However, if a sentence already contains a negative word, then there is not usually any additional not.
Questions are generally formed using subject–auxiliary inversion, again using do-support if there is otherwise no auxiliary. In negative questions, it is possible to invert with just the auxiliary or with the contracted negation.
For full details on negation and question formation, see do-support, English auxiliaries and contractions, and the Negation and Questions sections of the English Grammar article.
Modal verbsEnglish has the modal verbs can, could, may, might, must, shall, should, will, would, and also ought , dare, need, had , used . These do not add -s for the third-person singular, and they do not form infinitives or participles; the only inflection they undergo is that to a certain extent could, might, should and would function as preterites of can, may, shall and will respectively.
A modal verb can serve as the finite verb introducing a verb catena, as in he might have been injured then. These generally express some form of modality, although will and would can serve – among their other uses – to express future time reference and conditional mood, as described elsewhere on this page.
For details of the uses of modal verbs, see English modal verbs.
Uses of verb combination types
[|Simple past]The simple past or past simple, sometimes also called the preterite, consists of the bare past tense of the verb. In most questions, when negated, and in certain emphatic statements, a periphrastic construction consisting of did and the bare infinitive of the main verb is generally used instead – see do-support.
The simple past is used for a single event in the past, for past habitual action, or for a past state:
However, for action that was ongoing at the time referred to, the past progressive is generally used instead. For stative verbs that do or do not use progressive aspect when expressing a temporary state, see. For the use of could see in place of saw etc., see Have got and can see below.
The simple past is often close in meaning to the present perfect. The simple past is used when the event is conceived as occurring at a particular time in the past, or during a period that ended in the past. This time frame may be explicitly stated, or implicit in the context.
For further discussion and examples, see below.
Various compound constructions exist for denoting past habitual action. The sentence When I was young, I played football every Saturday might alternatively be phrased using used to or using would.
The past simple is also used without past reference in some instances: in [|condition] clauses and some other dependent clauses referring to hypothetical circumstances, and after certain [|expressions of wish]. For the past subjunctive, see English subjunctive. For the use of the past tense in indirect speech and similar contexts, see below.
Past progressive/continuousThe past progressive or past continuous construction combines progressive aspect with past tense, and is formed using the past tense of be with the present participle of the main verb. It indicates an action that was ongoing at the past time being considered:
For stative verbs that do not use the progressive aspect, the simple past is used instead.
The past progressive is often used to denote an action that was interrupted by an event, or for two actions taking place in parallel:
The past progressive can also be used to refer to past action that occurred over a range of time and is viewed as an ongoing situation:
That could also be expressed using the simple past, as I worked..., which implies that the action is viewed as a unitary event.
The past progressive shares certain special uses with other past tense constructions; see,,, and.
Past perfectThe past perfect, sometimes called the pluperfect, combines past tense with perfect aspect; it is formed by combining had with the past participle of the main verb. It is used when referring to an event that took place prior to the time frame being considered. This time frame may be stated explicitly, as a stated time or the time of another past action:
The time frame may also be understood implicitly from the previous or later context:
Compare He had left when we arrived, with the form with the simple past, He left when we arrived.
Unlike the present perfect, the past perfect can readily be used with an adverb specifying a past time frame for the occurrence. For example, while it is incorrect to say *I have done it last Friday, there is no such objection to a sentence like "I had done it the previous Friday".
The past perfect can also be used for states or repeated occurrences pertaining over a period up to a time in the past, particularly in stating "for how long" or since when". However, if the state is temporary and the verb can be used in the progressive aspect, the past perfect progressive would normally be used instead. Some examples with the plain past perfect:
For other specific uses of the past perfect, see,,, and.
Past perfect progressiveThe past perfect progressive or past perfect continuous combines perfect progressive aspect with past tense. It is formed by combining had, been, and the present participle of the main verb.
Uses of the past perfect progressive are analogous to those of the present perfect progressive, except that the point of reference is in the past. For example:
This form is sometimes used for actions in the past that were interrupted by some event. For example:
This implies that I stopped working when she came in ; the plain past progressive would not necessarily carry this implication.
If the verb in question does not use the progressive aspect, then the plain past perfect is used instead.
The past perfect progressive may also have additional specific uses similar to those of the plain past perfect; see,,, and.
The principal uses of the simple present are given below. More examples can be found in the article Simple present.
- To refer to an action or event that takes place habitually. Such uses are often accompanied by frequency adverbs and adverbial phrases such as always, often, from time to time and never. Examples:
- With stative verbs in senses that do not use progressive aspect, to refer to a present or general state, whether temporary, permanent or habitual.
- When quoting someone or something, even if the words were spoken in the past:
- To refer to a single completed action, as in recounting the events of a story in the present tense, and in such contexts as newspaper headlines, where it replaces the present perfect:
- Sometimes to refer to an arranged future event, usually with a reference to time:
- In providing a commentary on events as they occur, or in describing some theoretical sequence of events:
- In many dependent clauses referring to the future, particularly condition clauses, clauses expressing place and time, and many relative clauses :
- In certain situations in a temporal adverbial clause, rather than the present progressive:
For the present subjunctive, see English subjunctive. For uses of modal verbs see English modal verbs.
Present progressiveThe present progressive or present continuous form combines present tense with progressive aspect. It thus refers to an action or event conceived of as having limited duration, taking place at the present time. It consists of a form of the simple present of be together with the present participle of the main verb and the ending -ing.
This often contrasts with the simple present, which expresses repeated or habitual action. However, sometimes the present continuous is used with always, generally to express annoyance about a habitual action:
Certain stative verbs do not use the progressive aspect, so the present simple is used instead in those cases.
The present progressive can be used to refer to a planned future event:
It also appears with future reference in many condition and time clauses and other dependent clauses :
It can also refer to something taking place not necessarily at the time of speaking, but at the time currently under consideration, in the case of a story or narrative being told in the present tense :
For the possibility of a present subjunctive progressive, see English subjunctive.
Present perfectThe present perfect combines present tense with perfect aspect, denoting the present state of an action's being completed, that is, that the action took place before the present time. It is formed with the present tense of the auxiliary have and the past participle of the main verb.
The choice of present perfect or past tense depends on the frame of reference in which the event is conceived as occurring. If the frame of reference extends to the present time, the present perfect is used. For example:
If the frame of reference is a time in the past, or a period that ended in the past, the past tense is used instead. For example: I wrote a letter this morning ; He produced ten plays ; They never traveled abroad. See under Simple past for more examples. The simple past is generally used when the occurrence has a specific past time frame – either explicitly stated, or implied by the context. It is therefore normally incorrect to write a sentence like *I have written a novel yesterday; the present perfect cannot be used with an expression of past time such as yesterday.
With already or yet, traditional usage calls for the present perfect: Have you eaten yet? Yes, I've already eaten. However, current informal American speech tends to use the simple past: Did you eat yet? Yes, I ate already.
Use of the present perfect often draws attention to the present consequences of the past action or event, as opposed to its actual occurrence. The sentence she has come probably means she is here now, while the simple past she came does not. The sentence, “Have you been to the fair?” suggests that the fair is still going on, while the sentence, “Did you go to the fair?” could mean that the fair is over. Some more examples:
It may also refer to an ongoing state or habitual action, particularly in saying for how long, or since when, something is the case. For example,
This implies that I still live in Paris, that he still holds the record and that we still eat together every morning. When the circumstance is temporary, the present perfect progressive is often appropriate in such sentences ; however, if the verb is one that does not use the progressive aspect, the basic present perfect is used in that case too:
The present perfect may refer to a habitual circumstance, or a circumstance being part of a theoretical or story narrative being given in the present tense :
The present perfect may also be used with future reference, instead of the future perfect, in those dependent clauses where future occurrence is denoted by present tense. For example:
For the possibility of a present perfect subjunctive, see English subjunctive. For special use of the present perfect of get to express possession or obligation, see have got below. For the use of have been in place of have gone, see been and gone below.
Present perfect progressive/continuousThe present perfect continuous construction combines some of this perfect progressive aspect with present tense. It is formed with the present tense of have, the past participle of be, and the present participle of the main verb and the ending ″-ing″
This construction is used for ongoing action in the past that continues right up to the present or has recently finished:
It is frequently used when stating for how long, or since when, something is the case:
In these sentences the actions are still continuing, but it is the past portion of them that is being considered, and so the perfect aspect is used. With stative verbs that are not used in the progressive, and for situations that are considered permanent, the present perfect is used instead; for examples of this see [|above].
Simple futureThe term simple future, future simple or future indefinite, as applied to English, generally refers to the combination of the modal auxiliary verb will with the bare infinitive of the main verb. Sometimes shall is preferred to will when the subject is first person ; see shall and will for details. The auxiliary is often contracted to 'll; see English auxiliaries and contractions.
This construction can be used to indicate what the speaker views as facts about the future, including confident predictions:
It may be used to describe future circumstances that are subject to some condition :
However English also has other ways of referring to future circumstances. For planned or scheduled actions the present progressive or simple present may be used. There is also a going-to future, common in colloquial English, which is often used to express intentions or predictions. Use of the will/shall construction when expressing intention often indicates a spontaneous decision:
Compare I'm going to use..., which implies that the intention to do so has existed for some time.
Use of present tense rather than future constructions in condition clauses and certain other dependent clauses is described below under and.
The modal verbs will and shall also have other uses besides indicating future time reference. For example:
For more examples see will and shall in the article on modal verbs, and the article shall and will.
Future progressiveThe future progressive or future continuous combines progressive aspect with future time reference; it is formed with the auxiliary will, the bare infinitive be, and the present participle of the main verb. It is used mainly to indicate that an event will be in progress at a particular point in the future:
The usual restrictions apply, on the use both of the future and of the progressive: simple rather than progressive aspect is used with some stative verbs, and present rather than future constructions are used in many dependent clauses.
The same construction may occur when will or shall is given one of its other uses, for example:
Future perfectThe future perfect combines aspect with future time reference. It consists of the auxiliary will, the bare infinitive have, and the past participle of the main verb. It indicates an action that is to be completed sometime prior to a future time of perspective, or an ongoing action continuing up to a future time of perspective.
For the use of the present tense rather than future constructions in certain dependent clauses, see and below.
The same construction may occur when will or shall is given one of its other meanings ; for example:
Future perfect progressiveThe future perfect progressive or future perfect continuous combines perfect progressive aspect with future time reference. It is formed by combining the auxiliary will, the bare infinitive have, the past participle been, and the present participle of the main verb.
Uses of the future perfect progressive are analogous to those of the present perfect progressive, except that the point of reference is in the future. For example:
For the use of present tense in place of future constructions in certain dependent clauses, see and below.
The same construction may occur when the auxiliary has one of its other meanings, particularly expressing a confident assumption about the present:
Simple conditionalThe simple conditional or conditional simple, also called conditional present, and in some meanings future-in-the-past simple, is formed by combining the modal auxiliary would with the bare infinitive of the main verb. Sometimes should is used in place of would when the subject is first person, in the same way that shall may replace will in such instances; see shall and will. The auxiliary is often shortened to 'd; see English auxiliaries and contractions.
The simple conditional is used principally in a main clause accompanied by an implicit or explicit condition. The time referred to may be present or future. For example:
In some varieties of English, would is also regularly used in the if-clauses themselves, but this is often considered nonstandard. This is widespread especially in spoken American English in all registers, though not usually in more formal writing. There are also situations where would is used in if-clauses in British English too, but these can usually be interpreted as a modal use of would. For more details, see.
For the use of would after the verb wish and the expression if only, see.
The auxiliary verbs could and might can also be used to indicate the conditional mood, as in the following:
Forms with would may also have "future-in-the-past" meaning:
See also and. For other possible meanings of would and should, see the relevant sections of English modal verbs.
Conditional progressiveThe conditional progressive or conditional continuous combines conditional mood with progressive aspect. It combines would with the bare infinitive be and the present participle of the main verb. It has similar uses to those of the simple conditional, but is used for ongoing actions or situations :
It can also have future-in-the-past meanings:
For the use of would in condition clauses, see above. For use in indirect speech constructions, see. For other uses of constructions with would and should, see English modal verbs. For general information on conditionals in English, see English conditional sentences.
Conditional perfectThe conditional perfect construction combines conditional mood with perfect aspect, and consists of would, the bare infinitive have, and the past participle of the main verb. It is used to denote conditional situations attributed to past time, usually those that are or may be contrary to fact.
For the possibility of use of would in the condition clauses themselves, see . For more information on conditional constructions, see below, and the article English conditional sentences.
The same construction may have "future-in-the-past" meanings. For other meanings of would have and should have, see English modal verbs.
Conditional perfect progressiveThe conditional perfect progressive or conditional perfect continuous construction combines conditional mood with perfect progressive aspect. It consists of would with the bare infinitive have, the past participle been and the present participle of the main verb. It generally refers to a conditional ongoing situation in hypothetical past time:
Similar considerations and alternative forms and meanings apply as noted in the above sections on other conditional constructions.
''Have got'' and [|''can see'']In colloquial English, particularly British English, the present perfect of the verb get, namely have got or has got, is frequently used in place of the simple present indicative of have when denoting possession, broadly defined. For example:
In American English, the form got is used in this idiom, even though the standard past participle of get is gotten.
The same applies in the expression of present obligation: I've got to go now may be used in place of I have to go now.
In very informal registers, the contracted form of have or has may be omitted altogether: I got three brothers.
Another common idiom is the use of the modal verb can together with verbs of perception such as see, hear, etc., rather than the plain verb. For example:
Aspectual distinctions can be made, particularly in the past tense:
''Been'' and ''gone''In perfect constructions apparently requiring the verb go, the normal past participle gone is often replaced by the past participle of the copula verb be, namely been. This gives rise to sentences of contrasting meaning.
When been is used, the implication is that, at the time of reference, the act of going took place previously, but the subject is no longer at the place in question. When gone is used, the implication is again that the act of going took place previously, but that the subject is still at that place. For example:
Been is used in such sentences in combination with to as if it were a verb of motion, which is different from its normal uses as part of the copula verb be. Compare:
The above sentences with the present perfect can be further compared with alternatives using the simple past, such as:
As usual, this tense would be used if a specific past time frame is stated or is implied by the context. Use of this form does not in itself determine whether or not the subject is still there.
Conditional sentencesA conditional sentence usually contains two clauses: an if-clause or similar expressing the condition, and a main clause expressing the conditional circumstance. In English language teaching, conditional sentences are classified according to type as first, second or third conditional; there also exist "zero conditional" and mixed conditional sentences.
A "first conditional" sentence expresses a future circumstance conditional on some other future circumstance. It uses the present tense in the condition clause, and the future with will in the main clause:
A "second conditional" sentence expresses a hypothetical circumstance conditional on some other circumstance, referring to nonpast time. It uses the past tense in the condition clause, and the conditional formed with would in the main clause:
A "third conditional" sentence expresses a hypothetical circumstance in the past. It uses the past perfect in the condition clause, and the conditional perfect in the main clause:
A "mixed conditional" mixes the second and third patterns :
The "zero conditional" is a pattern independent of tense, simply expressing the dependence of the truth of one proposition on the truth of another:
See also the following sections on expressions of wish and dependent clauses.
Expressions of wishParticular rules apply to the tenses and verb forms used after the verb wish and certain other expressions with similar meaning.
When the verb wish governs a finite clause, the past tense is used when the desire expressed concerns a present state, the past perfect when it concerns a past state or event, and the simple conditional with would when it concerns a desired present action or change of state. For example:
The same forms are generally used independently of the tense or form of the verb wish:
The same rules apply after the expression if only:
In finite clauses after would rather and it's time, the past tense is used:
After would rather the present subjunctive is also sometimes possible: I'd rather you/he come with me.
After all of the above expressions the past subjunctive were may be used instead of was:
Other syntactic patterns are possible with most of these expressions. The verb wish can be used with a to-infinitive or as an ordinary transitive verb. The expressions would rather and it's time can also be followed by a to-infinitive.
After the verb hope the above rules do not apply; instead the logically expected tense is used, except that often the present tense is used with future meaning:
Indirect speechVerbs often undergo tense changes in indirect speech. This commonly occurs in content clauses, when governed by a predicate of saying which is in the past tense or conditional mood.
In this situation the following tense and aspect changes occur relative to the original words:
- changes to past:
- changes to past perfect :
- changes to conditional, also referred to as future-in-the-past :
- The modals can and may change to their preterite forms could and might :
The above tense changes do not apply when the verb of saying is not past or conditional in form; in particular there are no such changes when that verb is in the present perfect: He has said that he likes apples.
For further details, and information about other grammatical and lexical changes that take place in indirect speech, see indirect speech and sequence of tenses. For related passive constructions, see.
Dependent clausesApart from the special cases referred to in the sections above, many other dependent clauses use a tense that might not logically be expected – in particular the present tense is used when the reference is to future time, and the past tense is used when the reference is to a hypothetical situation. This occurs in condition clauses, in clauses of time and place, and in many relative clauses:
In the above examples, the simple present is used instead of the simple future, even though the reference is to future time. Examples of similar uses with other tense–aspect combinations are given below:
This does not apply to all dependent clauses, however; if the future time or hypothetical reference is expressed in the dependent clause independently of the main clause, then a form with will or would in a dependent clause is possible:
Uses of nonfinite verbsThe main uses of the various nonfinite verb forms are described in the following sections. For how these forms are made, see above. For more information on distinguishing between the various uses that use the form in -ing, see -ing: Uses.
Bare infinitiveA bare infinitive, or an infinitive phrase introduced by such a verb, may be used as follows:
- As complement of the auxiliary do, in negations, questions and other situations where do-support is used:
- As complement of will or would in the future and conditional constructions described above:
- More generally, as complement of any of the modal verbs can, could, may, might, must, shall, should, will, would, and also dare and need in their modal-like uses:
- As complement of the expression had better:
- As second complement of the transitive verbs let, make, have and bid. These are examples of raising-to-object verbs :
- As second or sole complement of the verb help :
- As second complement of verbs of perception such as see, hear, feel, etc., although in these cases the present participle is also possible, particularly when an ongoing state rather than a single action is perceived:
- As a predicative expression in pseudo-cleft sentences of the following type:
- After why, in elliptical questions:
''To''-infinitiveThe to-infinitive consists of the bare infinitive introduced by the particle to. Outside dictionary headwords, it is commonly used as a citation form of the English verb It is also commonly given as a translation of foreign infinitives
Other modifiers may be placed between to and the verb, but this is sometimes regarded by some as a grammatical or stylistic error – see split infinitive for details.
The main uses of to-infinitives, or infinitive phrases introduced by them, are as follows:
- As complement of the modal and auxiliary verbs ought and used :
- As complement of many other verbs used intransitively, including need and dare, want, expect, try, hope, agree, refuse, etc. These are raising-to-subject verbs, where the logical subject is promoted to the position of subject of the governing verb. With some verbs the infinitive may carry a significantly different meaning from a gerund: compare I stopped to talk to her with I stopped talking to her, or I forgot to buy the bread with I forgot buying the bread.
- As second complement of certain transitive verbs. These are mostly raising-to-object verbs, as described above for the bare infinitive; however, in some cases, it is the subject of the main clause that is the logical subject of the infinitival clause, as in "John promises Mary to cook", where the person who will cook is John, and not Mary.
- As an adverbial modifier expressing purpose, or sometimes result :
- As a subject of a sentence or as a predicative expression.
- In apposition to a subject expletive pronoun it, in sentences of the following type:
- Alone in certain exclamations or elliptical sentences, and in certain sentence-modifying expressions:
- In certain fixed expressions, such as in order to, so as to, as if to, about to, have to. For more on the expression am to, is to, were to, etc., see am to.
- In elliptical questions, where no subject is expressed :
- As a modifier of certain nouns and adjectives:
- As a relative clause. These modify a noun, and often have a passive-like construction where the object is zero in the infinitive phrase, the gap being understood to be filled by the noun being modified. An alternative in the prepositional case is to begin with a prepositional phrase containing a relative pronoun.
- As a modifier of an adjective, again with a passive-like construction as above, here with the gap understood to be filled by the noun modified by the adjective phrase:
When the verb is implied, the to-infinitive may be reduced to simply to: "Do I have to?" See verb phrase ellipsis.
For perfect and progressive infinitives, such as have written and be writing, see below.
Present participleThe present participle is one of the uses of the -ing form of a verb. This usage is adjectival or adverbial. The main uses of this participle, or of participial phrases introduced by it, are as follows.
- In progressive and perfect progressive constructions, as described in the relevant sections above:
- As an adjective phrase modifying a noun:
- As an adjectival phrase modifying a noun phrase that is the object of a verb, provided the verb admits this particular construction.
- As an adverbial phrase, where the role of subject of the nonfinite verb is usually understood to be played by the subject of the main clause. A participial clause like this may be introduced by a conjunction such as when or while.
- More generally, as a clause or sentence modifier, without any specifically understood subject
- In a nominative absolute construction, where the participle is given an explicit subject :
Present participles may come to be used as pure adjectives. Examples of participles that do this frequently are interesting, exciting, and enduring. Such words may then take various adjectival prefixes and suffixes, as in uninteresting and interestingly.
Past participleEnglish past participles have both active and passive uses. In a passive use, an object or preposition complement becomes zero, the gap being understood to be filled by the noun phrase the participle modifies. Uses of past participles and participial phrases introduced by them are as follows:
- In perfect constructions as described in the relevant sections above :
- In forming the passive voice:
- As an adjectival predicative expression used in constructions with certain verbs :
- As an adjective phrase directly modifying a noun :
- Used adverbially, or in a nominative absolute construction:
As with present participles, past participles may function as simple adjectives: "the burnt logs"; "we were very excited". These normally represent the passive meaning of the participle, although some participles formed from intransitive verbs can be used in an active sense: "the fallen leaves"; "our fallen comrades".
Lack of contrast between past and past-participle verb formsIn standard English, there are three derivational forms of the verb: non-past, past and past participle, as in go, went, have gone, though not all verbs distinguish all three. However, a great many English speakers only distinguish two of these, using the same form for the past and past participle with all verbs. For most verbs, it's the past-tense form that's used as the participle, as in "I should have went" for "I should have gone". With very few verbs, such as do, see and be, it's the past-participle form that is used for the simple past, as in "I seen it yesterday" and "I done it".
GerundThe gerund takes the same form as the present participle, but is used as a noun. Many uses of gerunds are thus similar to noun uses of the infinitive. Uses of gerunds and gerund phrases are illustrated below:
- As subject or predicative expression:
- As object of certain verbs that admit such constructions:
- In a passive-type construction after certain verbs, with a gap in object or complement position, understood to be filled by the subject of the main clause :
- As complement of certain prepositions:
For gerund constructions with perfect aspect, see below.
Perfect and progressive nonfinite constructionsThere are also nonfinite constructions that are marked for perfect, progressive or perfect progressive aspect, using the infinitives, participles or gerunds of the appropriate auxiliaries. The meanings are as would be expected for the respective aspects: perfect for prior occurrence, progressive for ongoing occurrence at a particular time.
Examples of nonfinite constructions marked for the various aspects are given below.
Other aspectual, temporal and modal information can be marked on nonfinite verbs using periphrastic constructions. For example, a "future infinitive" can be constructed using forms such as be going to eat or be about to eat.
Deverbal usesCertain words are formed from verbs, but are used as common nouns or adjectives, without any of the grammatical behavior of verbs. These are sometimes called verbal nouns or adjectives, but they are also called deverbal nouns and deverbal adjectives, to distinguish them from the truly "verbal" forms such as gerunds and participles.
Besides its nonfinite verbal uses as a gerund or present participle, the -ing form of a verb is also used as a deverbal noun, denoting an activity or occurrence in general, or a specific action or event. One can compare the construction and meaning of noun phrases formed using the -ing form as a gerund, and of those formed using the same -ing form as a deverbal noun. Some points are noted below:
- The gerund can behave like a verb in taking objects: crossing the river cost many lives. The deverbal noun does not take objects, although the understood object may be expressed by a prepositional phrase with of: the crossing of the river cost many lives.
- The gerund takes modifiers that are appropriate to verbs: eating heartily is good for the health. The deverbal noun instead takes modifiers appropriate to nouns : his hearty eating is good for his health.
- The deverbal noun can also take determiners, such as the definite article : the opening of the bridge was delayed. Gerunds do not normally take determiners except for possessives.
- Both deverbal nouns and gerunds can be preceded by possessive determiners to indicate the agent of the action: my taking a bath ; my taking of a bath. However, with the deverbal noun there are also other ways to express the agent:
- *Using a prepositional phrase with of, assuming that no such phrase is needed to express an object: the singing of the birds. In fact both possessives and of phrases can be used to denote both subjects and objects of deverbal nouns, but the possessive is more common for the subject and of for the object; these are also the assumed roles if both are present: John's wooing of Mary unambiguously denotes a situation where John wooed Mary, not vice versa.
- *Using a prepositional phrase with by : the raising of taxes by the government. This is not possible with the gerund; instead one could say the government's raising taxes.
- Where no subject is specified, the subject of a gerund is generally understood to be the subject of the main clause: I like singing loudly means I like it when I myself sing; Singing loudly is nice implies the singer is the person who finds it nice. This does not apply to deverbal nouns: I like loud singing is likely to mean that I like it when others sing loudly. This means that a sentence may have alternative meanings depending on whether the -ing form is intended as a gerund or as a deverbal noun: in I like singing either function may be the intended one, but the meaning in each case may be different.