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Present Tense of Verbs

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Some authors write novels in the present tense, and it drives me bats. Whenever I browse in a bookstore, seeking the latest in top beach literature, I always sneak a few peeks to make certain the author does not use the present tense in the narrative:

Juan looks longingly at Teresa, who looks back with total disinterest as she removes the olive from her Waterford crystal martini glass, pops it in her mouth, turns on a dime, and stalks out of the room.

Those books I always put back on the shelf. Each of the authors is telling a story, the story necessarily happened in the past, and they won’t get a nickel of my beach-literature budget if they pretend that the story is happening right now as I soak up the rays with a cooler full of strawberry daq . . . , uh, Kool-Aid.

Every one-word verb in the English language has a one-word present tense. And that one word is the same as the infinitive form for all persons and all numbers except third-person singular. To form present tense in a third-person singular construction, we typically add ‑s or ‑es to the base infinitive (I write, he writes). (The verb to be is the sole exception; its present tense is not the same as the base infinitive form.)

The present tense ordinarily tells the reader about an activity that is occurring right now. The present tense speaks of today. (Please note, however, that the present tense can also refer to the future: The game is tomorrow. See the discussion of the future tense below.)

We do have a technique in writing called the historical present tense, used most often in describing what authors do in their books. (I used the historical present tense above when criticizing beach novelists.) Even though Fitzgerald has long since departed this world, we might analyze The Great Gatsby with the historical present tense:

In Gatsby, Fitzgerald uses color to paint the mood on East Egg. He captures the mood with his pulsing lights ….

We might even use the same technique when describing a document. Though a document might have been written in the past, we would describe what it does in the present tense:

Acme’s annual report shows the continued growth of the widget business. On page 7, the report describes promotional efforts . . . .

Present Tense of Verbs - How to Form

Every one-word verb in the English language has a one-word present tense. And that one word is the same as the infinitive for all persons and all numbers except third-person singular.

Except for third-person singular, the present-tense verbs use the same word:

Example Name of Present Tense
I write first-person singular
you write second-person singular
we write first-person plural
you write second-person plural
they write third-person plural

 

For the third-person singular, you will ordinarily add ‑s to form the present tense:

Example Name of Present Tense
he-she-it writes third-person singular

 

We form third-person singular of verbs ending in ‑y by changing the ‑y to ‑ies:

Example Name of Present Tense
he-she-it verifies third-person singular

 

We form third-person singular of verbs ending in ‑ss by adding ‑es:

Example Name of Present Tense
he-she-it confesses third-person singular

 

Also, verbs like go and do form their third-person singular form by adding ‑es:

Example Name of Present Tense
he-she-it goes third-person singular
he-she-it does third-person singular

 

Some verbs, like have, break the “add ‑s or ‑es rule” to form third-person singular:

Example Name of Present Tense
he-she-it has third-person singular

 

Thus, to summarize, we use the base infinitive form of the verb to form the present tense of all persons and all numbers except third-person singular. For the third-person singular, we change the infinitive form, typically by addings, ‑es, or ‑ies.

We find an exception to this rule with the verb to be, which has unique words for the present tense of all persons and numbers:

Verb to be Name of Present Tense
I am first-person singular
we are first-person plural
you are second-person singular
you are second-person plural
he-she-it is third-person singular
they are third-person plural

 

Hard Copy

You may download our entire discussion of the Parts of Speech. Simply download the Grammar eBook Understanding the Parts of Speech.

 

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