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Verbs are most important words in the sentence. Verbs tell us what action is happening. A sentence without a verb is a sentence fragment. A sentence is still a complete sentence with a single verb in the imperative form. Getting the right form of the verb is the tricky part. Verbs change in tense to show when the action will/did happen. Verbs may be active or passive. Verbs can also be in a mood, such as the indicative, the subjunctive, or the imperative mood. Verbs that occur in a phrase with a preposition or an adjective and invoke a special meaning are called phrasal verbs.

There are three main verb tenses:

1. The infinitive form which is used for the present;

2. A past tense form usually indicated by the ending -ed; and

3. A past participle form (often, but not always the same as the past tense form).

But wait, you say. What about the future, conditional, etc? Well these tenses are not indicated by the verb itself, but by an auxiliary. We're going to need a table.

In the table below, we differentiate between a simple form in which an action takes place at a specific time, and a progressive form indicating an ongoing action. All the examples are given in the first person; proper conjugation is necessary for changes in subject.

The following table cover the active voice in the simple present, present progressive, simple past, past progressive, simple future, future progressive, present perfect, present perfect progressive, past perfect, past perfect progressive, future perfect, and future perfect progressive.

Simple Form

Progressive Form


I drink

I am drinking


I drank

I was drinking


I will drink

I will be drinking

Present Perfect

I have drunk

I have been drinking

Past Perfect

I had drunk

I had been drinking

Future Perfect

I will have drunk

I will have been drinking

The above examples are in the active voice. We also have a passive voice formation where I'm the object of someone else's action. Obviously this doesn't work with the verb "drink," unless I am a liquid. Let's not stretch our imagination too much, but if I'm invited to a cannibal's home for dinner, then the following forms of "eat" might be needed--in the passive voice.

Simple Form

Progressive Form


I am eaten

I am being eaten


I was eaten

I was being eaten


I will be eaten

I will be being eaten

Past Perfect

I had been eaten

I had been being eaten

Future Perfect

I will have been eaten

I will have been being eaten

Although our regular verbs indicate past by -ed, many irregular verbs do not. They indicate it by a change of vowel. So we have grow/grew; know/knew; drink/drank.

Use the link above for a page with a list of all the tenses and examples of how to use the verbs.


Verbs not only have tenses, they also have moods. What to do with a moody verb? Most of the time it's not a problem. The only one I get questions about is the subjunctive mood. But let's look at all three together.

Mood indicates what the writer feels about a statement. That means: is it for sure, is it possible, or is it a command?

The Indicative mood is the normal state. We write what is, what happened or what will happen.

The Imperative mood is when we express a command. "Go home!" or: "Buy this product!" Notice that in the imperative mood the subject is not needed because this form of the verb is always directed at the person listening,so the subject is implied: You.

The third form of mood in the English language is the Subjunctive mood.
The subjunctive mood is used to express doubt, wish, or probability. Most verbs in the subjunctive mood are the same as in the present tense. However, special forms are used in the present tense, first and third person singular and plural of the verb "to be," and for all verbs in formal resolutions.

First and third person singular and plural of "be"

If I be.../If they be...

Past tense,first and third person singular

If I were.../If he were...

Third person singular ALL verbs

I demand that he give me...

Three rules for the subjunctive mood:

1. Use the subjunctive in formal idioms:
We can talk later, if need be.

2. Use the subjunctive in formal writing to express conditions contrary to fact, doubt, regret or wishes:
If I were a rich man...

3. Use the subjunctive in clauses which express formal demands or resolutions:
Be it resolved that birthdays shall be days on which absence from school is permitted.

Think you know the 8 parts of speech? Try our 8 parts of speech quiz!