Verbs and Verbals
They’ve a temper, some of them—particularly verbs: they’re the
proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can
manage the whole lot of them!
Humpty Dumpty's comment to Alice in Wonderland is only partially correct. Verbs are particular and can't be used indiscriminately and without rules. However, Humpty Dumpty is probably wrong in saying that he can manage the whole lot of them. Hardly anyone can; maybe nobody can.
The purpose of a verb is to affirm, assert, avow, imply, insinuate, state something about its subject. Verbs are the one essential part of speech to any complete sentence. Without a verb, there can be no sentence. For example, the one word command sentence Talk is complete because it has a verb talk with the subject you understood.
The key to using verbs correctly is to know that in English there are three principle parts of verbs: present, past, and past participle. Most people know the present tense of verbs and how to use it, but the past tense is not so easily managed because in English, we have no specific rule for forming the past tense. Sometimes it's formed by adding ed; other times, when the verb is irregular, the past tense is formed by changing spelling. Thus, to know the past tense is to have learned the specific word more than it is to have learned a rule.
Past participles are verbs that are used to form the perfect tenses, the verb tense that indicates that an action has been completed, or when used with the negative, not been completed. When used as verbs, past participles always require a helping verb! The past participles are usually irregular when the past tense of the verb is irregular.
1. Below are a list of common irregular verbs:
|lied (tell untruth)||lied||lied|
|wake||woke, waked||woken, waked|
2. Lie vs. lay: Use lie to mean recline, as in to lie down; use lay to mean to place. The principal parts can be confusing because the past tense of to lie is lay. The principal parts for the two verbs are below:
Ex. A: I will lie down later this afternoon for a nap.
Ex. B: I will lay the baby down in her crib before I leave.
Ex. C: I lay down late last night to try to get some sleep.
Ex. D: I laid the baby down for her nap about 2 pm.
Ex. E: I have lain around the house for three days, and I'm ready to work.
Ex. F: I have laid the groundwork for a new and exciting sales procedure.
3. Sit vs. set: Use sit to mean "assume a seated position"; use set to mean to place. The chief problem with these verbs is that to set has the same form for all principal parts, as seen below:
Ex. A: The three suspected criminals sit in row D, seats 7, 8, and 9.
Ex. B: The nurses set the syringes on the tray and left the room.
Ex. C: The child sat in the last desk behind the library table.
Ex. D: Fran set her tools on the bench before lowering the car to the garage floor.
Ex. E: The crowd has sat long enough; it's time to get started.
Ex. F: The soldiers have set their helmets in a line to indicate that they are ready for the final test
4. Some verb no-nos:
Never use seen as the past tense of the verb to see. Always use seen with a helping verb.
Do no use done as the past tense of the verb to do. Always use done with a helping verb.
Never say have, has, or had went.
Do not confuse lead the element with led. Use led as the past tense and the past participle forms of to lead.
Incorrect: My family seen that the Stock Market was going down.
Correct: My family saw that the Stock Market was going down.
Correct: My family had seen that the Stock Market was going down.
Incorrect: Joanna, as is typical of many wives and mothers, done the work of four.
Correct: Joanna, as is typical of many wives and mothers, did the work of four.
Correct: Joanna, as is typical of many wives and mothers, has done the work of four.
Incorrect: Without any preparation, we have went on our vacation to Hawaii.
Correct: Without any preparation, we have gone on our vacation to Hawaii.
Correct: Without any preparation, we went on our vacation to Hawaii.
Incorrect: The Vikings never lead the game until the fourth quarter.
Correct: The Vikings never led the game until the fourth quarter.
Verb tenses are necessary so that readers can understand when actions take place in relationship to other actions (temporal relationships). Thus, writers use
present tense to describe action that is taking place, as in I type as I think.
use past tense to describe action that has already taken place, as in Bugs ran into the forest to escape.
use present perfect tense to describe action that has begun in the past and is continuing into the present, as in The basketball season has come to an end with the North Carolina victory.
use past perfect tense to describe two actions that occurred in the past and to indicate that one began before the other and continued into the time of the second action, as in We had finished the test when the earthquake hit.
use future perfect tense to describe an ongoing action that will occur in the future, as in George will have learned to open the door himself by the time spring arrives.
Writers have to be careful to use the correct verb tense in conjunction with other verb tenses since to use the wrong tense can mislead readers about the time of the action. When readers get confused about the time of an action, they will consequently be confused about the meaning of what is written.
Here are some guidelines for maintaining tense consistency:
1. Use a consistent tense for the main discourse and use tense changes to indicate temporal relationships.
Ex. A: Congress needs to keep itself out of private decisions. When Congress passed legislation in the Terri Schiavo case to keep her on a feeding tube, it set a precedent that Congress will find difficult to maintain. Now that Congress has stepped in on one case to prevent the death of a private citizen, the rest of the country's private citizens can demand that it step in on other individual cases of life and death. For example, if John needs a heart transplant to continue living but he is low on the list of recipients, he can ask Congress to grant him the right to a heart, as can Laura, Raul, Hassim, and others who also need hearts to survive.
Explanation: The first sentence is the topic sentence for the paragraph and establishes that the main discourse in the overall work is in present tense, as indicated by the verb needs. The introductory dependent clause in the second sentence refers to an action that took place in the past; thus, the writer uses the past tense verb passed. The main clause in that sentence points to a future action, thus the use of the verb will find. The rest of the paragraph uses present tense since the purpose of the overall piece is about what is presently happening based on what has happened in the past.
Ex. B: See sample literary paper.
2. Use present tense when writing about another's writing, as in writing about literature or doing a review or critique of another work. However, when referring to the actual author's life or work in researching her or his writing, you may have to use past tense if the work was done before the writing of the piece being critiqued or analyzed.
Ex. A: Fitzgerald uses Duncan and Lorraine to represent the very life that Charlie has been seeking to leave and which Fitzgerald himself left when Zelda required hospitalization.
Explanation: The first verb is in present tense because it refers to Fitzgerald's writing of the short story "Babylon Revisited." The second verb has been is present perfect because it refers to an action in the story that began in the past and is continuing into the present. The last two verbs are in past tense because they refer to real historical happenings in the lives of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.
Ex. B: The large stones with holes bored through them were initially reputed to be mooring rocks left by the Vikings. However, research has cast great doubt on this theory. In the Fall 1998 issues of Minnesota History, Tom Trow describes how he and other researchers looked at the stones carefully and determined that the holes were likely caused by dynamite blasts used by farmers to break large rocks into smaller rocks that were more easily disposed of.2
Explanation: The first sentence uses past tense since the belief about the rocks occurred in the past before further research. The second verb has cast is present perfect because it refers to research's effects that began in the past and continue into the present. The first verb in the next sentence is in present tense since it refers to writing in the article in Minnesota History. However, the rest of the verbs in that sentence are in past tense since they refer to historical action completed in the past.
oCarroll, Lewis. Through the Looking-Glass, 1872, Project Gutenberg, 1991. 31 Mar. 2005 <http://www.cs.indiana.edu/metastuff/looking/looking.txt.gz>.
2Trow, Thomas. "Small Holes in Large Rock: The 'Mooring Stones' of Kensington." Minnesota Monthly 56 (1998): 120-128.
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