Do you become scared or confused when you hear the words English verb conjugation?
You’re not alone.
Verb conjugation is a fancy way to express how verbs change for person, mood and tense.
Okay, what does that mean?
Learning the ropes of (the main parts of) English verb conjugation not only helps you sound like a native speaker but also helps you express important information.
The secret to conjugating verbs is to master these elements: person, mood and tense.
When you do, English verb conjugation will be a no-brainer (super easy)!
Tips for Solving Common Problems with English Verb Conjugation
If you’re having problems with English verb conjugation, you’re not alone. Below are some common issues that all learners struggle with and some tips to overcome them.
Using Inconsistent Verb Forms
If the story happened in the past, stay in the past. If you’re talking about what’s happening now, stay in the present. And, if you’re talking about the future, only use future tenses.
One way to overcome the problem of using inconsistent verb forms (or tenses) is to write or practice telling a story in the present or the past. It helps to first write the story and then practice telling the story out loud without looking at your paper.
You can also check out Betty Azar’s “Fundamentals of English Grammar,” which offers interactive activities, both written and spoken, for practicing English verb tenses, as well as other grammar points. She’s not referred to as the queen of grammar for nothing!
Not Adding the -s or -ed Participle Endings
Learners tend to avoid or miss the -s or -ed verb endings in both written and spoken English. It comes from being unsure of how to use them, resulting in avoidance.
Education.com has some useful worksheets to help you practice endings.
Using Irregular Verb Forms
To avoid spelling and pronunciation errors, learners can keep a notebook of irregular verb forms or practice conjugating the verbs out loud.
For spelling practice, the website Quizlet is helpful. It lets you create lists of vocabulary words and then practice spelling them.
Oftentimes, learners rely on the present tense for every situation. Or, they avoid specific tenses, like the present perfect.
When you begin learning English—or any language—the first tense you learn is the present. Changing to other tenses when needed can be challenging at first, so the tendency is to rely on the tense you feel comfortable using.
But, when you avoid conjugation, your exact meaning is lost and you may confuse the listener. Try practicing conjugation with fun verb games to help you conjugate without fear.
Fun Activities to Practice English Verb Conjugation
When it comes to mastering English verb conjugation, you don’t have to write the conjugations over and over again. For some fun activities, try the following:
- Watch “Mr. Bean” and describe what the character is doing in three different tenses.
- Use FluentU’s authentic videos to practice verb conjugation.
- Write or tell a funny or important story that happened recently.
- Play English verb games like Hot Verb-tato or Pantomine Verbs.
Helpful English Verb Conjugators
For those who want to check their English verb conjugation, you’re going to love verb conjugators. You type in the verb (in any form), and the rest is done for you. Here are some of my favorites:
- Reverso Conjugator conjugates the verb into all the English tenses. Plus, the conjugator shows you the infinitive, or base form, of the verb and the participle. Another bonus is that there’s a link to lists of the most common verbs in English.
- Cooljugator shows the verb conjugated in different tenses, but it also explains what the verb means in different languages. Also, the layout of the conjugator helps you to see how the conjugation changes for subject-verb agreement.
- Verbix is a conjugator with multiple additional features. You can conjugate the verb, translate and then conjugate or even learn about verb cognates. Verb cognates are words with similar origins (form and meaning) in different languages.
- The-conjugation.com offers verb conjugation in different tenses as well. You can also translate the verb into other languages and learn about irregular English verbs.
Now that you’ve got some great resources and ideas for practicing verb conjugation, it’s time to find out exactly how English verb conjugation works by looking at person, tense and mood!
Scared of English Verb Conjugation? Your One-stop Guide to Person, Tense and Mood
Person in English Verb Conjugation
In English verb conjugation, person means that the verb changes to express subject-verb agreement. Subject-verb agreement is when the subject must match the verb in its form. It does this by adding “the special friend” -s.
She walks down the street.
Walk is the infinitive, or base form, but when the subject is she/he/it, you add the special friend -s. Grammarians refer to this as “inflection.”
When the subject is I/we/they/you, there’s no special friend. For example:
I walk down the street.
Person can also tell us about gender and whether the subject is singular or plural. In the above example, she tells us the person identifies as female. We also know that she is singular while we is plural.
Person in Main Verb Conjugation
Walk is considered a “main verb,” or a verb with more meaning. Main verbs show a specific action affecting the subject of the sentence and can stand alone with or without a helping verb. Oftentimes, they’re referred to as “lexical verbs” since they convey the semantic meaning in the sentence. Semantic verb meaning is the actual “action” that the verb expresses.
I skip to grandma’s house.
We know that the visual and actual action skip is different from walk, or even run. Other main verbs include talk, act, stop and so on. They express the actual action. Conjugating main verbs means you’ll add an -s for subject-verb agreement when necessary.
I/we/they skip to grandma’s house.
She/he/it skips to grandma’s house.
Person in Auxiliary Verb Conjugation
The most well-known auxiliary verb is to be. While the to be verb (am, is, are, was, were) has less meaning than a main verb, it’s both super common and irregular. We’ll get into irregular verbs in a minute. To be verbs have less meaning in English because they usually “help” the main verb to form a verb phrase.
The to be verb can be by itself or paired with a main verb, but the use is more grammatical than lexical (relating to vocabulary). Auxiliary verbs “help” the main verb express the actual action by performing a grammatical function of “helping” to express the person, tense or mood.
I am happy that I’m learning English.
I am skipping to grandma’s house.
She is skipping to grandma’s house.
As with main verbs, the to be verb must have subject-verb agreement, and it expresses number and gender.
Tense in English Verb Conjugation
When conjugating English verbs, the tense shows the time the action takes place. In English, there are three main tenses: the present, past and future.
The present simple and present progressive are both part of the present tense.
Present Simple English Verb Conjugation
Present simple expresses something factual or true now.
I love chocolate.
She works at a language school.
It can also express a habit or something that happens regularly.
I run every day.
I practice the piano all the time.
Present Continuous English Verb Conjugation
Present continuous tense shows an action that’s happening right now.
I am running to the store.
The present continuous verb conjugation form is the to be verb (am) + main verb (run) + present participle (-ing). Or, it’s the verb + present participle.
The to be verb must also change for subject-verb agreement.
She is running to the circus.
The present continuous can also express actions that will happen, that happen regularly or that will happen soon.
I am working as a juggler now.
I am going to meet him in an hour.
Past Simple English Verb Conjugation
The past simple verb conjugation expresses a finished or completed action.
I walked home yesterday from juggling practice.
The past simple verb conjugation form is the main verb + past participle (-ed) for regular verbs.
The past simple can use the to be verb to show how the subject feels about something.
I was proud to become the world’s fastest juggler.
Past Continuous English Verb Conjugation
The past continuous tense shows a longer action in the past being interrupted by a shorter action.
I was talking on the phone when my brother arrived.
The past continuous verb conjugation is the to be verb + present participle (-ing).
Past continuous tense also expresses an action in progress around a particular time.
I was working at 6 p.m. on Tuesday.
I was doing homework yesterday.
Present Perfect English Verb Conjugation
The present perfect poses a challenge for English learners, not only in meaning but also when conjugating due to the tricky nature of irregular verbs.
The present perfect describes an action that happened in the past but is still important now. Or, the action occurred at an indefinite period in the past.
I have studied English here before.
He has written to me several times.
The present perfect tense conjugation is formed with have/has + past participle (-ed for regular verbs). Irregular verb endings vary (change).
Past Perfect English Verb Conjugation
The past perfect tense expresses an action that was completed before another action in the past.
I had walked home before she told me I couldn’t do it.
You form this tense with had + past participle. The form is the same regardless of gender or subject-verb agreement.
Thomas was happy that she/he/we/they had walked home yesterday.
Simple Future English Verb Conjugation
The simple future tense expresses an action that will happen in the future.
I will study in the morning.
The simple future tense form is will + base form (study). It’s important to note that the simple future doesn’t change for subject-verb agreement or gender.
He/she/we/they will study in the morning.
Expressing the Future with the Present Continuous Verb Conjugation
You can also show a future action by using the present continuous verb conjugation.
I am going to study in the morning.
We are going to the movies later.
Irregular Verb Conjugation in English
Verb conjugation becomes trickier with irregular verbs because of spelling and pronunciation changes. For regular verb conjugation, you either add an -s or -ed ending to the main verb depending on the person or tense.
Irregular verbs seem like they have no rhyme or reason to their conjugations. English teachers usually recommend memorizing irregular verb forms.
Mood in English Verb Conjugation
English verb conjugation shows the speaker’s mood or attitude towards a context or situation. There are three main moods in English verb conjugation.
The Indicative Mood
This mood expresses an opinion or fact.
She thinks that Mozart is the best composer.
The form, in this case, is the present simple tense, but the mood of the speaker shows an assertion or opinion.
The Subjunctive Mood
This mood shows a hypothetical or imaginary situation.
If I were a millionaire, I would quit my job.
The Imperative Mood
This mood gives a command, order or request. You can use any main verb in its base form to express the imperative mood.
Eat all your vegetables.
Sit down next to me.
So, now you know the secret to English verb conjugation!
It comes down to understanding that verb conjugation expresses person, time and mood. You conjugate the verb to signal these changes.
When you do, you’ll sound oh-so like a pro!
Amber Roshay is a writer and educator with over 13 years of experience teaching ESL to students from all over the world. She loves helping her students follow their dreams by becoming fluent in English. When not teaching or writing, she enjoys spending time with her family at the beach.
And One More Thing...
If you like learning English through movies and online media, you should also check out FluentU. FluentU lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:
The FluentU app and website makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.
For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part? FluentU remembers the vocabulary that you’re learning. It recommends examples and videos to you based on the words you’ve already learned. You'll have a truly personalized experience.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or from the Google Play store.
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