english verb conjugation

English Verb Conjugation: Tenses, Moods and Grammar Rules

Do you get nervous or confused when you hear the words English verb conjugation?

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 the elements of person, mood and tense.

When you do, English verb conjugation will be a no-brainer (super easy)!

Contents

Person and Number

In English verb conjugation, person means that the verb changes based on subject-verb agreement.

Subject-verb agreement is when the subject must match the verb in terms of number–both should be either singular or plural. If the subject is singular, you would add “the special friend” -s to the verb. 

For example:

The girl walks down the street.

Walk is the infinitive, or base form. The girl  is singular, so you add -s. Grammarians refer to this as “inflection.”

There are exceptions, though, with English pronouns:

PronounVerb
I walk
You walk
He / She / It walks
We walk
They walk

Notice that for he / she / it, you would add -s. But when the subject is I / we / they / you, the verb remains as is.

For example:

I walk down the street.

Person in Main Verb Conjugation

Walk is considered a “main verb.” 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. 

For example:

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 as an auxiliary verb. Auxiliary verbs “help” the main verb express the actual action by expressing the person, tense or mood.

For example:

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

When conjugating English verbs, the tense shows when the action takes place. In English, there are three main tenses: the present, past and future.

Here is a summary of the major verb tenses in English:

Type of TenseVerb TenseExampleHow to Form
Simple Simple Present I work Main verb
Simple Past I worked Main verb + past participle ("-ed") for regular verbs
Simple Future I will work "will" + main verb
ContinuousPresent Continuous I am working to be verb + main verb + present participle ("-ing")
Past Continuous I was working to be verb + present participle ("-ing")
Future Continuous I will be working "will be" + present participle ("-ing")
PerfectPresent Perfect I have worked "have" / "has" + past participle ("-ed" for regular verbs)
Past Perfect I had worked "had" + past participle
Future Perfect I will have worked "will have" + past participle

Simple Present

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.

Simple Past

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.

Simple Future

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.

Present Continuous

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 Continuous

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.

Future Continuous

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.

Present Perfect

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

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.

Future Perfect

The future perfect tense is used when you’re going to finish an action before some point in the future: 

By tomorrow evening, I will have finished my test.

To form this tense, combine will have  + past participle. You can also use the future perfect tense to say an action will happen before a specific event: 

My sister will have left already when I arrive, so we won’t be able to meet.

Irregular Verbs 

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.

Examples:

InfinitivePast TenseParticiple
go Went Gone
be Was / Were Been
begin Began Begun
buy Bought Bought

Mood

English verb conjugation shows the speaker’s mood or attitude towards a context or situation. There are three main moods in English verb conjugation.

Indicative

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.

Subjunctive

This mood shows a hypothetical or imaginary situation.

If I were a millionaire, I would quit my job.

Imperative

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.

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.

Avoiding Conjugation

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 online 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:

You can also use FluentU’s authentic videos to practice verb conjugation in context. 

Resources: Online 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 learned some of the basics of conjugation, and have some great resources and activity ideas, I think you’re fully prepared to conjugate better than ever.

Don’t overthink it.

Just start doing it!

And One More Thing...

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