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making verbs work for you

Isaiah laid lay there for quite some time, pondering what he would of have done if he was were Jacob. Finally, he decided he had laid lain there long enough, got up and set sat by the window for awhile.

CONTENTS

 “Accessing” the power of verbs

Verbs, among all the parts of speech, can be the most vexing.For example, consider the verb to be: I am, you are, he or she or it is – and these are all forms in the present tense, singular. Or take the verb to go: the three principal parts are go (present), went (past), gone (past participle). No wonder it’s called an irregular verb.

Luckily, most people, especially those who have grown up speaking English, are able to handle these verbs because they hear them and use them a lot. For people learning English as a second language, it has to be challenging.

And verbs are constantly changing, not always to the liking of language purists. Nouns become verbs in a process known as verbing. Who hasn’t googled (performed a web search, using a search engine such as Google) for a word, phrase, name, what have you? Or hoovered (brand name of a vacuum cleaner) a fast-food meal in a couple of minutes? Perhaps you’ve FTP’d a digital file, using the Internet. (FTP stands for file transfer protocol.) Or heard about someone who OD’d (ingested an overdose) on a drug.

Purists are especially incensed by the verbing of such words as access (see headline over this section), author, impactdialogue and incent (not to mention compounding the transgression with incentivize). They would agree heartily with Calvin (of the now-retired, sadly, comic strip Calvin and Hobbes), who said that “verbing weirds language.”

Verbs are worth getting to know. They are at the heart of the sentence. Well-chosen verbs can make your sentences more vivid and less bulky, and reduce your need for modifiers as well.  (See Editing: Sharpening and cutting in the writing to be understood section.)

Subject-verb agreement

A verb must agree with its subject in person and number.

PERSON: study diligently for tests. Tad also studies diligently. The verb to study changes form for the third person (Tad, he, etc.).

NUMBER: Tanis is required to register early for her classes. Other upper-division students are required to register early as well. The verb changes form from singular (is) to plural (are).

  • More on subject-verb agreement in Choosing the verb that agrees with the subject in the writing to be understood section. 

Coulda, woulda, shoulda??

Coulda, woulda, shoulda??
Could of? Would of? Should of?

Nope. It's nonstandard English, although could of, for example, sounds almost identical to could’ve, which is a legitimate contraction of could have (Ollie could’ve rented our apartment if he had applied a week earlier). When writing these verb forms, however, you must get them right:

could’ve/would’ve/should’ve/might’ve/must’ve 

When to use were rather than was

Use were in place of was to express a wish or a condition contrary to reality:

Incorrect: I wish I was finished with school.
Correct: I wish I were finished with school.
Incorrect: If Jordan was still working for the Jets, we could get free tickets.
Correct: If Jordan were still working for the Jets, we could get free tickets

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Some verb forms often misused

Here are some frequently misused verb forms:

  • I seen him at the rave last night.
  • Marcus was exhausted, so he laid down for a short nap.
  • He done it before I had a chance to stop him.
  • Rene had laid on the beach long enough to turn a bright red.
  • The vigilantes had hung the insurgents shortly after capturing them.

Do you know the verb forms that should be used in the sentences above? They are:

  • I saw him at the rave last night. (past tense)
  • Marcus was exhausted, so he lay down for a short nap. (past tense)
  • He did it before I had a chance to stop him. (past tense)
  • Rene had lain on the beach long enough to turn a bright red. (past perfect tense, which needs an auxiliary, or helping, verb: have)
  • The vigilantes had hanged the insurgents shortly after capturing them. (past perfect tense)

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Principal parts of verbs

Choosing the proper verb form is simplified if you know the verb’s three principal parts. Here they are for the verbs used above, plus a few more that may need special attention:

Verb (infinitive) Present Past Past Participle
to see
see
saw
seen
to lie (recline)
lie
lay
lain
to do
do
did
done
to hang (execute) hang hanged hanged
to lay (place down) lay  laid  laid
to sit sit sat sat
to set set set set
to rise rise rose risen
to raise raise raised raised

Remember:

  • The past participle is always used with some form of have as an auxiliary verb. So if have (or has or had) is part of the verb, choose the past participle.
  • Laid is not part of the verb lieever.

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The six traditional tenses of a regular verb

Here is a summary of the six traditional tenses of a verb and how they are used:

Regular verbs form the past tense and past participle by adding ed:

  • Infinitive: to look (a regular verb, which adds -ed to form the past tense and past participle)
  • Principal parts: present: look; past: looked; past participle: looked
  • Present: I look at house plans every day. Describes an ongoing state of affairs or a generalization (not normally an action happening at the present time, despite the name present tense).
  • Past: I looked at many house plans in recent months. Describes an action or situation completed in the past.
  • Future: I shall look at many house plans in an effort to make up my mind. Describes an action or situation to take place sometime in the future.
  • Present perfect: I have looked at many house plans but I still don’t know what direction to take. Describes an action or situation that began in the past and continues in the present.
  • Past perfect: I had looked at many house plans before deciding to make my own. Describes an action or situation completed before a certain time in the past.
  • Future perfect: I shall have looked at many house plans by the time I retire from architecture. Describes an action or situation to be completed by a certain time in the future.

Here is a full declension of the regular verb to look in all three persons, singular and plural, indicative mood:

  Singular Plural Plural
Present Tense    
First Person I look we look
Second Person you look you look
Third Person he, she, it looks they look
     
Past Tense
   
First Person I looked we looked
Second Person you looked you looked
Third Person he, she, it looked they looked
     
Future Tense
   
First Person I shall look we shall look
Second Person you will look you will look
Third Person he, she, it will look they will look
     
Present Perfect Tense    
First Person
I have looked we have looked
Second Person you have looked you have looked
Third Person he, she, it has looked they have looked
     
Past Perfect Tense    
First Person
I had looked we had looked
Second Person you had looked you had looked
Third Person he, she, it had looked they had looked
     
Future Perfect Tense    
First Person I shall have looked we shall have looked
Second Person you will have looked you will have looked
Third Person he, she, it will have looked they will have looked

Some regular verbs require slight modification when adding -ed:

Infinitive: to study
Principal parts: present: study; past: studied; past participle: studied

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Forming irregular verbs

Irregular verbs form the past tense and past participle by changing, in various ways, the root word or, in some cases (set, for example), not changing it at all.

Here is the verb lie:

  • Infinitive: to lie
  • Principal parts: present: lie; past: lay; past participle: lain
  • Present: I lie on the chaise whenever possible.
  • Past: I lay on the chaise and considered what to do.
  • Future: I shall lie on the chaise later this week.
  • Present perfect: I have lain on the chaise often.
  • Past perfect: I had lain on the chaise before cleaning the pool.
  • Future perfect: I shall have lain on the chaise by day’s end.

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Three principal parts of  200+ irregular verbs:

arise/arose/arisen
awake/awoke/awoken
be/was,were/been
become/became/become
begin/began/begun
bet/bet, betted/bet,betted
bid/ bid,bade/bid,bidden
bind/bound/bound
bite/bit/bitten
bleed/bled/bled
blow/blew/blown
break/broke/broken
bring/brought/brought
broadcast/broadcast/broadcast
build/built/built
burn/burned, burnt/burned, burnt
buy/bought/bought
choose/chose/chosen
cling/clung/clung
come/came/come
cost/cost/cost (require payment of certain sum, or cause a loss to someone or something)
cost/costed/costed (calculate a price for)
creep/crept/crept
deal/dealt/dealt
dive/dived,dove/dived
do/did/done
draw/draw/drawn
dream/dreamed, dreamt/dreamed, dreamt
drink/drank/drunk
drive/drove/driven
dwell/dwelled, dwelt/dwelled, dwelt
eat/ate/eaten
fall/fell/fallen
feed/fed/fed
feel/felt/felt
fight/fought/fought
find/found/found
fit/fitted, fit/fitted, fit
flee/fled/fled
fling/flung/flung
fly/flew/flown (also: fly/flied/flied, as in baseball)
forbear/forbore/foreborne
forbid/forbade/forbidden
forecast/forecast, forecasted/forecast, forecasted
foresee/foresaw/foreseen
foretell/foretold/foretold
forget/forgot/forgotten
forgive/forgave/forgiven
forgo/forwent/forgone
forsake/forsook/forsaken
freeze/froze/frozen
frolic/frolicked/frolicked
FTP/FTP’d/FTP’d
gainsay/gainsaid/gainsaid
get/got/got, gotten
give/gave/given
go/went/gone
grind/ground/ground
grow/grew/grown
hamstring/hamstrung/hamstrung
hang (suspend)/hung/hung
hang (execute)/hanged/hanged
have/had/had
hear/heard/heard
heave/heaved, hove/heaved, hove
hew/hewed/hewn, hewed
hide/hid/hidden
hit/hit/hit
hold/held/held
hurt/hurt/hurt
inbreed/inbred/inbred
inlay/inlaid/inlaid
input/input, inputted/input, inputted
inset/inset/inset
intercut/intercut/intercut
interweave/interwove/interwoven
keep/kept/kept
kneel/knelt, kneeled/knelt, kneeled
knit/knitted, knit/knitted, knit
know/knew/known
KO/KO’d/KO’d
lade/laded/laden
lay/laid/laid
lead/led/led
lean/leaned, leant/leaned, leant
leap/leaped, leapt/leaped, leapt
learn/learned, learnt/learned, learnt
leave/left/left
lend/lent/lent
let/let/let
lie (recline)/lay/lain
light (set alight)/lit/lit, lighted
light (come upon)/lit, lighted/lit, lighted
lose/lost/lost
make/made/made
MC/MC’d/MC’d
mean/meant/meant
medevac/medevacked/medevacked
meet/met/met
mimic/mimicked/mimicked
miscast/miscast/miscast
misdeal/misdealt/misdealt
mishear/misheard/misheard
mislay/mislaid/mislaid
mislead/misled/misled
misread/misread/misread
misspell/misspelled, misspelt/misspelled, misspelt
misspend/misspent/misspent
mistake/mistook/mistaken
misunderstand/misunderstood/misunderstood
mow/mowed/mowed, mown
narrowcast/narrowcast/narrowcast
OD/OD’d/OD’d
offset/offset/offset
OK/OK’d/OK’d
outbid/outbid/outbid
outdo/outdid/outdone
outgrow/outgrew/outgrown
output/output/output
outrun/outran/outrun
outsell/outsold/outsold
overcome/overcame/overcome
panic/panicked/panicked
partake/partook/partaken
pay/paid/paid
picnic/picnicked/picnicked
plead/pleaded/pleaded
politic/politicked/politicked
prepay/prepaid/prepaid
proofread/proofread/proofread
prove/proved/proved, proven
put/put/put
quit/quit/quit/
read/read/read
rend/rent/rent
rid/rid/rid
ride/rode/ridden
ring (sound)/rang/rung
ring (surround)/ringed/ringed
rise/rose/risen
RSVP/RSVP’d/RSVP’d
run/ran/run
saw/sawed/sawed, sawn
say/said/said
see/saw/seen
seek/sought/sought
sell/sold/sold
send/sent/sent
set/set/set
sew/sewed/sewed, sewn
shake/shook/shaken
shave/shaved/shaved, shaven
shear/sheared/sheared, shorn
shed/shed/shed
shellac/shellacked/shellacked
shine (glow)/shone/shone
shine (polish)/shined/shined
shoe/shod, shoed/shod, shoed
shoot/shot/shot
show/showed/shown
shrink/shrank/shrunk
shut/shut/shut
simulcast/simulcast/simulcast
sing/sang/sung
sink/sank/sunk
sit/sat/sat
slay/slew/slain
sleep/slept/slept
slide/slid/slid
sling/slung/slung
slink/slunk/slunk
slit/slit/slit
smite/smote/smitten
sneak/sneaked, snuck/sneaked, snuck
sow/sowed/sowed, sown
speak/spoke/spoken
speed/sped, speeded/sped, speeded
spell (write)/spelled, spelt/spelled, spelt
spell (relieve)/spelled/spelled
spellbind/spellbound/spellbound
spend/spent/spent
spill/spilled, spilt/spilled, spilt
spin/spun/spun
spit/spit, spat/spit, spat
split/split/split
spotlight/spotlighted,spotlit/spotlighted, spotlit
spread/spread/spread
spring/sprang, sprung/sprung
stand/stood/stood
steal/stole/stolen
stick/stuck/stuck
sting/stung/stung
stink/stank/stunk
strew/strewed/strewed, strewn
stride/strode/stridden
strike/struck/struck
string/strung/strung
strive/strived, strove/striven
sublet/sublet/sublet
swear/swore/sworn
sweat/sweated, sweat/sweated, sweat
sweep/swept/swept
swell/swelled/swelled, swollen
swim/swam/swum
swing/swung/swung
take/took/taken
teach/taught/taught
tear/tore/torn
telecast/telecast/telecast
tell/told/told
think/thought/thought
thrive/thrived, throve/thrived
throw/threw/thrown
thrust/thrust/thrust
TKO/TKO’d/TKO’d
traffic/trafficked/trafficked
tread/trod/trod, trodden
typecast/typecast/typecast
typeset/typeset/typeset
underbid/underbid/underbid
undergo/underwent/undergone
underlie/underlay/underlain
understand/understood/understood
undertake/undertook/undertaken
underwrite/underwrote/underwritten
undo/undid/undone
unwind/unwound/unwound
uphold/upheld/upheld
upset/upset/upset
wake/woke, waked/woken, waked
waylay/waylaid/waylaid
weave (make fabric)/wove/wove, woven
weave (zigzag)/wove/weaved, woven
wed/wed, wedded/wed, wedded
weep/wept/wept
wet/wet, wetted/wet, wetted
win/won/won
wind (twist and turn)/wound/wound
withdraw/withdrew/withdrawn
withhold/withheld/withheld
withstand/withstood/withstood
wring/wrung/wrung
write/wrote/written