Verbs 4: Three Important
Inflections (Changes): Tense,
Materials by Liz Siler
Inflection #1: Tense
• Do not confuse “tense” with “time.” These words are
sometimes wrongly used interchangeably.
• Time is a concept in physics. With respect to time,
English speakers recognize three general times and
many more specific ones: past, present, and future.
• However we only inflect (change) verbs for two
tenses in English: past and present.
• Tense is only shown on the left-most verb in a verb
Expressing The Future
• We express the future by adding on modal auxiliaries
such as “will” “may” and “shall” to the base form.
However the lexical verb itself does not inflect
(change) for a future tense and the modal is in the
present or past tense. There is no future tense in
– I will visit my friend’s house this weekend;
– I shall return;
– He may arrive late/ He might arrive late.
The Present Tense
• To understand present tense inflection
we must first understand two other very
important inflections: person and
Inflection #2: Person
English has three persons:
First person --- The speaker refers to
him/herself as “I” or to the group he/she
belongs to as “we” (or an equivalency) I own
two cats. We enjoy them a lot.
Second person -- The speaker talks to a
person or persons generally addressed as
“you.” You sneeze around cats, right?
Third person -- The speaker talks about some
other thing(s) or person(s) using “he” “she” “it”
or “they” --- or equivalencies. They are
Inflection #3: Number
• English verbs can show two numbers: 1
(singular) and more than 1 (plural).
• For each person, there is a singular and
a plural version.
Person and Number: Subject Pronouns
HE/ SHE/ IT
• English overtly marks present tense ONLY
with a third person singular subject.
• That is where we use the “s” form of the verb.
• For subjects in all other person/number
combinations, we use verbs only in the base
• EXCEPTION: The verb TO BE.
Ex: Present Tense:
you (all) cook
Verb TO BE: Present Tense
You (all) are
Present Tense: Usage
• When the lexical verb is in the present tense
in English, it generally describes an ongoing
condition/state rather than an action
happening right now.
– My husband (= he) is an artist.
– He throws pots on a wheel.
– The images on his art(= they) reflect underelements of society.
• The past tense is also an inflection.
• Unlike the present tense, in which person and
number of the subject is very important in
determining the form of the verb, the past tense does
not overtly mark person and number.
• Verbs are the same form (the past tense form) in all
persons and numbers.
• Exception: The verb TO BE.
Example: Past Tense:
– I cooked
– You cooked
– He/she/it cooked
you (all) cooked
Past Tense: The Verb “To Be”
– I was
– You were
– He/she/it was
You (all) were