The conjugation of English Verbs sometimes confuses non-native speakers and for a good reason. But, I have some tips and tricks to make it much easier for you.
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Irregular Verb Conjugation in English
There are not many verbs in English that are conjugated irregularly, but the following three are.
Conjugating “to be”
The verb in English that we use most often is “to be” and we don’t even realise it.
You should also know that it is conjugated irregularly. This means that the word changes a lot between the different persons.
Present Tense for “to be”
Here is a table with the conjugations of “to be” when it is used in the simple present tense:
You might have noticed that “I”, “he”, “she” and “it” (third-person singular) are the only ones taking some form of the verb not “are”. Remembering this will make your life so much easier.
Here are a few example sentences:
I am happy.
You are happy.
We are happy.
They are happy.
He is happy.
She is happy.
“To be” in the Past Tense
When we use the verb “to be” in the simple past tense” it is conjugated as follows:
In the simple past tense the conjugation of “to be” is even easier than in the simple present tense, because there are only two forms “was” and “were”.
Tip To Remember the Different Conjugations of “to be”
The way in which I remember when to use which form of the verb “to be” is by thinking of a snake.
When in the present “he”, “she” and “it” are scared so they have to take a snake with them to protect them. This snake in grammar is an “s”.
If you think of all the forms of “to be” in the simple present tense (“am”, “is” and “are”), “is” is the only one with an “s” in it, so that is the one that goes with “he”, “she” and “it”.
All the others are not scared, so they don’t need a snake bodyguard.
Past Tense for “be”
However, in the past (tense), “I” used to be scared too. So apart from “he”, “she” and “it” taking a snake bodyguard, “I” take one along too.
In the simple past tense the forms of “to be” are “was” and “were” and here “was” is the one with the “s”. So, the one that has the bodyguard for “I”, “he”, “she” and “it” is “was”.
Using “have” and “has”
This is the next English verb that is conjugated irregularly. It is different from “to be” because in the simple present tense there are only two forms of it and not three. This means that “I” we use the same form of the verb as with “you”, “we” and “they”. This makes it easier to know if you should use “have” or “has”.
If you think of my snake analogy again you will realise that “has” should be used with “he”, “she” and “it” in the simple present tense. “Have” should be used in all the other persons.
Look at this example:
I have a red book.
They have red books.
She has a red book.
Past Tense for “have” and “has”
Another area in which “have” and “has” is different from “to be” is that there is only one past tense for “have” and “has” and that is “had”. Here is an example of how it is used:
I had a green pen.
We had green pens.
He had a green pen.
“Do” or “does”: When to Use Which
Similar to the previous verbs, the form of the verb with the “s” in it (“does”) is used with “he”, “she” and “it”. “Do” is used with all the others, like in this example:
I do my homework.
We do our homework.
He does his homework.
Past Tense of “does” and “do”
Like with “has” and “have” there is only one past tense word for “does” and “do” and that is “did”. Here is an example:
I did my job.
They did their jobs.
He did his job.
“Go” or “goes”: When to Use Which
“Go” and “goes” works the same as “do” and “does”. “Does” is used with “he”, “she” and “it” and “do” with the rest. Like this:
I go to the store every week.
You go to the store every week.
She goes to the store every week.
“Goes” and “go” Past Tense
Once again this verb only has one form to be used in the past tense and what is “went”. Here are some examples of how it is used:
I went to the store yesterday.
You went to the store yesterday.
He went to the store yesterday.
English Regular Verb Conjugation
With regular verb conjugation, you only have to worry about the present tense, because in the past tense things are much simpler.
Conjugation of Regular English Verbs in the Simple Present Tense
When conjugating regular verbs in the simple present tense in English, I use the conjugation of “to be” as a guideline. The reason is that the “people” who are scared and in need of a bodyguard, stay the same. Only now, instead of completely changing the verb we only add an “s” or “es” to the end.
Regular Verbs Taking an “s”
Most regular English verbs only take an “s” at the end when conjugated. Also, remember, this is only for “he”, “she” and “it”. All the others use the verb as it is.
Here are some examples:
He, she and it runs.
Regular Verbs Taking “es”
When a verb ends on “sh”, “ch”, “ss” or “x”, you have to add “es” to the end of the verb when used with “he”, “she” and “it”.
Here is an example of a verb ending on “sh”:
I brush my teeth.
She brushes her teeth.
This is how a verb ending on “ch” would look like when conjugated in the English simple present tense:
You teach English.
He teaches English.
When a regular English verb ends on “ss” you would conjugate it like this:
We miss Alex.
She misses Alex.
Lastly, is an example of a verb ending on “x”:
They fix cars.
He fixes cars.
Conjugation of Regular Verbs Ending on “y”
The English alphabet has 26 letters, 5 of which are vowels. These 5 letters are: “a”, “e”, “i”, “o” and “u” (sometimes “y” is also a vowel, but most of the time it isn’t).
When a verb ends with a consonant followed by a “y”, the “y” changes to “ie” and you add “s” when the verb is used in the third person (“he”, “she” and “it”). However, these verbs stay the same when used with the other persons in the simple present tense. Here is an example:
I study at the library.
He studies at the library.
When a verb ends with a vowel followed by a “y”, you just add -s when the verb is used with “he”, “she” and “it”. But, these verbs stay the same when used with the other persons in the simple present tense. Look at this example of this kind of conjugation:
You buy clothes.
She buys clothes.
Conjugating Verbs in English: Some More Rules
Pronouns Can be Substituted
“He”, “she” and “it”
Until now, we only used personal pronouns to talk about people. “He”, “she” and “it” can be substituted by the name of the person referred to. In that case you would still conjugate the verb as you would for “he”, “she” and “it”.
Take a look at this example:
She is at work.
Ann is at work.
Joining Two Singular Objects With “and”
When we join two singular (grammatical) objects with “and”, they are treated as a plural (grammatical) object. For example:
You and I are not lazy.
In the above sentence, we could substitute “you and I” with “we” and that is why we use “are”.
We can also talk about people in the third person using their names like this:
Jack and Jill are on the hill.
In the above sentence, we can substitute “Jack and Jill” with “they”, so, we use “are” instead of “is” and “am”.
Conjugation of English Verbs When Using “Either … or”, “neither … nor” and “or”
When two nouns are joined by or, either … or, or by neither … nor, the verb agrees with the second subject.
Frank or his sister usually brings a book.
Frank or his sisters usually bring a book.
In the first sentence, “sister” is the second subject and because it is singular, we use “brings”. But in the second example the second object is “sisters” and therefore we use “bring”.
Here is another example:
Either Susan or her sisters are at school.
Neither Ben nor his sister is going to town.
“as well as”, “with”, “together with”, “like”, “unlike” and “including”
When two subjects are joined by as well as, with, together with, like, unlike or including, the verb agrees with the subject that stands first.
The dog, as well as the puppies listens to Ben.
The dogs, as well as the puppies listen to Ben.
The reason that it works like this is that the subject that is after these words are just some added information, and is not vital for the sentence to make sense. For example, the first of the two above sentences could also look like this:
The dog listens to Ben.
English Collective Nouns and the Conjugation of English Verbs
When using a collective noun in English the verb following it is sometimes conjugated as if the collective noun is singular and sometimes as if it is plural.
It is singular if the group acts as a group and plural if the group acts as a group.
An example of a group acting as one is:
There is a crowd in the street.
In the following sentence, the people in the crowd are not doing the same thing, so the verb is conjugated for a plural subject:
The crowd was running this way and that way.
Fractions in English
A fraction is singular if followed by a plural noun, like this:
Three-quarters of the apples were bad. (plural)
Three-quarters of the cake was left. (singular)
Plural Nouns With A Singular Meaning
Sometimes a noun is plural but it has a singular meaning. Then we conjugate the verb as if the noun is singular.
For example, in the next sentence, “ten cents” is singular because it means a sum of money.
Ten cents is not much for the pen.
Next, a distance is also singular:
Ten kilometers is too far to run.
One last example of this rule is about “months” which is also treated as a singular concept.
Two months is too long to wait.
Nouns That Are Always Plural
The following nouns always plural take a plural verb:
trousers, shorts, pants, jeans, pyjamas, spectacles, pliers, scissors, tongs, forceps, poultry, people, police, compasses and cattle.
Scissors are sharp.
Nouns That Are Always Singular
The following words always take a singular verb:
News, mumps, measles, fruit, game, athletics, gymnastics, politics, crockery, cutlery, jewellery, luggage, machinery, little, much, either and neither.
The fruit is delicious.
“A pair of” and “a bunch of”
Both “a bunch of” and “a pair of” always take a singular verb.
Take a look at the following example:
A pair of socks was stolen.
A bunch of grapes is good to eat.
“Each”, “every”, ” everybody”, “somebody”, “nobody” and “no-one”
These six words always take a singular verb.
Here are a few examples:
Each of the children has a book.
Every girl in the class has a blue pen.
“None” and Verb Conjugation in English
When using “none” it doesn’t matter if you use a singular or plural verb, both are correct. Take a look at these examples:
None of us knows the answer.
None of us know the answer.
Conclusion: Conjugation of English Verbs
English verb conjugation doesn’t need to be confusing, just remember these points and you will be okay. Also, if you want to make sure that you are right, you can always use reverso.net to check yourself, but always first try by yourself.
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