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What is Verb Conjugation? Learn English Verb Conjugation and Tense

Verbs are important because they explain what you do and think by representing action and ways of being. You describe who you are as well through the verbs you use. They also help you carry on conversations with other people, about other people.

Learning verb conjugation expands your speaking ability by letting you describe yourself and others in new ways. In this lesson, you’ll learn how to use the conjugation of verbs to express yourself and others and their actions or state of being. You’ll also discover how to tell in speech and writing when an action takes place and understand how to express yourself in different situations.

What is Verb Conjugation in English?

Verb conjugation occurs constantly in English. The essence of verb conjugations are to match the subject with the appropriate verb based on the time period. We call this tense. There are multiple verb conjugations, and each expresses different time periods and are used differently based on context. Which one you use depends on the message you want to share.

To conjugate a verb, you add unique suffixes to its base verb form. The right suffix depends on the person in a sentence you refer to, who is also known as the subject of the sentence. 

There are also different suffixes to select from depending on whether the subject is singular or plural, and based on the tense you’re discussing. 

Every verb has its base form, which you can also call its infinitive form. Generally, infinitive form is the to + verb base form. For example, the verb we will use below is the verb to work.

Verb Conjugation means to change the verb from its infinitive form so that it matches with the subject in a sentence. Some words have a standard pattern, while others follow their own unique pattern.

Let’s look at the regular verb to work as an example. The infinitive form of this action verb is to work. During verb conjugations it will change from the infinitive form depending on the grammatical subject. This means that you add different suffixes to the infinitive form depending on who you’re referring to in a sentence.

There are six different points of view to learn, each with their own suffix based on the subject used during the conjugation of verbs.

Before you jump into the different points of view, why not get ready for your next academic paper? Here are two helpful guides on APA format and MLA format to review!

What are Grammatical Subjects and Verb Conjugation Forms?

The first grammatical subject is called the first person singular. You use the first person singular to make a statement about yourself. With the conjugation of verbs, the first person singular form uses the verb without any changes to its suffixes. Consider this to be the simplest of verb conjugations. With the example to work, the first person singular sentence is:

  • work.

As stated before, the first person singular form of a regular verb form or to-be verb form is often the same as the simplest form of the verb. However, that’s not always true with irregular verbs and words in the to-be form, such as was or were. This will be discussed later in this guide. Look below to continue learning about the other subject forms and examples of their verb conjugation English use.

Next, you have first person plural. You use this form to speak about yourself and someone else in verb conjugation English use to describe you and another person performing the same action in a sentence. In this case, instead of using the pronoun I, you use we.

  • We work.

Again, this action word is the same as the root of the infinitive form that we will change during the conjugation of verbs in other tenses. This will be highlighted later in the guide to reflect tense change in English verb conjugation. 

Next you have the second person singular and the second person plural. You use these categories when you refer to the individual or individuals that you are talking or writing to in standard verb conjugation English use.

Usually, in the conjugation of verbs, the subject you will account for speaking to a single person or to a group. In some instances, based on dialect, you may see other additions to the phrase outside of the usual English verb conjugation.

For example, you may hear you all or you guys or even youse . Note that these are used only for speaking casually. In writing, however, for both singular and plural forms, you use the word you in verb conjugations.

  • You work. (Both singular and plural.)

Finally, you have third person singular and third person plural in typical verb conjugation English use. You use the third person while discussing someone or something else; or discussing a group of people or a group of things, other than yourself and other than the person who you’re speaking to in the conjugation of verbs.

In the third person singular form you refer to one person using the words he, she, it, a noun, or a proper noun. With the plural form, when referencing a group of people other than yourself, you use the word they.

  • He/She/It works. (Singular)
  • They work. (Plural)

As you can see, among all the subject matches with all the regular verb conjugations the only change occurs with the third person singular form. Here, the verb typically takes an -s suffix. This is the standard pattern with regular verb forms like to work, making this English verb conjugation easy to remember.

In addition to the six different person categories, there are also twelve different tenses that each call for a different conjugation of verbs based on when an action or state of being is occurring. Look at each tense and note how the suffixes change a regular verb form during standard conjugation. For this example, we’ll use first person singular form, I. 

  1. Simple Present: I work
  2. Simple Past: I worked
  3. Simple Future: I will work
  4. Present Continuous: I am working
  5. Past Continuous: I was working
  6. Future Continuous: I will be working
  7. Present Perfect: I have worked
  8. Past Perfect: I had worked
  9. Future Perfect: I will have worked
  10. Present Perfect Continuous: I have been working
  11. Past Perfect Continuous: I had been working
  12. Future Perfect Continuous: I will have been working

Each of these different tenses in English verb conjugation describe an action taking place at different times. In standard verb conjugation English use, present events occur right now, like in I or  are ongoing. The past events occurred in the past, some of which are ongoing. You also have the future, which explains that actions will happen in the future, many of which will continue further into the future. You complete the verb conjugation of these tenses by adding an -ed, -ing, and often a linking word.

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Why is Verb Conjugation Necessary in Language?

Conjugation gives your reader or your listener important background information. In the examples above, you saw how to use words to describe the number of people or things someone’s talking about in verb conjugation English subject placement. You also saw examples of how you can tell when an action will occur in verb conjugation English tenses. Additionally, verb conjugation also explains how much of an action has taken place, the gender of the people that receive an action, and the mood of an overall sentence.

English Verb Conjugation Examples

Now you know about regular action and being words. To form the different tenses, you add -ed, -d, or -ied to for the past tense and past participle forms. Examples include jumped, smiled, and cried.

Typically, verb endings will be predictable based on their infinitive form. For example, a verb ending in a consonant, such as the p in the word jump, would only need an -ed ending to change its tense. The verb smile ends in an e vowel that is silent, and so you only need to add a -d ending to change it tense.

The last example, cried, has its infinitive ending in a y that sounds like an i. Here, you would drop the y and replace it with an -ied ending. Let’s look at a few similar examples for reference.

  • -ed endings: Work = Worked; Rock= Rocked; Pack = Packed
  • -d endings: Joke = Joked; Rake = Raked; Dance = Danced
  • ied endings: Try = Tried; Pry = Pried;  Fry = Fried

Note that other words that end in y will have different endings, such as pray becoming prayed, or lay becoming laid. That’s because many irregular forms have their own unique verb conjugation patterns. These are irregular verbs which have different English verb conjugations, such as these examples. 

Infinitive Simple Past Past Participle
To Buy Bought Bought
To Eat Ate  Eaten
To Go Went Gone
To Sleep Slept Slept
To Wear Wore Worn

 

As you can see, there’s no set pattern in the conjugation of verbs with irregular inflections. To learn more about how inflections work, see it here.

What is Imperfect Verb Conjugation? Is Imperfect Verb Conjugation a Common Occurrence of English Verb Conjugation?

You already know quite a lot about how to get verb forms to agree with the subject(s) in a sentence. If you’re learning English as a second language, you may wonder about imperfect verb conjugation.

While technically imperfect verb conjugation doesn’t exist in the English language, some argue that our present progressive, also called present continuous, and past progressive, also called past continuous, have the same effect as imperfect verb conjugation forms in romance languages such as Spanish or French. Generally, you need context with these forms just as you do in romance languages, but not always, which is how they are often overlooked as a potential imperfect verb conjugation in English. 

If someone asks you, “What were you doing,” You can respond with “I was dancing.” In Spanish, you can ask the same question, but if you answer with “I was dancing”, you must continue the sentence to give it context.

For example:

I was dancing when I saw my boyfriend come into the club.

The sentence “I was dancing” would be replaced with “I danced” in Spanish. In English, however, I danced would have to be used with context, such as “I danced yesterday.” or “I danced when I found out I won the lottery.” Like in the Spanish language, this seemingly imperfect verb conjugation can be argued for past tense based on the need for more information or context, despite it not being a continuous action.

Instead of arguing about imperfect forms and their existence in the English language, learn the phrase used to. This phrase represents an action that occurred in the past, but typically no longer occurs in the past.

Generally, the phrase used to can be conjugated with every subject and does not require any changes to express this very specific past-but-not-present tense. You can use it alone, such as “I used to dance,” or “I used to dance when I was younger,”  when asked “Do you still dance?” I can choose whether or not to give context, and the tense will still be understood.

English speakers use this frequently in speaking; used to is seen as a bit too casual for academic or professional writing. The only exception is when you and the other person are familiar with each other, such as work colleagues or friends. In this case , you can use used to via email or text.  


Published May 5, 2019. Updated May 14, 2020.

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