Talk:English verbs

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Will Have Had[edit]

So what tense is 'He will have had to have had (a letter)'?

Smart one! It is a future perfect of "have to" (in the sense of must) used as a quasi-auxiliary, followed by a perfect infinitive of "have" (as a full verb).--Doric Loon 09:28, 17 May 2005 (UTC)Reply[reply]


I am removing the term "imperfect" from the headings. Since I am not sure whether this was an error or whether some people out there are really using this term, I will not eliminate it altogether, though someone else might want to. But at any rate, it is not usual to refer to the progressive aspect as "imperfect". Indeed this is downright confusing, as older grammar books use the term "imperfect" for the past simple (he sang). --Doric Loon 09:28, 17 May 2005 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Principal parts[edit]

As far as I know, principal parts are the forms you need to learn by heart in order to conjugate a verb, and it's understood that that means the least possible amount of forms. So it's quite misleading to say that an English verb has five principal parts. You only need three at most: the infinitive, the simple past, and the participle. And only one (the infinitive) for regular verbs, since everything else can be derived from it. --Pablo D. Flores 15:32, 26 May 2005 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Exactly! --Doric Loon 20:36, 26 May 2005 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Correction: the infinitive, the simple past, and the present participle. Jubilee♫clipman 22:33, 11 December 2008 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Correction: the infinitive (aka base form or first form), the simple past (aka second form) and the past participle (aka third form). We can form the present participle from the base form. --gramorak (talk) 18:43, 28 July 2009 (UTC)Reply[reply]

3rd sg pres[edit]

Earlier in English we had -est for the 2nd sg. and -eth for the 3rd plural. Anyone have any idea where the -s 3rd sg. form comes from? I heard one time that it originated in some Scottish dialect and spread outward to other dialects but I can't find any sources to confirm this on the net.

No, nobody has any idea where that came from. It is odd that such an important morphological change should have philologians stumped, but no theory seems to command any consensus. The idea of a simple sound shift th→s runs into difficulties because that kind of sound shift should affect the entire language and not just one morpheme, but there isn't really a better theory available.--Doric Loon 15:52, 27 August 2005 (UTC)Reply[reply]

What about a theory where th → s as a result of a highly marked phone th being in a highly marked position (the coda) of an unstressed syllable. I do know that unstressed syllables tend to have fewer phonological distinctions cross-linguistically (take Old English final syllables, for example, where there was no length distinction for vowels.)

I might also argue that 'th' was pronounced [ð] rather than [θ] in this position in accordance with a ME sound change that had fricatives in unstressed syllables realized with voice ('the' and the plural ending 's' /z/ < ME /əz/.) This would lend even more credibility to my theory due to the almost complete absence of /ð/ as a phoneme in the worlds languages, let alone in the coda position of an unstressed syllable.


The 17th century colonial American writer William Bradford is known to have used runned as the past tense of run, as well as ranne (=ran). Others probably also used it. A bit more about such dated irregularities should be mentioned. Alexander 007 07:14, 17 February 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

In English and other germanic languages, verbs naturally conjugated by vowel changes. However, when new verbs were created from nouns, they had no conjugation and so employed a dental ending to show past and past participle. These verbs are called "derived verbs". "Run", as far as etymologists can tell, does not derive from a noun and so normally takes the so called strong conjugation "run, ran, run". Sometimes however, when a noun has a derived verb, or when a verb has a derived noun, the two may switch places in the minds of speakers. This may result in typically strong verbs being conjugated as though they were derived and vis versa. An example in the modern day is the verb "sneak". Etymology tells us that the noun "sneak(related to snake)" came first and accordingly the verb, meaning "steal like a sneak" has historicly been conjugated "sneak, sneaked, sneaked". Yet recently, some people have begun to think of the noun "sneak" as deriving from an assumed strong verb "sneak" meaning "creep" and conjugated "sneak, snuck, snuck". However, another reason for the weakening of some strong conjugations is the seemingly ever popular desire to make conjugation simpler by only using -ed endings. The Normans were the first major proponants of this because speaking English was already hard enough for them without having to memorize seven patterns of strong conjugation. The trend, however, has continued to the present day. It is this latter cause that I think responsible for Mr. Bradford's "runned". Among his comtemporaries, "ran" and "runned" were probably like "swam" and "swimmed" are to us. Then again, he may have just been a special case.--Jr mints 06:29, 29 January 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Uses of the subjunctive in English[edit]

Could anyone tell something about when the subjunctive is used? I've heard it a real lot as a part of normal INFORMAL speech in many (American) dialects, so this should be added. --JorisvS 21:42, 30 April 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

The article discusses the subjunctive as a tense, but the subjunctive is properly a mood of the verb. (But see "Tense/Mood" below.)
The examples given (If I be, If I were) are strange. Does anyone say "If I be"? On the other hand, "If I were," which occurs in a lot of counterfactual statements, is analyzed by some grammarians not as a subjunctive but as an irrealis. (I think the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language does this, but there are other sources.)
Here's an example of the subjunctive: "The queen asked that the general be present at the council." be is subjunctive--in the indicative mood, it would be "is" (e.g., "The general is present at the council.").
--Akhilleus (talk) 00:05, 1 May 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]


The article defines tense as follows: "In English grammar, tense refers to any conjugated form expressing time, aspect or mood."

This seems wrong to me; I'm used to thinking of mood as a distinct characteristic from tense. Does anyone have any sources to support the article's definition of tense? --Akhilleus (talk) 00:13, 1 May 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

I agree: mood is traditionally quite separate from tense. Furthermore, in the modern EFL classroom we distinguish tense from aspect too. But this is open to debate: are the present simple and the present progressive two tenses or the same tense in two aspects? The textbooks analyse such questions in different ways, and we need to be a little open-minded about that. --Doric Loon 07:13, 1 May 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

I'm used to discussing tense as a combination of time and aspect, e.g. the present progressive tense combines present time with progressive aspect. That seems like the standard analysis, and it works pretty well in teaching Latin and Greek. If there are different ways of analyzing tense/time/aspect, then by all means the article should say so. But as far as I know, there's no grammatical analysis that makes the subjunctive a tense. This seems more like the error of someone who doesn't understand the difference between moods and tenses. Even if there is an analysis which combines mood with tense, I'd bet that only a minority hold that view. --Akhilleus (talk) 18:04, 1 May 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]


why use the word preterite? Once we moved from the 19th century to the 20th, most grammarians were content with just past.--gramorak (talk) 18:58, 28 July 2009 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Past Simple[edit]

From the article: This tense is used for a single event in the past, sometimes for past habitual action, and in chronological narration. Like the present simple, it has emphatic forms with "do": he did write.

In fact this tense also can refer to past, present, future and general time. Typical lists in English grammars of uses of the tense include such uses as:

1. Single action in the past: Emma woke up at 6.30.

2. Continuous or repeated actions in the past: I played football twice a week when I was at school.

3. State in the past: Peter was ill for the last ten years of his life.

4. Polite conversation marker (present or future): Excuse me. I wondered if you had a moment.

5. Present regret: I wish I had a job that paid more.

6. Hypothetical future (viewed as not very probable) or counterfactual present: If I didn't get my degree next year, my father would be very disappointed.

As with the Present Simple, it is true that the uses of the Past Simple can be described in such ways as those noted, but such descriptions are not very helpful for the learner.

A simple 'rule' that covers all uses of the Past Simple (perhaps better renamed Marked Tense) is:

We use the Marked form when we wish to distance the situation - in vividness, reality or directness.

I am thinking of re-writing the 'past simple' article to incorporate the ideas above - with full citation of course. What do other people think?--gramorak (talk) 19:29, 28 July 2009 (UTC)Reply[reply]


Many modern grammarians feel that there is not a future tense as such in English (see Should not this be discussed in the article?. And what about all the other ways English has of expressing the future?--gramorak (talk) 19:11, 28 July 2009 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Is to will is a preterite-present[edit]

I disagree with Doric Loon’s 30-January-2006 change under Exception, where he claimed that the verb to will is a preterite-present verb. I believe the sentence was correct before the change, when it said “the verb will, although historically not a preterite-present verb, is inflected like one when used as an auxiliary.” In Modern English to will has been regularized to look like other auxiliaries, but we can see its history in Old English. My source on the subject is Peter S. Baker, Introduction to Old English, Blackwell Publishing, 2003, p 80. “Willan looks a bit like a preterite-present verb, but it is not; and its first- and third-person singular present and plural present are quite different from the preterite-present forms.” In addition to that, I would point out the e-grade ‘i’ in the root throughout the present: the present of a preterite-present verb comes from a PIE perfect—with an o-grade singular and a zero-grade plural.

Here is a comparison of the OE verbs willan, cunnan (as a typical preterite-present) and fremman (as a typical weak verb) Notice that the endings of willan match better those of fremman than those of cunnan, even down to the gemination pattern. Notice also that willan lacks the ablaut in the present of cunnan. The explanation is that willan is an irregular weak verb.

cunnan willan fremman
present ic cann wille fremme
ðu canst wilt fremest
he cann wile frem
we cunnon willaþ fremmaþ
past ic cuðe wolde fremede
ðu cuðest woldest fremedest
he cuðe wolde fremede
we cuðon woldon fremedon

To support his change, Doric Loon pointed to German wollen. I suspect (but can’t conveniently confirm) that the OHG form of wollen is not a preterite-present. But even if I am wrong about German, this is an article on English verbs. --teb728 23:59, 22 May 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

OK, I think I slipped up there. But we are talking here about the verb "will", not the verb "to will", which is a different thing. I think "will" goes back to an Indo-European optative, and it would be worth getting details of this and discussing them centrally under Germanic verb or similar. But apologies if I misled here. --Doric Loon 12:52, 23 May 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Perfect in American and British English[edit]

Question: Which of the two sentences in the following pairs below would you consider correct/more natural ? Please also indicate if you are a native speaker of British or American English.

Have you eaten yet ? or Did you eat yet ?
My friends have just arrived. or My friends just arrived.
I've already done that. or I already did that.
Mary's had a baby! It's a boy. or Mary had a baby! It's a boy.
Have you heard the news ? Mary's had twins! or Did you hear the news ? Mary had twins !
I can't play because I've broken my leg. or I can't play because I broke my leg.
My car's broken down. Could you call me a cab ? or My car broke down. Could you call me a taxi ?
I've cut my finger. It's bleeding. or I cut my finger. It's bleeding.
Extensive oil reserves have been found in Alaska. or Extensive oil reserves were found in Alaska.
The president has announced a new proposal to overhaul Social Security. or The president announced a new proposal to overhaul Social Security.
Germany has advanced to the Round of 16 in the ongoing World Cup. or Germany advanced to the Round of 16 in the ongoing World Cup

-- Unsigned by 14:50, 22 June 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

  • The first alternative seems more natural to me in each case (except perhaps “Mary had a baby” and “Mary had twins”). In some cases the second alternative is almost as good, but in others it seems incomplete without a qualifier specifying when the action took place. I am a native speaker of American English. --teb728 19:39, 22 June 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Let me be more specific on when (other than Mary’s babies) I find the second alternatives natural. I might say but never write (except as a written example of speech), “D'ja eat yet?” “I already did that.” “D'ja hear the news?” and “I can't play 'cause I broke my leg.” And if I am only describing recent events, I could say or write, “My friends just arrived” and “I cut my finger.” In contrast, “My friends have just arrived” and “I've cut my finger” have a meaning more like “My friends are here” and “My finger is cut,” respectively. --teb728 21:59, 22 June 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • Agreed. I am a speaker of British English, and I also find that these are all situations where the present perfect is better. Although there are a couple of them where I would need slightly more context to be sure. We use the present perfect whenever there is focus on the present results of actions, we use it commonly (but not always) with the adverbs "already" and "recently", and we use it when reporting very recent events. It is commonly found in news reports to stress that they are giving the latest situation (Germany has advanced). It is used when describing a situation which needs to be dealt with (I've cut my finger). It is often said that colloquial AE uses it slightly less than colloquial BE: I once even read a comment that the this tense didn't make it across with the pilgrim fathers. But my own observations of my American colleagues' speech do not really bear this out. --Doric Loon 20:00, 22 June 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Maybe those fellows in Boston tossed the present perfect out with the tea...? LOL!
Jubilee♫clipman 01:28, 12 December 2008 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • As a native speaker of American English, I find the second alternative more natural in most situations. Have is no longer something I use widely as an auxiliary; it feels most at home when it's contracted, and the contraction may represent be as likely as have (My car's broken down). Have is most at home for me in discussions with a specific temporal or potential element: (I've been to Germany, but I've never been to Greece.; Have you ever jumped out of a tree?) Smerdis of Tlön 21:11, 22 June 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]
  • I am a native British English speaker; I also tend to be precice in my speech as well as in my writing. In most cases and depending on the context, I might naturally use any of those forms when I am speaking or am writing informally. When I am writing formally, I would use the same type of expression but without the contractions and exclamations. I will therefore write a commentry after each:
Have you eaten yet ? or Did you eat yet ?
All cases: Usually the first. The second may come natually in speech if I want to be emphatic: Did you eat yet?
My friends have just arrived. or My friends just arrived.
Speech and informal writing: Both would come naturally in a particular context. If they arrived at the moment of speaking, I would use the first; if they arrived at an unspecified time without doing anything else, I would use the second. It depends on the meaning of just.
Formal writing would not normally have a use for these expressions, as far as I know, because they refer to informal contexts.
I've already done that. or I already did that.
All cases: Again it depends if I want to be emphatic or not. Done: Unemphatic. Did: Emphatic, but only informally.
Mary's had a baby! It's a boy. or Mary had a baby! It's a boy.
All cases: The first would be most natural, given the context of present fact. If the context was past fact I would say and write (without the contraction): Mary had a baby. It was a boy! I would use this even when the child is still both alive and male.
Have you heard the news ? Mary's had twins! or Did you hear the news ? Mary had twins !
The first I would use natually to enquire whether the other person had heard the news at all, the second to enquire with emphasis whether that person had heard the news at a time prior to the present. Without emphasis and informally, I would natually use Had you heard the news? Mary had twins ! for that purpose. Formally, I would natually write: Had you heard the news? Mary had had twins .
I can't play because I've broken my leg. or I can't play because I broke my leg.
All cases: The first comes natually because the second does not state when the leg was broken. If I ever break a leg, I might, once it resets, use the second to equivocate in order to avoid playing, however... ;)
My car's broken down. Could you call me a cab ? or My car broke down. Could you call me a taxi ?
All cases: The first. As in the previous example, the second expression does not state when the event happened. Again, I might use the second if I wanted to avoid using the car...
I've cut my finger. It's bleeding. or I cut my finger. It's bleeding.
All cases: The first, for the same reason. For a straightforward statement of a past event I would use I cut my finger. It was bleeding.
Extensive oil reserves have been found in Alaska. or Extensive oil reserves were found in Alaska.
All cases: This depends whether (a) I am stating that the reserves were found in the recent past and I am reporting the fact for the first time (First expression), or (b) I am stating that they were found at an unspecified time (Second expression). When I am reporting the still-recent but now-known facts, I would avoid both and use some other expression both in order to avoid sounding like I am repeating my self and to specify the time. For example The extensive oil reserves found today in Alaska...
The president has announced a new proposal to overhaul Social Security. or The president announced a new proposal to overhaul Social Security.
All cases: Again this depends on the context, as in the previous example; the difference in the auxilliaries (or lack thereof) is explained by the fact that the first two are in the passive voice while the second two are in the active voice.
Germany has advanced to the Round of 16 in the ongoing World Cup. or Germany advanced to the Round of 16 in the ongoing World Cup
All cases: Same again.
Incidently, I would not put a blank space before the punctuation.
Jubilee♫clipman 00:40, 12 December 2008 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Addendum: If the second example were to be rewritten so that recently replaced just then I would use My friends have recently arrived when I am reporting their arrival for the first time, and My friends recently arrived when am I am simply stating the fact of their arriving recently. Technically, I should do the same with the original examples; however, I would probably avoid both altogether because of the ambiguity inherent in the word just which, now I read it again, actually affects the first expression, too. If I wanted to use that ambiguity, I would use the appropriate expression for the context, of course.
Jubilee♫clipman 01:09, 12 December 2008 (UTC)Reply[reply]

I am a native English speaker, but I had an American grandmother (b.1867) whom I knew very well, and spent many long hours in her company. She would certainly have used the first alternative in the examples above. I have speculated to myself that the second alternative's appearance in the language is a legacy of German-speaking immigrants to the USA, since German speakers find this nicety of English, among others, difficult to grasp. Could I be right about this? Seadowns (talk) 10:59, 23 June 2017 (UTC)Reply[reply]


From the article:

If the final consonant of a word subject to the doubling rule is -c, that consonant is doubled as -ck: panic → panicking.

Panic is not subject to the consonant doubling rule because the stress isn't on the final syllable. The reason the k is there is because panicing (and paniced) look like the c is /s/ because of the following i (or e). If it gets a mention at all then it should be in the irregular forms section below, because there are very few other examples of verbs ending in c. I can only think of mimic, and also sic, a verb ending in c that IS subject to the doubling rule, and follows it (siccing). 14:21, 22 August 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Picnic - picnicking. --Doric Loon 22:16, 22 August 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I updated the article.. I didn't mention siccing because it's too long winded to say 'verbs ending in c that aren't subject to the doubling rule' when i can only think of one that is. 23:33, 8 September 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

I'm not sure how mimic is subject to the doubling rule. I would pronouce it mim-ic not mim-ic. [Additional: I've just realised that you did not intend to say that mimic was subject to the rule but rather that it ends in -c. Sorry!] I have never heard of the verb sic, though I can see how it could be created as an extension of the latin editorial marker used to point out errors in an original quote. I had to sic the quote as it was badly written. [Extra: I looked the word up in wickionary and found some old uses of the verb with the meanings to incite attack or to attack.] The rare (unique?) cases of siccing and sicced are therefore necessary to avoid confusion with the participles formed from the (also non-standard) verb sick. The standard verb here would be sicken.
Jubilee♫clipman 08:57, 12 December 2008 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Conditionals and Subjunctives[edit]

I took the liberty of fleshing out the areas on conditionals, perfect conditionals, and present subjunctives. Please let me know what you think.--Jr mints 05:23, 29 January 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Now that I think of it, the title "perfect conditional" is not quite accurate since the section makes no mention of the perfect subjunctive but only the pluperfect subjunctive.--Jr mints 05:28, 29 January 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Present perfect[edit]

I am about to revert a mistaken change to the Present Perfect section, which inserted the words, “Thi tense is traditionally just called the perfect. The term "present perfect" is used to emphasise the fact the auxiliary verb "to have" is being conjugated in its present form for this tense, but the term is confusing in that it implies that the perfect is a present tense.” It is true that in some languages the tense called the “perfect tense” is a past tense, but in other languages including English the tense called the “perfect tense” is indeed a present tense in the sense that it denotes the present relevance or a present state from a past action. See Grammatical aspect#Confusing terminology: perfective vs. perfect for a better explanation. Indeed the real difference in English between the simple past and the present perfect is that the time frame of the present perfect includes the present moment: “Yesterday I did” vs. “Since yesterday I have done.” --teb728 22:03, 19 April 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]

You are absolutely right. The English present perfect is both a past and a present tense. It is called the present perfect because it relates to the present exactly as the future perfect relatest to the future and the past perfect relates to the past. In English, "pefect" has become an aspect of the tense, rather than a tense in its own right, and the tenses have an amazing symmetry. Once you see that, the term is absolutely not confusing. In TEFL situations, no-one today call the present perfect just the perfect. (Of course, for historical comparisons, it is connected to, say, the German perfect, where the term present perfect would be inappropriate.) --Doric Loon 05:46, 20 April 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]


I think there's a problem here with the use of "progressive" to define all those tenses (present progressive: I am going, etc.) which in most grammars are today defined as "continuous". Being an English language teacher I have used several grammars by different publishers (Cambridge, Oxford, etc.), and they mostly call those tenses "present continuous", "past continuous", "present perfect continuous". Shouldn't this article acknowledge this, and present the tenses with both versions of their names, that is, "Present continuous/progressive"?

Another problem: in many grammars the Present Perfect Progressive/Continuous was also called "Duration Form". Shouldn't the article include this? -- (talk) 08:21, 20 April 2008 (UTC)Reply[reply]

I also knew "continuous" before I knew "progressive". I suspect the latter is the trendy modern term. But of course the article should mention both. (Actually, it does - continuous is given as an alternative term at the top of the "overview of tenses" section.) I have never heard "duration form", but if you have a source for it (and you seem to) then put it in the article. And remember to include a footnote saying where you found it. --Doric Loon (talk) 11:58, 20 April 2008 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Gerund vs Verbal noun vs Present participle[edit]

Surely I am not the only person to consider the Gerund, the Verbal noun and the Present participle to be separate entities? Most modern grammers separate them out quite vigorously (though the verbal noun and the gerund are often confused or not separated out). Some even name certain misuses of the gerund as geriple in order to make the point clear! I am going to change the text considerably in order to reflect the present theory. Any objections here, please!
Jubilee♫clipman 02:40, 12 December 2008 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Update: have now changed the text.
Jubilee♫clipman 07:38, 12 December 2008 (UTC)Reply[reply]

1st sentence[edit]

Although it's unlikely that there's a grammar error in the lead sentence of a grammar-related article edited by grammarians, I'm puzzled.

The sentence reads, "Verbs in the English language are a lexically and morphologically distinct part of speech which describes an action, an event, or a state."

Why is that the singular "describes" rather than the plural "describe"? Isn't the subject "verbs," which is plural? It's not the "part" or the "speech" (or even the "part of speech") that is doing the describing, the "verbs" are doing the describing. What am I missing here? HMishkoff (talk) 02:49, 21 February 2009 (UTC)Reply[reply]

The subject is "part". Grammatically it's a correct sentence, but if you feel it is awkward you are welcome to rewrite. --Doric Loon (talk) 10:11, 21 February 2009 (UTC)Reply[reply]

If you write it, they will read[edit]

The basic form makes the English subjunctive mood: "If you write it, they will read".

This example is not correct. "If, then" clauses in the present/future in english do not use the subjunctive, only in the preterite/conditional. Have you ever seriously heard someone say "if it rain, I will take my coat"? An example of where the subjunctive mood is used is in the past tense version of the above, "if it were to rain, I would take my coat", but where the "if" verb is present, the mood is indicative. - filelakeshoe 13:30, 24 April 2009 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Quite right: that's not an example of a subjunctive. English has two subjunctives, a present and a past subjunctive, neither of which have distinctive forms, and both of which are usually identical to the indicative. The present subjunctive differs from the present indicative in the 3rd singular only, and the past subjunctive differs from the past indicative only in the 1st and 3rd singular of the verb to be. So the only useful examples are those ones.
Present subjunctive "I insist that he write this letter." (As opposed to the indicative "writes")
Past subjunctive "I wish he were more helpful." (As opposed to the indictaive "was")
Even in these rare cases, many people would use the indicative forms and ignore the fact that traditionally a subjunctive form is required. --Doric Loon (talk) 14:09, 24 April 2009 (UTC)Reply[reply]

external link to conjugation website[edit]

I think it is relevant to include link to in the external links section of this article as this site brings the proper answers to the reader pertaining to English Verb Conjugation It complies with the guidelines: longevity, accessibility, proper in the context, functional, and free

This article says, "All English verbs can be derived from a maximum of three principal parts." That's not exactly true, because the verb "be" has a lot of different forms. And also, "have" has an irregular third-person form. (talk)

Transitive and intransitive[edit]

I'm not happy with the part (under the heading "Syntax") which says:

All English verbs can be derived from a maximum of three principal parts. This represents an extensive paring down of the inflectional categories of the more conservative Germanic languages. Because of this, the strict distinction between transitive verbs and intransitive verbs observed in some other languages find no part in English grammar. In English, both of these sentences are equally possible:

  • The water is boiling. (effectively, a middle voice; compare the water is being boiled.)
  • The chef is boiling the water.

It continues by giving examples of verbs where the change from intransitive is marked by a change in vowel (to fall, to fell, to lie, to lay). But it doesn't make clear (or even hint) that examples like "the water is boiling" and "the chef is boiling the water" are examples of ergative verbs, that most verbs absolutely do make the distinction between transitive and intransitive, and that this strict distinction very much does find a part in English grammar. "I bit my tongue" and "My tongue bit" are not equally possible! The reason why the two boiling water examples are equally possible is that boil is ergative, like sail, move, break, etc., and not because English verbs are derived from a maximum of three principal parts, or because of the paring down of the inflectional categories. I'm not sure how to edit this, though, without rewriting the whole section. Suggestions? Girlwithgreeneyes (talk) 10:03, 21 June 2010 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Progressive perfect???[edit]

I am not a native speaker of English, but I am rather fluent... and I find the whole "progressive perfect" thing baffling. What would "I am having written" mean? That part needs to be clarified I believe. (talk) 11:40, 27 June 2010 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Article Quality[edit]

No offense intended to whoever has written most of this material, but this article is severely lacking. For starters, the applicability of "principal parts" is highly questionable seeing as English is almost completely an analytic language at this point in its development. The concept of "principal parts" implies, by contrast, a highly inflected verb system akin to Latin. And even in cases of inflected languages, the use of "principal parts" is difficult and controversial (cf. Ancient Greek).

Furthermore, despite traditional grammarians insistence on forcing English to fit Latin patterns, English can hardly be said to have more than two tenses (due, again, to the lack of inflection). Grammatically tense is a change to the verb stem/root itself, not a change in temporal or other meanings. Perhaps it would be better to discuss English through the lens of TMA (tense, mood, aspect), allowing for a more robust understanding of how these constructions actually work. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 15:47, 26 July 2010 (UTC)Reply[reply]

There are big problems with this article. The long list of so-called "tenses" is problematic. Either we use tense as a category for some forms of the verb, in which case there are only two tenses, or it is a clause pattern (on a level higher than that of a single word, or syntactic). Much of that could go in English_grammar#Sentence_and_clause_patterns, describing the various available constructions (including the use of tense, inversion (in questions), negation, modal verb, auxiliary verb ("do"), perfect aspect ("have"), progressive aspect (e.g. "is walking"), or passive voice). Count Truthstein (talk) 23:32, 9 April 2011 (UTC)Reply[reply]

I have made a start at cleaning up. One major omission is the use of the passive voice. Count Truthstein (talk) 01:02, 10 April 2011 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I would like to get rid of the list of constructions but we still need to have some way of describing what meaning is conveyed by various combinations. Count Truthstein (talk) 23:25, 6 May 2011 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Passive voice[edit]

In contradiction to what I said just above, I am not sure that we should have all the passive voice sections. This has doubled the number of sections in the "syntax" section. If forming questions were included, it could be doubled again, and again if polarity were as well.

I see the role for the syntax section as explaining the meanings of the various combinations, especially those that are not predictable. For example, the combination of perfect and progressive suggests activity continuing up until the recent past. This would not be easily predicted and you might not think that it was ongoing activity arbitrarily far in the past with an emphasis on the effect on the present. Incorrect: "Do you know how to play the piano? / Yes, last year I have been practising for several hours a day."

Another example is the past perfect. That a particular meaning is expressed by the combination of past and perfect is a single fact, but there are two sections, with an extra section for progressive. This makes the article longer and harder for the reader to pick out the important information contained therein.

It may be possible to put all of this exceptional information in English_grammar#Verb phrases. (Moreover, the English grammar page itself could be rearranged because the "verb phrase" section deals with clause syntax, not a constituent of a clause.) Count Truthstein (talk) 21:32, 25 May 2011 (UTC)Reply[reply]

To me, it's inconceivable to have an article entitled "English verbs" that doesn't address how the passive voice is formed. However, I'm sympathetic to your concern that the passive voice subsections have doubled the number of sections and subsections -- I'm not concerned that the table of contents is harder to read (I don't think it is), but I see your point about symmetry with respect to the treatment of polarity and the interrogative, which don't have sections. I'll go through it tomorrow and delete all the Passive voice subsection headings; but I would strongly oppose deleting the content, which is a necessary part of any discussion of verbs. Duoduoduo (talk) 22:23, 25 May 2011 (UTC)Reply[reply]
The various options for the verb in English determine the top-level pattern of a clause, unlike other parts of speech like nouns or adjectives. Therefore there is a choice between including this material in an article on English verbs and including it in articles on English grammar or English clauses. I can understand that in a more inflected language like Latin, it would make complete sense to, for example, explain how passive forms are constructed and to explain that "portor" means "I am being carried". (Correspondingly, any discussion of Latin syntax would be simpler.) One thing we could ask is what would be left of the article if material about syntax were moved elsewhere and whether it would still be substantial enough. Count Truthstein (talk) 22:49, 25 May 2011 (UTC)Reply[reply]

my new material[edit]

It is rarely appropriate to simply remove new material that you think is good but you think needs to be restructured. Remember that no one "owns" an WP page. If you think it ought to be restructured, either restructure it yourself or propose on the talk page why you think it needs to be restructured.

In this case, I don't believe that this info should necessarily be restructured. The "stuff below" has an IMO quite poor structure for explaining what is salient about various aspects of the English tense system, in that it mostly just goes simply tense by tense, with little overall discussion of issues such as the tense system as a whole, how conditionals work, etc. The stuff I added I see as a very important summary of

  1. The most salient characteristics of the English tense system
  2. The issues that are most likely to trip up foreigners (the difference between present and present progressive; the difference between past and present perfect; and when to use one or the other, or both)

The "stuff below" has too much detail and too little foundation, which is almost a given considering the way it's laid out.

It could also be argued that both my "stuff above" and the old "stuff below" belong, in that my stuff presents an overall discussion, touching on the most important issues, and will be sufficient for most readers, while for those readers who want more, they can read the old "stuff below". I actually think this is a good division -- following the pyramid model of a newspaper (news style), you present a short intro that briefly summarizes everything, followed by a larger section covering all the important points in moderate detail, followed finally by full detail on everything, especially anything not covered previously. See also WP:BETTER, which recommends this style. This actually implies rewriting the "stuff below" so it expands on but doesn't repeat what gets said above.

Benwing (talk) 10:53, 7 June 2011 (UTC)Reply[reply]

I think the new material is very appropriate and excellently written. I agree that when someone puts that much effort into adding correct new material, and the only issue is how to re-organize it, it should not be summarily reverted. Instead, it should be re-organized or discussed on the talk page.
I strongly agree with the need to have a portion of the article focused on "How to express certain ideas", in addition to the old material's approach of "How to interpret certain structures." The reader need to look at things from both perspectives. However, I would suggest the following organizational changes:
  • Move section 2.1 Overview of syntactic constructions to after the new material, so it leads into the other material on "How to interpret certain structures."
  • Merge sections 2.2.4 The present perfect; 2.2.5 The present progressive; and 2.2.6 Modal usages into the old sections of roughly the same names -- I think the new material in this regard has the theme "How to interpret certain structures" rather than "How to express certain ideas".
  • Rename the sections 2.2 Usage of English tenses; 2.2.1 Introduction; 2.2.2 The future tense; 2.2.3 Conditional sentences as 2.2 Reference time and time of event; 2.2.1 [no heading needed]; 2.2.2 Expressing futurity; 2.2.3 Expressing time in conditional sentences. Duoduoduo (talk) 16:10, 7 June 2011 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Your edit on its own didn't do a great amount of harm to the organization of the article, but I have noticed with other Wikipedia articles that there is a danger of articles crumbling into a disorganized mess when several editors add material without regard to the existing structure. In general I believe that a well organized article is better than an unorganized one with slightly more information, and provides a foundation for further improvement. I reverted you to encourage you to do integrate your new material with the article. Nobody owns the page, but you do not own my labour either and you cannot expect others to fit in what you have written with the rest of the article. Nonetheless, I will see if I can integrate some of it. Count Truthstein (talk) 09:30, 8 June 2011 (UTC)Reply[reply]


I changed "form" to "construction" in quite a lot of places. "Form" could be interpreted as meaning a single word which is the form of a lexeme. Count Truthstein (talk) 09:30, 8 June 2011 (UTC)Reply[reply]

The use of the word "tense" in the article is also problematic. In the context of English grammar, this refers to a morphological category of verbs which is either present or preterite. Again I suggest the word "construction" be used instead. Count Truthstein (talk) 10:15, 8 June 2011 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Simultaneous and posterior events[edit]

It is misleading to say that "would" denotes a past reference and posterior event. This implies that *"When I got home yesterday, John would arrive soon" would be a sentence which would express this meaning. The example, "When I got home yesterday, John called and said he would arrive soon", does, but this is reported speech ("I will arrive soon"). I believe the model of reference time and event is valid for explaining the perfect constructions but does not explain everything, such as ongoing activity. Count Truthstein (talk) 10:15, 8 June 2011 (UTC)Reply[reply]

"When I got home yesterday, John would arrive soon" is strange sounding only because "when..." and "soon" give conflicting info on the time of John's arrival. A valid sentence is "John would arrive soon after I got home", using "after", and this is not reported speech. Duoduoduo (talk) 18:33, 8 June 2011 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Leaked latin participles and agent suffices: are they verbal nouns?[edit]

There are several adjectives and nouns with derived from the Latin present particle with the ending in -ent (and -ant for some nouns), such as "independent" and several nouns formed from verbs through the agentive ending -er. Are these verbal nouns? (and should they be mentioned in the text?) I would have asked in Verbal noun talk, if it were not for the fact the article verbal noun contradicts the definition on this article English verbs#Verbal Nouns... --Squidonius (talk) 08:14, 14 September 2011 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Non-finite clauses[edit]

I've noticed that the article is silent on the types of non-finite clauses that can occur in English. It could do with a new section on this and when they can be formed (e.g. not with a modal verb). Count Truthstein (talk) 13:30, 11 June 2012 (UTC)Reply[reply]

New article on syntax[edit]

Please see my proposal at Talk:English_grammar#New article on syntax. Count Truthstein (talk) 20:03, 4 July 2012 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Non-standard past tense[edit]

I've noticed that some English people say things like "I sung" or "I drunk" instead of "I sang" and "I drank". Is this characteristic of certain areas? Something should be written on this in Wikipedia, but I can't find anything. Eric Kvaalen (talk) 14:51, 22 October 2012 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Does wast really rhyme with must?[edit]

In section English verbs#Archaic forms it is stated that wast rhymes with must; however I've always understood it to be pronounced to rhyme with lost, i.e. as wost. So do I have the stick by the wrong end, is there some ambiguity, or is the article wrong or just incomplete in regard to this issue?

It should be pronounced similar to whichever way you pronounce the word was. Just change the final /z/ to /st/. The vowel in the word will depend on your dialect of English. Indefatigable (talk) 19:24, 15 January 2014 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Yes, but does that solve the problem? That is, is there a single word that rhymes with “wast”, in at least the major dialects of English? Because I don’t think “must” is it.
I admit, this may be in part because I don't think people who pronounce "was" as wuz talk proper, like what I do. Anyroad, in most cases I know of where "was" is wuz, most of 'em would say "were", as in "Ah were goin' tut' shop fur us tey" ["I was on my way to the shop for my supper"]. Oh wait, they would say "We wuz goin'...".
Also, wouldn't those who say wuz pronounce "lost" more nearly like the R.P. of "lust", so "wast" and "lost" should still rhyme if both are in dialect?
Not that I'm saying that lust is especially common in the West Riding or owt.
And, if there is no single word that rhymes with "wast", how should that be dealt with? Graham.Fountain | Talk 11:40, 16 January 2014 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Yes, I can see how must would be very misleading for those who lack the foot–strut split and pronounce must /mʊst/. But does wast even need pronunciation help? I don't think any native English speaker would guess wrong, unlike with doth and dost, which the uninitiated often mispronounce. I think I will just delete rhymes-with phrase altogether. Indefatigable (talk) 14:35, 17 January 2014 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Letter doubling -ck exceptions[edit]

From the article "exceptions include zinc → zincked or zinced, arc → usually arced" The article also states that the last letter is only doubled "if the base form ends in a single vowel followed by a single consonant." Neither of these words meet these requirements, so they should not be considered "exceptions" --Pigi5 (talk) 20:15, 29 January 2015 (UTC)Reply[reply]

"Ain't" as another form of "be", but only in the contracted negative...[edit]

Are there any sources that discuss this particular usage the copula? I looked at the article on Ain't, but it didn't really seem to source anything in this way. Hires an editor (talk) 15:29, 5 April 2020 (UTC)Reply[reply]


Please can you tell me what is the verb. I really want to know. It is a homework. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 18:13, 19 January 2023 (UTC)Reply[reply]