Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Tense, Past Tense, Pup Tents

Before you begin this week’s tutor tip, have a joke:

One day an English grammar teacher was looking ill. A student asked, "How do you feel?"

"Tense!" answered the teacher.

The student paused, then continued, "How did you feel? How have you felt? How will you feel?"

Many millions of people have studied English as a second language. Most of them have the same complaint. “Oh, the tenses!” they moan. We do have some complicated tenses, to be sure, and a major part of the problem is the irregular verbs. Below I’ve put about 100 verbs, helpfully provided by ESL Teacher Catalina Thomsen. According to a table she provided from a grammar text, these irregular verbs appear in order of how frequently they are used.

The only way to learn irregular past tense and past participles is to memorize them. How you and your learners go about memorizing them is up to you. One way that has been discussed in this space before is to make concentration cards, that is, pairs of cards with the present tense and past tense forms of a verb. If the learner finds the card with the word said, he or she then has to find the card with say to make the pair.

Another way is a sort of spoken drill. You, the tutor, say a verb, say, “say.” Then the learner says “Say, said, said.” You say Goand the learner is supposed to say “Go, went, gone,” and so on. Either go straight down the list in order of frequency or try grouping the verbs by how they transform. There is one group, for instance, that never changes from infinitive to simple past to past participle. This group includes mostly short words that end in ‘t,’ such as hit, cut, set, let, put, shut, hurt. Then there are some verbs that end in ink or ing. They change the vowel from short ‘i’ to short ‘e,’ as in sink - sank, sing - sang, drink - drank, fling - flang. Okay, my spell checker informs me that last verb is technically a misspelling, but I like it better the wrong way.

The last two letters of the verbs fly, throw and blow transform with –ew - -own, as in fly - flew - flown. More below the table…

Infinitive (1st part) Simple past (2nd part) Past participle (3rd part)
say said said
make made made
go went gone
take took taken
come came come
see saw seen
know knew known
get got got
give gave given
find found found
think thought thought
tell told told
become became become
show showed shown
leave left left
feel felt felt
put put put
bring brought brought
begin began begun
keep kept kept
hold held held
write wrote written
stand stood stood
hear heard heard
let let let
mean meant meant
set set set
meet met met
run ran run
pay paid paid
sit sat sat
speak spoke spoken
lie lay lain
lead led led
read read read
grow grew grown
lose lost lost
fall fell fallen
send sent sent
build built built
understand understood understood
draw drew drawn
break broke broken
spend spent spent
cut cut cut
drive drove driven
buy bought bought
wear wore worn
choose chose chosen
seek sought sought
throw threw thrown
catch caught caught
deal dealt dealt
win won won
forget forgot forgotten
lay laid laid
sell sold sold
fight fought fought
bear bore borne
teach taught taught
eat ate eaten
sing sang sung
strike struck struck
hang hung hung
shake shook shaken
feed fed fed
shoot shot shot
drink drank drunk
hit hit hit
arise arose arisen
fly flew flown
spread spread spread
sleep slept slept
cost cost cost
beat beat beaten
light lit lit
bind bound bound
cast cast cast
hide hid hidden
swing swung swung
blow blew blown
swim swam swum
bend bent bent
wake woke woken
stick stuck stuck
sweep swept swept
shut shut shut
steal stole stolen
tear tore torn
hurt hurt hurt
ring rang rung
lend lent lent
sink sank sunk
freeze froze frozen
shine shone shone

Of course, these rules don’t always work. You can say, “Take, took, taken,” but not “make, mook, maken” (This is really bugging my spellchecker) Well, life’s hard, and then you learn a second language. I’m just trying to make things easier—easy isn’t always going to happen. If ya want easy, learn Esperanto. See how far that gets you.

Thanks again to Catalina for providing this very helpful chart. She had another insight, for those of you who have read this far. She simplifies the terminology by saying "first part, second part and third part" of the verb rather than "infinitive, simple past and past participle." Using simple, everyday terms makes it easier to use English to talk about English than using the technical linguistic vocabulary. Any questions? Please feel free to comment on the blog. I'll be glad to reply to your questions.

And thanks to all of you who teach English to people who need it. You folks are great.


Erica said...

Thanks for creating this blog, Brian. I just glanced through the entries, and I think it'll be an invaluable tutoring resource.

Anonymous said...
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Judy said...

thank you very much in clarifying me on put, hit . Infact i never knew is remained infinite.You have helped me a million.

What of could, should and would? what tenses are they? How are they used? Also can, shall and will?

Please help me, wish to polish my English.
Once more thanks a million for this site.


Brian Anderson said...

You asked, "What tenses are could, should and would? The answer is that those words technically don't have a tense, since they are "helping verbs," or "modals" that tell you about tense. They tell you that the verb that follows will be conditional, as in "If I had a million dollars I would buy you a house." Another way of saying it is that would changes the verb that comes after it. You should note that the verb that follows a modal is in infinitive form. That's a pretty firm rule--no real exceptions. Thanks for the question. I'm glad you have been enjoying the blog.