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8.8: English Verb Forms

  • Page ID
    9682
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    Every English verb has five different forms, but only two of the forms have a tense feature. The tensed forms are indicated with a morphosyntactic feature, either [+past] or [-past]. The form that a verb in the V-head position takes depends on what tense feature is in the T-head position, among other things.

    bare (non-tensed) eat walk sing take
    [-past] (tensed) eats walks sings takes
    [+past] (tensed) ate walked sang took
    past participle (non-tensed) eaten walked sung taken
    present participle (non-tensed) eating walking singing taking

    But there are some quirks of English that can make things confusing:

    Is it bare or [-past]?

    For just about every verb, the [-past] form is recognizable in the 3rd-person-singular form (she eats/walks/sings/takes). The 1st & 2nd-person forms
 (I eat/walk/sing/take and You eat/walk/sing/take) look just like the bare form (eat/walk/sing/take).

    If you’re looking at a verb and can’t tell if it’s in the bare form or the 
[-past] form, give it a 3rd-person subject and then look for the –s morpheme:

    I want to visit Saskatoon.
 (bare or [-past]? Can’t tell: they’re ambiguous)

    She wants to visit Saskatoon. (wants is [-past], visit is bare)

    Is it [+past] or past participle?

    For many English verbs, the [+past] form (She bought a donut) and the past participle form (She has bought a donut) are the same.

    If you’re looking at a verb and can’t tell if it’s in the [+past] form or the past participle form, try replacing it with the verb eat:

    She bought a donut after she had walked the dog. ( [+past] or past participle? Can’t tell: they’re ambiguous)

    She ate a donut after she had eaten the dog. (Silly, but grammatical)

    The form ate is [+past], while eaten is past participle,
 so we can conclude that, in that sentence, bought is [+past] while walked is the past participle)

    What about auxiliaries?

    The modal auxiliaries never change their form: they occupy the T-head position in their own right.

    The non-modal auxiliaries, like main verbs, change their form depending on what tense feature is in the T-head position, among other things.

    bare (non-tensed) be have do
    [-past] (tensed) am/are/is has does
    [+past] (tensed) was/were had did
    past participle (non-tensed) been had done
    present participle (non-tensed) being having doing

    8.8: English Verb Forms is shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Catherine Anderson (eCampusOntario) via source content that was edited to conform to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.