The ACT repeatedly test the proper usage of verb tenses. Knowing when to use different verb tenses and forms will be extremely beneficial to you on this part of the test.
Because the leading educational systems in the world do not put a huge emphasis on grammar, a lot of students are totally unaware that these tenses exist. But don’t worry. When it comes to verb tense, remember this: Using verbs properly is all about understanding which tenses you’re using and how they’re meant to be used.
While you don’t need to know the names of verb tenses for the ACT, you do need to know when and how to use different verb tenses properly. Therefore, it’s important you get a basic introduction of all the major verb tenses first.
Simple Future: I will be hungry. I will love pizzas. You will have the floor.
The ACT typically prefers the simple tenses, unless the sentence clearly requires one of the more complex tenses discussed below.
Present perfect continuous: Expresses something that has been happening continuously into the present moment. Formed using has been/have been + present participle.
Past perfect continuous: Expresses something that had happened continuously into a specific moment in the past. Formed using had been + present participle.
Future perfect continuous: Expresses something that will happen continuously up into a specific moment in the future. Formed using will have been + present participle.
Some actions in a sentence involve more complex time sequences that cannot be expressed with the simple or progressive tenses. These actions can be expressed using the PERFECT tenses: Present Perfect, Past Perfect and Future Perfect.
Past Perfect: If two actions in a sentence occurred at different times in the past, we often use the past perfect tense for the earlier action and simple past for the later action. Past perfect is the “past of the past.”
The past perfect tense is formed as Past Perfect = HAD + Past Participle
Note that we do not always use past perfect to write about earlier actions. In general, you should use past perfect only when an earlier event may somehow have a bearing on the context of the later event.
Moreover, if the sequence is already obvious, we often do not need past perfect.
Correct: Antonio DROVE to the store and BOUGHT some ice cream
We already know that “drove” happened before “bought.” A sequence of verbs with the same subject does not require past perfect. Rather, use simple past for all the verbs.
Correct: Laura LOCKED the deadbolt before she LEFT for work.
We know that Laura locked up first because of the word “before.”
Present Perfect: We use the present perfect tense for actions that started in the past but continue into the present or remain true in the present. The present perfect tense has one foot in the past and one foot in the present.
The present perfect tense follows the formula Present Perfect = HAVE/HAS +Past Participle
The present perfect is, without question, the most confusing tense in the English language. It sounds like it’s past tense, but it’s actually present.
When I say: “I have been to Ireland,” I’m making this statement from my current position in the present, even though I’m referencing an event that happened in the past.
Each of these examples involves an action that began in the past and continues into the present.
When it comes to verbs, students generally make mistakes in the following three areas:
As a general rule, you must avoid shifting verb tenses if the time frame of the events or actions discussed has not changed.
Wrong: Ronnie went to the store and buys some fish.
The sentence above uses both the past and present tense. Depending on which word is underlined in the question, you can correct this in two ways: make all verbs present tense OR make them all past tense.
Correct: Ronnie went to the store and bought some fish.
Of course, the ACT usually likes to make things complicated by adding more clauses, like in this example:
Wrong: Abigail was frightened that she might be in danger due to the storm and stocks up on canned vegetables and water.
Here, we must correct the sentence by changing “was frightened” (past tense) to “is frightened” (present tense). Why? Because there is another, non-underlined verb in the sentence, “stocks,” which is in present tense. So, we must change the underlined portion to match. Always be on the lookout for non-underlined verbs and check to be sure all underline verbs match.
Exception: There’s one big exception to having to match verb tenses. Occasionally, it’s okay to have two verbs with different tenses in the same sentence, but only when it is very clear that they describe two different points in time.
Correct: Yesterday, I ran six miles, but tomorrow I will run only three.
Verb moods show the mode or manner in which thought, idea, or action is expressed. There are three verb moods in the English language:
1. The Indicative Mood is by far the most commonly used verb mood. As the name suggests, the indicative mood is used to simply indicate that an event or action has or will occur.
2. The Imperative Mood is used to indicate a command or request, give permission, or issue a restriction.
3. The Subjunctive Mood is used to express a condition that is doubtful or not factual. It is most often found in a clause beginning with the word “if.” It is also found in clauses following a verb that expresses a doubt, wish, regret, request, demand, or proposal.
The vast majority of verb mood errors occurs when using the subjunctive mood. The following sentence, for example, is incorrect.
Wrong: If I was tall, I would be a basketball player.
The correct past tense form of “is” in the subjunctive is “were” not was. “If I was” is never a correct formulation. This thought should be formed as: “If I were.”
Correct: If I were tall, I would be a basketball player.
A verb can be either active or passive. When a verb is active, the subject of the sentence actually does something.
Example: John hit the ball out of the park. John does something - he hits the ball.
When a verb is passive, it means that something HAPPENS to the subject of the sentence.
Example: The ball was hit out of the park by Jessica. Something happened to the ball- Jessica hits it.
When a verb in a sentence is an active verb, we say it’s in the ACTIVE VOICE.
When a verb in a sentence is a passive verb, we say it’s in the PASSIVE VOICE.
On the ACT, avoid the passive voice. Additionally, never switch from active to passive voice in the same sentence.