English Grammar Part 8: Verbs Simple and Compound Past

Level: Basic
Time taken to Complete: 200 minutes


English is a complicated language. It’s rather annoyingly difficult in many respects, and somewhat simplified in others. Many people have difficulty with English spelling. The grammar has its ups and downs, but here is some help.  This series is for those who would like to brush up on or learn about grammar and grammar terminology.

Now that we covered the present and future, we can focus a bit on the past.  The past tense of English, like it’s European cousins, has a few different forms.   There is more than one name for the two types of past tense, but I’ll use some of the more standard names for them.  There is the simple past and the compound past.  The compound past is also called the Perfect tense, whereas the simple past is sometimes refered to as the imperfect.  This is probably the one thing about English verbs which is most difficult.

Ah, but there is good news, there is no more changes in form, depending on person and number (with the exception of one verb).  The other good news is, in the case of a regular verb, the morphological change (the ending) is the same for both types of past tense.

The first type of past tense is the simple past tense.  This is formed by added the suffix -ed or -d if there is an e there already. (/t/ /d/ or /Id/ depending on the voicing and style of the verb ending and dialect).  So if we take our regular verb, walk, we add -ed and get walked.  So then we can talk about something that happened in the past, such as, “I walked to the store.”  In that case we can see it in a narrative form.

The next time is called Present Perfect, Perfect, Compound, etc.  It has the same -ed ending, however, this also employs the use of the verb, to have, in the present tense to form it.  Then we have things like, “I have walked to the store many times.”  This indicates something done.  The pluperfect, or past perfect is to use the simple past of to have formed in a similar way, to show something done even before the present perfect: “I had walked to the store, and then had walked to school, before walking here.”

I know you’re thinking, hey, that’s not so bad, now is it?  Yeah, you’d be right, except that it’s only for regular verbs.  The irregular ones are a long list that has vowel shifts, different endings, and even cases where the word changes completely (am/is -was, are -were), (go-went), etc.  The list won’t be here, save a few of the big ones, but such lists can easily be found, if not in dictionaries, then online.
Vowel shifts are common amongst these changes and some have families, but don’t always rely on the families, they lie.  Sing-sang-have sung, sit-sat-have sat, bite-bit-have bitten.
Some that have prefixes added, still get treated like they are irregular, e.g. come-came-have come, become-became-have become, get-got-have gotten, forget-forgot-have forgotten.
The irregular verbs will be spoken more about in a later activity after the regular ones are explained.