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Verb Tenses

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Verb Tenses

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[edit section] Inside SAT Writing Section Guide: Identifying Sentence Errors

  1. Breaking Down Sentence Error Questions
  2. Subject/Verb Agreement
  3. Pronoun/Antecedent Agreement
  4. Verb Tenses
  5. Adjectives, Adverbs
  6. Verbals
  7. Parallel Structure
  8. Idiomatic Expressions in English


[edit section] Verb Tenses

In this short lesson, we will look at the use of different verb tenses on the SAT Writing section. The College Board likes to test you on your knowledge of verb tenses, both in your use of different tenses and your ability to recognize incorrect conjugations and tense switches of verbs. You should look out for a few simple errors to avoid tense issues:


  • Conjugation Errors
  • Tense Errors
  • Formation Errors


[edit section] Incorrect Conjugations

When you use a verb, you conjugate it so that it matches the subject appropriately. For example, we covered subject/verb agreement in the last lesson:


I go to the pool.


In this sentence, "go" is the verb and "I" is the subject. What if we conjugated the verb incorrectly? It could read like:


I goes to the pool.


Now, the meaning of the sentence has been obfuscated to the point that it barely sounds like English. Such incorrect conjugations are blatant if they feature commonly-used words, but sometimes conjugations are not so obvious. For example:


I lay down and sleep every night.

Since you do it "every night," you should conjugate the verb in the present tense. However, "lay" is actually the incorrect conjugation of the verb. The sentence should read:


I lie down and sleep every night.


There are many such verbs in the English language (we call them irregular verbs) and we cannot possibly cover each and every one of them in this lesson. You should take some time to review a grammar guide or any other reference with the irregular verbs. We have provided one that is available online:


http://www.gsu.edu/~wwwesl/egw/verbs.htm


[edit section] Tense Errors

You should also make sure that the tense of a verb being used matches the context. For example, you would not write:


Yesterday I go to the beach.


Since the tense is obviously past ("Yesterday"), you should have "went" to the beach. Even though "go" is the appropriate conjugation for the present tense, it does not match the tense of the context.


Here's a not-so-obvious example:


Last Monday I will have bought at least four bushels of corn.


Since "will have brought" is the past perfect tense (indicating that the action will take place in the future, ironically) and the words "Last Monday" indicate that it should be in the past tense, there is a tense error.


[edit section] Were and Would

Here is a simple construction to remember: When you make a sentence using a condition, you must use the "were... would" construction. Here's an example:


If I was a rich man, I would buy everyone a new car.


Even though the sentence sounds correct, it is not. The sentence is conditional upon being a "rich man," and so the verb "to be" must be conjugated as "were." The correct sentence is:


If I were a rich man, I would buy everyone a new car.


A trick for telling whether to use the subjunctive mood would be that the term "were" is used in a "what if or if only"sentences.


If I were a doughnut, I would eat my self.

If I were a magician, I would turn everyone into chocolate.

[edit section] Moving On

In the next lesson, we will take a look at adverbs and adjectives. For now, take the Writing Exam: ISE II Exam and see how you fare. Make sure to use your newly-acquired knowledge on tense errors!

[edit section] Additional Resources

[edit section] Inside SAT Writing Section Guide: Identifying Sentence Errors

  1. Breaking Down Sentence Error Questions
  2. Subject/Verb Agreement
  3. Pronoun/Antecedent Agreement
  4. Verb Tenses
  5. Adjectives, Adverbs
  6. Verbals
  7. Parallel Structure
  8. Idiomatic Expressions in English

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