Knowing when to use different verb tenses and forms will be extremely beneficial to you on the ACT English section because these concepts are tested repeatedly on the ACT. Get excited for a fun-filled journey into the vivid, action-filled world of verbs.
In this post, I’ll do the following:
- Define the verb tenses and forms that are tested on the ACT.
- Provide information about when to use different verb tenses.
- Detail how to construct verbs in different tenses.
- Explain and demonstrate how verbs are tested on the ACT.
- Provide practice questions to test you on what you’ve learned.
Verb Tenses You Need To Know
While you don’t need to know the names of verb tenses for ACT English, you do need to know when and how to properly use different verb tenses.
The present tense is the verb tense you use when you're talking about things that are currently happening or things that are considered facts. Examples of verbs in the present tense are “jumps," “sings," and “explain.”
Also, the present progressive is considered a form of the present tense. The present progressive is formed with the present tense of “to be” + the gerund (“ing”) form of the word. Examples include "am explaining," "is running," and "are laughing." Typically, words like “currently” or “now” indicate that you should use the present tense of a verb.
Check out this example sentence:
Currently, I am taking over the world.
Here is the conjugation of the verb "jump" in the present tense.
The present tense is not specifically tested on ACT English, but you do need to know how to properly conjugate verbs in the present tense for subject-verb agreement questions.
Generally, any sentence that describes a completed action should contain a verb in the past tense.
Typically the simple past tense of a verb is formed by adding “ed” to the verb. The past tense of “play” is “played.” The past tense of “listen” is “listened” and the past tense of “discuss” is “discussed.” Here's an example sentence with a verb in the simple past tense:
Yesterday, George listened to Miley Cyrus songs for seven hours.
Many verbs don't follow this construction and the past tense is formed irregularly. For example, "buy" becomes "bought," "come" becomes "came," and "grow" becomes "grew."
Use the present perfect tense for actions that began in the past but are still continuing in the present.
The present perfect is formed with has/have + the past participle. For regular verbs, the past participle is formed by adding "ed" to the verb. Examples of present perfect verbs include "has talked," "have done," and "has brought."
Check out this example sentence:
For the past seven hours, George has listened to Miley Cyrus songs.
As shown in this example, the words “for” and “since” often indicate that the present perfect tense is needed. Be aware, however, that there are other instances when context determines that you should use the present perfect tense.
When a sentence describes two completed actions, the past perfect is used for the action that came first.
The past perfect tense is formed with had + the past participle. Examples of past perfect verbs include "had talked," "had danced," and "had grown."
Take a look at this sentence that shows the past perfect tense used correctly:
By the time his mom came home from work, George had listened to Miley Cyrus songs for seven hours.
The seven hours of listening were completed before George's mom came home, so we use the past perfect tense of the verb "to listen." The action that comes first should be in the past perfect tense.
Now that we're familiar with these basic verb tenses, we have the necessary foundation to discuss exactly how verb tenses and forms are tested on the ACT.
How Are Verb Tenses and Forms Tested on the ACT?
Most of the verb questions on ACT English correspond with only a couple of rules. Proper verb tense or form is determined by the context clues given in the sentence and the surrounding sentences. Here are some of the specific ways in which verb forms are tested on the ACT.
Most of the verb tense questions on the ACT English section have to do with consistency. The basic consistency rule regarding verbs is that verbs should remain consistent in tense or form throughout a sentence. Sentences that start in the past should stay in the past and sentences that start in the present should stay in the present. Here's an incorrect sentence that doesn't follow the consistency rule:
Maria studies science and played lacrosse.
The verb “studies” is in the present tense and “played” is in the past. The verb tenses should be consistent. This is the corrected version of the same sentence:
Maria studies science and plays lacrosse.
We could have corrected the sentence by changing "studies" to "studied". The important thing to remember is that the verb tenses should be consistent.
Sometimes, however, you can have a shift in tense and the sentence can still be correct. This kind of construction is only possible if the verbs are in different clauses. Take a look at these examples:
Justin bought a Honda and saves money on gas.
Justin bought a Honda so that he can save money on gas.
The first sentence is incorrect since "bought" and "saves" are in different tenses but the same clause.
The second sentence, on the other hand, is correct. The tense shift takes place in a different clause and the two verbs are occurring at different times: Justin bought the car in the past, but he can save money on gas in the present.
Justin rolls in style.
On the ACT, the verb tenses of surrounding sentences can provide context clues for the proper tense to use in a given sentence to maintain consistency. Take a look at this example:
Unsurprisingly, Suzanne likes frozen yogurt. It was delicious.
The shift from the present tense, "likes," in the first sentence to the past tense, "was," in the second sentence doesn't make sense in context. The tenses should remain consistent. Here's the correct version of the sentences.
Unsurprisingly, Suzanne likes frozen yogurt. It is delicious.
Now, let's go over some tips for answering ACT questions that test verb tense consistency.
Here's some strategic advice for you: if a verb is underlined and the answer choices are different tenses of the same verb, look at the surrounding sentences (a sentence or two before and after) for context clues about the proper tense to use. If there are multiple verbs in a sentence, identify the tenses to make sure they're consistent. If there's a shift from past to present or vice versa, determine if the variation is acceptable given the context of the sentence.
Use these tips to answer the following example from a real ACT.
Actual ACT Example
Rely on your verb knowledge to figure out this actual ACT English question.
Explanation: From the answer choices, we can tell that we're most likely dealing with a verb tense question because three of the four answer choices are in different verb tenses: "they were," "they would," and "they're."
Whenever you have an underlined verb, check for possible verb tense errors. The verbs "continue" in the first sentence and "score" in the second are in the present tense. The shift to the past tense, "were," doesn't make sense given the context.
Therefore, to maintain consistency, the verbs should be in the present tense. Immediately, we can get rid of answer choices A and B. Answer choice D is wrong because it unnecessarily adds the infinitive "to be." The correct answer is C.
Here's another example of an actual ACT question that tests verb tense consistency.
Actual ACT Example
Go through the same process that we went through in the previous question to answer this ACT English question.
Explanation: This is an obvious verb tense question. Only the verb is underlined and each answer choice is in a different tense.
In the first sentence, the simple past tense verb “encountered” indicates that we’re referring to completed actions. However, the present perfect verb “have borrowed” can only be used for an action that is still happening. The context of the sentence implies that the sentence is referring to a completed action and the verb tenses in the two sentences should be consistent.
Once you identify that this is a consistency question, you can immediately eliminate any answer choice that isn't in the simple past tense. After eliminating answer choices, we're left with J.
Here's one final verb consistency example for you. Because tense consistency questions are the most common verb form questions, I want to make sure you fully understand them.
Actual ACT Example
Employ your verb expertise to figure out the correct answer to this real ACT question.
Explanation: Once again, we're dealing with an obvious verb tense question. Only the verb "have" is underlined and the answer choices are all different verb tenses. The verbs “took” in “took part” and "conducted" are in the simple past tense. The first sentence is referring to completed actions that took place from 1942-1945.
Based on context, we can imply that the verb “have” is referring to what happened before 1942. Therefore, we should use the past perfect tense because we are referring to the completed action that came first. Instead of “have been using,” the correct verb form is “had been using.” The answer is G. Even if you didn't recognize that you needed to use the past perfect tense, you could have recognized that you needed to change "have" to the past tense due to verb consistency rules.
Remember to keep verb tenses consistent.
Would and Will
Verb forms with "would" and "will" are less frequently tested on the ACT English section, but they do occasionally appear. For the ACT, just keep in mind to use "would" in sentences with past tense verbs and "will" in sentences with present or future tense verbs.
The construction of verbs with "would" and "will" are "would" + the verb, known as the conditional tense, or "will" + the verb, known as the future tense. Some examples include "would run," "would go," and "will talk."
Use the conditional tense to describe things that could occur or things that haven't yet occurred from the perspective of the past.
Use the future tense to describe things that have not yet occurred or could occur in the future.
On the ACT, answer choices containing “will have” and “would have” are almost always incorrect because they tend to cause improper tense switches and make sentences unnecessarily wordy. The “would have” construction can only be used for something that could have happened, but didn’t. The “will have” construction describes an action in the future that will be finished before a second action.
Check out this basic strategy for these questions.
If “would have” or “will have” is underlined, assume it’s incorrect. These tenses can only be used in very specific situations. That's pretty much all you need to know.
I'm not going into more depth because "would" and "will" questions very rarely appear and this is the only strategy you need to use on the ones I've seen. Most of them simply require you to pay attention to consistency rules.
Here's one final type of verb form question that can appear on the ACT. It's the least common, but questions of this type have appeared on previous tests.
Verbs That Don't Act Like Verbs
Gerunds, infinitives, and participles are all verb forms that don't act like verbs. Gerunds and infinitives function like nouns. A gerund is formed by adding "ing" to the end of the verb and an infinitive is formed by adding "to" + the verb.
A participle is a verb that acts like an adjective. Typically, participles end in "ing" or "ed," but there are irregularly formed participles.
On the ACT, on rare occasions one of these types of words will be used in the place of a verb or vice versa.
If a verb or one of these "verbs that don’t act like verbs” is underlined, make sure that it is being used properly. Each sentence must express a complete thought.
Realistic ACT Example
The extreme length of this article suggests that writing for an extended period of time.
Explanation: The use of the gerund, “writing," makes the sentence an incomplete thought. The sentence needs to express a complete thought. Changing the gerund to a verb and putting in a subject (the person who did the action) corrects the sentence fragment without adding an additional clause. The answer is C. All of the other answer choices are sentence fragments.
Here are some more general rules to keep in mind that will help you correctly answer all verb questions on the ACT.
Remember these tips!!
General Strategies for Verb Questions
#1: If a Verb is Underlined and the Answer Choices are Different Tenses, Make Sure To Use the Appropriate Form of the Verb
If the answer choices are different tenses of the same verb, then you're probably answering a question about verb forms. Make sure that the verb follows consistency rules and the tense is correct.
If the answer choices are different conjugations of a verb in the present tense, you're most likely dealing with a subject-verb agreement question instead.
#2: Look for Words/Phrases That Indicate Which Verb Tense Should Be Used
Often, words or phrases elsewhere in the sentence or in surrounding sentences will let you know what tense to use. If a date in the past is referenced, you should probably use a form of the past tense. If the word “since” is written, there should probably be a present perfect verb.
Context clues are placed around the verb to indicate the proper verb tense.
Congratulations on taking the time to learn all about verb tense questions on the ACT English section. Check out this post for information on all the parts of speech you need to know for the ACT.
For those of you who are debating between taking the new SAT and the ACT, read this article comparing the two tests.
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Justin has extensive experience teaching SAT prep and guiding high school students through the college admissions and selection process. He is firmly committed to improving equity in education and helping students to reach their educational goals. Justin received an athletic scholarship for gymnastics at Stanford University and graduated with a BA in American Studies.