Get excited for this article all about verbs!!! Tenses!! Gerunds!! Infinitives!! In my next article, I may write about not overusing exclamation points!!!
Extreme punctuation aside, knowing when to use different verb tenses and forms will be extremely beneficial to you on the SAT Writing section, since these concepts are tested repeatedly on the SAT. There’s a lot of information in this article, but I promise that it’s all valuable and knowing it will help you maximize your SAT score.
In this post, I’ll do the following:
- Define the verb tenses and forms that are tested on the SAT.
- 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 SAT.
- Provide practice questions to test you on what you’ve learned.
Verb Tenses You Need To KnowWhile you don’t need to know the names of verb tenses for the SAT, you do need to know when and how to properly use different verb tenses. We'll go through them one at a time.
The present tense is the verb tense you use when for discussing things that are currently happening or for statements of fact. Examples of verbs in the present tense are "runs," "plays," and "talk."
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 of present progressive verbs are "am talking," "is explaining," and "are jumping."
Typically, words like “currently” and “now” indicate that you should use the present tense of a verb. Here's an example sentence for you:
Currently, I am writing this amazing article.
Let's conjugate a verb in the present tense. This is the conjugation of the verb "walk".
|I walk||We walk|
|You walk||You walk|
|He/She/It Walks||They walk|
The present tense is not specifically tested on the SAT Writing section, 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 “destroy” is “destroyed”. The past tense of “talk” is “talked” and the past tense of “explain” is “explained.” Check out this example sentence:
Yesterday, George watched seven hours of Netflix.
Many verbs are irregular and do not follow this construction. For example, "buy" becomes "bought" in the past tense, "come" becomes "came," and "grow" becomes "grew." However, the SAT will not specifically test you on irregular verbs.
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".
Here is an example sentence with a verb in the present perfect tense.
For the past seven hours, George has watched Netflix.
As 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."
Look at this sentence that correctly uses the past perfect tense:
By the time his mom came home from work, George had watched seven hours of Netflix.
The seven hours of watching were completed before George's mom came home, so we use the past perfect for the verb "to watch." The action that comes first should be in the past perfect tense.
The conditional tense is used to describe things that could occur or things that haven't yet occurred from the perspective of the past.
The conditional tense is formed with "would" + the verb. Examples of verbs in the conditional tense are "would talk," "would sing," and "would write."
The future tense is used to describe things that have not yet occurred or could occur in the future.
The future tense is formed with "will" + the verb. Examples of verbs in the future tense are "will talk," "will sing," and "will write."
Gerunds and Infinitives
Gerund and Infinitive Function
Both gerunds and infinitives are verbs that act like nouns. While gerunds and infinitives can often be used interchangeably, certain idiomatic expressions require you to use one or the other.
Gerunds are formed by adding "ing" to a verb. Examples of gerunds include "running," "jumping," and "singing."
Infinitives are formed by adding "to" + the verb. Examples of infinitives include "to play," "to run," and "to jump."
How Are Verb Tenses and Forms Tested on the SAT?
Now that you're familiar with the different verb tenses and forms, we can discuss how they are tested on the SAT.
Most of the verb questions in the SAT Writing 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. Check out this incorrect sentence that does not follow the consistency rule:
Jerome attends study hall and played the violin.
The verb "attends" is in the present tense and "played" is in the past. The verb tenses should be consistent. Here is a correct version of the sentence:
Jerome attends study hall and plays the violin.
We could have corrected the sentence by changing "attends" to "attended". 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:
Jeremiah bought a Lexus and impresses his peers.
Jeremiah bought a Lexus because he wants to impress his peers.
The first sentence is incorrect since "bought" and "impresses" 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: Jeremiah bought the car in the past, but he still wants to impress people in the present.
If a verb is underlined in either the sentence improvement or identify the error subsection, make sure the verb follows consistency rules. If there are multiple verbs in the 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.
Here's an actual SAT Writing question that tests verb tense consistency.
Real SAT Example
Try to answer the following question from a real SAT.
Explanation: The verb “has been” is part of the underlined phrase. Whenever you see a verb underlined, check for verb tense and subject-verb agreement errors.
“Has been” is in the present perfect tense. However, we know that the sentence should be in the past due to the verb “was” in the sentence. The verb tenses should be consistent. Also, the present perfect is used for something that is still going on, and, based on the context of the sentence, we know that we’re dealing with a completed action.
Similarly, because there is not a sequence of completed actions, we know that we shouldn’t use the past perfect tense, "had been". After eliminating wrong choices, we’re left with C and D. Due to parallel structure rules, the infinitive “to conceive” should be used to be parallel with “to espouse” on the other side of the conjunction. The answer is D.
On the SAT Writing section
Let's take a look at another common type of verb form question on the SAT.
Gerund Vs. Infinitive
On the SAT, gerunds will be switched with infinitives. While both gerunds and infinitives are verbs that function as nouns, certain idiomatic expressions require you to use either a gerund or an infinitive. Typically, you have to rely on knowing what sounds right to determine whether to use a gerund or an infinitive. Here is an example of an sentence with an error:
Luis has decided playing football next year.
To fix the error, you have to know that the verb "decide"requires an infinitive to follow it. This is the corrected version of the same sentence:
Luis decided to play football next year.
How do you figure out gerund vs. infinitive questions on the SAT?
Review the list of idioms with gerunds and infinitives. In sentences with a gerund or infinitive underlined, replace one with the other to determine what sounds better.
Use this strategy and your knowledge of gerunds and infinitives to answer this actual SAT question.
Real SAT Example
Where is the error in the following sentence? Is there an error?
Explanation: I hope your ear for what sounds right helped you figure this one out. There is a gerund, “working”, underlined. Replace the gerund with an infinitive to determine what sounds better. Would you say “they had an inability working together” or “they had an inability to work together”? The latter is correct, and the infinitive form should be used. The answer is C.
Let's move onto some of the other commonly misused verb forms.
Simple Past Vs. Present Perfect
On the SAT, a verb will occasionally be in the simple past tense when it should be in the present perfect and vice versa. As noted earlier, the past tense is used for completed actions. The present perfect is used for actions that began in the past and are still going on.
Here is an example sentence with this sort of verb tense error:
For the past month, I wrote articles for PrepScholar.
The action, writing, started a month ago and is still going on. Therefore, you should use the present perfect tense. This is the corrected sentence:
For the past month, I have written articles for PrepScholar.
Will make you holler!
I have a few tips to help you figure out whether to use the past or present present perfect on the SAT Writing section.
For both past and present perfect tenses, determine the function of the verb based on the context of the sentence. Use your knowledge of how the tenses should be used to determine if the given tense is being used correctly. Keep in mind that words like “for” and “since” often indicate that the present perfect is required.
Simple Past Vs. Past Perfect
The simple past is for completed actions and the past perfect describes the first of two completed actions or events. On the SAT, occasionally, a verb will be in the simple past when it should be in the past perfect and vice versa.
This is an example of an incorrect sentence:
I never saw such a disgusting meal until I went to Applebee's.
Because the “never seeing” happened before going to Applebee’s, the verb should be in the past perfect tense. This is the corrected version of the sentence:
I had never seen such a disgusting meal until I went to Applebee's.
The following advice will help you when you encounter a simple past vs. past perfect question on the SAT.
Any time a simple past tense verb or past perfect verb is underlined, make sure the verb is being used correctly. The phrase “by the time” will often indicate that the past perfect is needed.
Check out this past vs. past perfect question from the SAT.
Real SAT Example
Try to correctly answer this past vs. past perfect question that appeared on the identify the error subsection.
Explanation: Let’s look at the underlined verb “had been”. It’s in the past perfect tense. Should it be? Well, the two actions, sharing the Nobel Prize and being the first woman to win, happened simultaneously. The past perfect should only be used for an action that is completed before another completed action.
Therefore, the simple past should be used instead of the past perfect. The answer is C. The verb should be “was”.
Would Vs. Will
On rare occasions, "would" and "will" will be switched with one another. Generally, you only have to remember that "would" should be used with sentences in the past tense and "will" should be used with sentences in the present or future tense.
Here is an example of an incorrect sentence:
Bill Clinton, who will become president in 1992, was born in Hope, Arkansas.
Because the sentence is in the past, as indicated by a date in the past, you need to use “would” instead of “will”. This is the corrected version:
Bill Clinton, who would become president in 1992, was born in Hope, Arkansas.
Any time that “would” or “will” is underlined, make sure that “would” is used for sentences in the past, and “will” is used for sentences in the present/future.
Let's take a look at more verb questions from the SAT Writing section.
More Real SAT Examples
Try to correctly answer this identify the error question.
Explanation: On first glance, nothing may seem incorrect. However, the phrase “twenty-five years after” indicates that the action is already completed. The event happened twenty-five years ago. The past tense should be used for completed actions. The verb “stimulate” is in the present tense and should be changed to “stimulated”. The answer is B.
Here's another example question for you.
Explanation: When you see a verb underlined, make sure it’s in the proper tense. The phrase “during the last fifty years” indicates that something started in the past and is still going on. What verb tense should we use in this situation? We should use the present perfect tense. “Come” is in the present tense. Also, the verb “have seemed” is a clue that “come” should be in the present perfect tense. In this situation, the tenses should be consistent.
Therefore, “come” should be “have come”. The answer is B.
Here are some more general tips for verb questions on SAT Writing.
General Strategies for Verb Questions
#1: If a Verb is Underlined, Check for Proper Tense and Form
Whether on the sentence improvement or identify the error subsection, if a verb is part of an underlined phrase, there is a possible verb form error.
#2: Look for Words/Phrases That Indicate Which Verb Tense Should Be Used
Often, words or phrases elsewhere in the sentence 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 within a sentence to indicate the proper verb tense. Also, the other verbs in the sentence can indicate which tense to use. Remember consistency rules.
#3: Replace Gerunds with Infinitives and Vice Versa
If there is a sentence with a gerund or infinitive underlined, replace it with the other to determine which would work best in the given sentence. Rely on your ear and knowledge of idiomatic expressions for gerund/infinitive questions.
I created some realistic practice questions to test you on what you've learned.
Utilize your verb knowledge to answer the following SAT Writing practice questions.
1. When Toni Braxton performed (A) at the casino in Arizona (B), she sold (C) out the venue and had been given (D) a standing ovation. No error. (E)
2. Until (A) recently, people talk (B) to each other instead (C) of relying on texting and e-mail to communicate (D) with their peers. No error. (E)
4. When (A) Mariah Carey released (B) her first album in 1990, (C) no one knew that she will (D) win 5 Grammy Awards and sell more than 60 million albums. No error. (E)
Answers: 1. D, 2. B, 3. A, 4. D
Now that you've thoroughly reviewed verb questions, check out this article on the complete parts of speech for SAT Writing.
For an in-depth post about questions related to specific parts of speech, read this one on adjectives and adverbs.
For those of you who are aiming for perfection, learn how to get a perfect score on SAT Writing.
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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.